Issue XXXIII – Dispatch from Britain: Drugs are Bad (some of the time)

2 Nov

Nutts about Drugs – Last month I learned in class that drugs in Great Britain are classified by A, B, or C depending on their perceived dangerousness to society.  Class A drugs are given the longest sentences (7 years) while B and C drugs are given less sentences (5 and 2 years respectively).  Recently, Parliament asked for a review of the harmfulness of drugs to society to see whether or not twenty drugs were placed in the appropriate class based on their danger to society.  Sounds fair, right?  Then the report came out

It turns out the ABC classification had little to do with danger and more the with perception of which drugs were dangerous.  People are going to jail for using drugs that are not really that harmful.  For example, the scientific study found that some A class drugs like heroin and cocaine were indeed in the right category (class A) but some drugs that were barely harmful like ecstasy and LSD were Class A.    Meanwhile, alcohol is the fifth most harmful drug in society but is completely legal and so is tobacco (ninth most harmful).  Clearly, the classifications need to be adjusted.

Instead, Home Minister Alan Johnson has decided to upgrade marijuana’s status to Class B after it had been moved down to Class C a few years ago.  Rather than listening to the scientists, he played war on science a la George W. Bush.  Professor David Nutt advised the government that this was going against the report and said so in a lecture in July.  So Home Minister Johnson decided to fire him for “campaigning” against the Government.

The press has been raking the minister over the coals, day in and day out, over this.  Other members of the scientific panel on drugs have resigned, and scientists are outraged and mass resignations may follow from scientific committees.  The Minister of Science is also shocked that Johnson fired him without consulting him either.  As it now stands, there is a chill in the scientific community to advising politicians on good policy.  Who thought that an allegedly “progressive” government would play the Catholic Church to Professor Nutt’s Galileo in the 21st century?  Just another lesson in the moral and political failings of the Blair-Brown New Labour Government.


The Times – “How can scientists advise this or any government?”

BBC Graph of the harmfulness of twenty drugs

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