If someone were to invent a perfectly safe ecstasy pill, what would be done about it? It's the sort of scenario clubbers like to speculate about, usually at around 6am, a little the worse for wear after a big night out. It's less common to hear it from a neuropsychopharmacologist and former government scientist – but it is, Professor David Nutt says earnestly, "the key question". So what does he think the government would do?
Ministers will not be required to seek the advice of scientists when making drug classification policy in future, under new government proposals. The police reform and social responsibility bill, published last week, contains an amendment to the constitution of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) that would remove the requirement on the home secretary to appoint at least six scientists to the committee.
Drug use and abuse are social and pubic health issues. But these drug laws started as purity laws in a progressive effort to stop pharmaceutical companies from addicting their unknowing customers to substances like heroin and cocaine added to common products like cough medicine and soft drinks. We have lost sight of these original goals.
Alcohol is more harmful than heroin or crack, according to a study published in medical journal the Lancet. The report is co-authored by Professor David Nutt, the former UK chief drugs adviser who was sacked by the government in October 2009. It ranks 20 drugs on 16 measures of harm to users and to wider society.
One of Britain's most senior police officers has said youngsters caught carrying personal amounts of drugs such as cannabis should "not be criminalised", in order to allow more resources to be dedicated to tackling high-level dealers. Tim Hollis, chief constable of Humberside police, said the criminal justice system could offer only a "limited" solution to the UK's drug problem, a tacit admission that prohibition has failed.
The mephedrone scare started at the end of 2009 when newspapers and the BBC reported that Gabrielle Price, a 14-year-old girl from Brighton, had died after taking the drug. The story was based on rumour and police statements. The hysteria over mephedrone is a classic example of indulgent moral outrage at the expense of a common-sense harm reduction strategy.
The deaths of two young men in Scunthorpe last Monday that have been linked to the new "legal high" mephedrone (colloquially known as plant food, meow meow, m-cat, or bubbles) has raised a great deal of public concern and loud calls for it to be made illegal. I support the government's position that to rush into controlling mephedrone is premature, as previous claims of fatalities from this drug have turned out to be false alarms. To make it illegal without proper evidence of harm would be wrong and might have unwanted consequences, such as a switch to more dangerous drugs or alcohol.