Gordon Brown: I’m right to overrule drug advisers

By chillinwill · Nov 4, 2009 · ·
  1. chillinwill
    Gordon Brown today hit back in the drugs row, insisting he was right to overrule scientists on cannabis.

    In an exclusive interview with the Standard, he said the public backed him against calls for softer sentences related to drug abuse and he warned against the danger of giving “mixed
    messages” to young people targeted by dealers.

    “We'll get tougher on drugs,” declared the Prime Minister, defying threats of resignations by supporters of the sacked former chief drugs
    adviser Professor David Nutt.

    “A tough policy on drugs is essential and it is what the public want,” Mr Brown said. “I've seen the damage that drugs can do and people can see it in estates in London. I think I share the public concern about the effect that drugs have.”

    Mr Brown spoke out as a row between Home Secretary Alan Johnson and Professor Nutt threatened to turn into a political crisis. Professor Nutt was sacked after claiming that LSD, ecstasy and cannabis were safer than alcohol.

    Leaked emails today revealed that Science Minister Lord Drayson reacted furiously to the news that the drugs adviser had been sacked for “campaigning” against drug laws.

    Today's Sun revealed that Lord Drayson fired a volley of protest emails to No 10. He said: “Alan [Johnson] did this without letting me know and giving me a chance to persuade him it's a big mistake. Is Gordon able to get Alan to
    undo this? As science champion in Government' I can't just stand aside on this one.”

    Mr Brown backed Mr Johnson's decision and defended the right of elected ministers to reject the advice of scientists at times. He said: “On climate change, or health, for example, we take the best scientific advise possible. But in an area like drugs we have to look at it in the round.

    "We have got to look not just at what medics and scientists are saying to us — and we take that very seriously — but also what impact different
    decisions can have on young, vulnerable people.”

    At the heart of the dispute is Mr Brown's decision last year to reverse the reclassification of cannabis from a C to B, a move that flew in the face of Professor Nutt's claims that the drug was safer than alcohol or tobacco.

    But Mr Brown told the Standard he had no regrets in sending a message to young people that “neither soft nor hard drugs are acceptable”.

    “It was right to reclassify cannabis. It is right to reject any attempts to reclassify ecstasy. It's right also to say that drugs can cause such damage, particularly when dealers are pushing drugs on young people and making them
    victims of a cruel trade ... I think everybody knows lives that have been ruined because of drugs.

    “It's very important that we say yes, we take scientific advice seriously and will never ignore it, but yes, also, it is right that the people who make the final decisions and are accountable to Parliament for them are the Home
    Secretary in this case or in other cases the Health Secretary or myself.”

    Mr Brown said he had attempted to give a clear lead to youngsters through tougher drugs policies, including deporting foreign dealers, making welfare claimants go into rehab or risk losing benefits, and giving police powers to close crack houses.

    “We have got a very tough line on drugs and you cannot send mixed messages,” he added.

    He rejected the argument that cannabis is less harmful than alcohol and cigarettes.

    “We've seen brands of cannabis that are distorted by other products and ingredients. That's one of the reasons why it's important to send a message that drug abuse is not acceptable
    and a criminal offence.”

    Gordon's pledges: MPs, banks and Afghanistan

    A clean-up of MPs expenses will not be delayed. Mr Brown said the new Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority was being set up “in shadow
    form” so that it would not delay work on implementing new curbs. “It is in a position to start work almost immediately,” said the Prime
    That will be seen by MPs as a hint that final decisions will be rushed out before the election. In a message to MPs protesting at
    proposed cuts in their claims, he said: “It is important we have a fair system but it is also important we put the old discredited system behind us.”
    Asked if new expenses rules should give extra help to working mothers who become MPs, he said: “I want more women in the House of Commons. There has got to be proper provision.”

    Taxpayers will get every penny back of the fortunes handed out to prop up the banks, the Prime Minister said. “I believe at the end of the day the Government will recoup all its money
    from the banks — and possibly make a profit from what it has done,” he said.
    He would not be drawn on the timescale of the payback, saying it “depends on how quickly the recession is over” and other factors. “We never acted to help bankers, we acted to help the people who depend on banks — the savers, the mortgage holders, the small businesses looking for funds.”

    Hamid Karzai must clean up corruption in Afghanistan if he is to keep Western support, Mr Brown warned, “The important thing is to see action,” he said. “If you want to train up the police force, you have got to have the people there to train.
    Equally we want them to take action against corruption.” He said Mr Karzai's presidential victory should help hasten the return home for British troops by making it possible to train 10,000 Afghan soldiers to carry on the fight against the Taliban without help.

    A fierce attack on David Cameron and George Osborne for painting the economy as “broken” was launched by Mr Brown. “This whole idea that Britain is inevitably subject to an age of austerity with a broken economy, which is the Tory propaganda, is completely wrong, negative and selfdefeating,” he said.
    “I think British people know we have a great deal to be optimistic about because we have great industries, great services, great talent, great inventive genius. You only need to look around London to see the talent, energy and enterprise in this great city, ready to export to the world, and ready to lead the world.”

    Mr Brown claimed he is hopeful of a deal on climate change at the Copenhagen talks, despite other major world leaders staying away. “Just as we did at the G20 on the financial crisis, we have the chance to show the world can act together.”

    Joe Murphy
    November 3, 2009
    This Is London

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  1. corvardus
    The problem here is this. The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and the ABC drug classification system was never intended to be a political tool for "Sending Messages".

    It was intended to be used in the criminal justice system to give a measured and appropriate prison term based on the relative dangers of the drug that has been made illegal.

    If the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 was not fit for political purpose then Brown should have ordered a complete overhaul of the law without the use of the ACMD, which would have to be held in full public glare in full debate in the Commons and would be defeated before it left the ground.

    The ACMD has done it's job as defined by the law. The scientists have exercised their rights to free expression as is expected in a scientific community and have been punished for it.

    All this situation has shown is that the Brown Government and hints of the Cameron Government is unfit to lead this country, if they will simply ignore the scientific evidence, whether it agrees with their agenda or not.

    Roll on the next general election!
  2. salviablue
    Possibly, as has been mentioned before, this is a good thing in the long run. It gives to the masses, the irreputable proof of the governments riduculous, damaging, selfish and not-in-the-public-interest policy making process. If people still want to vote for a government that completely ignores or disregards advice from experts, whom the government (had) appointed, when they can't spin their evidences and advice for their own agenda, especially when said advice moves towards a policy that removes the very evils of which they speak, are the reasons for the current legal policy.
    I.e. They say that they can't send mixed messages due to the impact on youths whom are "victims" of pushy, villainous, predatory dealers, that are interested in little but profit and oft cut drugs with dangerous adulterants etc..but these things exist mainly because of the current drugs policy.

    We need another Guy Fawkes!
  3. butterfly939
    SWIM finds this latest turn of events particularly interesting as he heard reports that apparently one of his friend's of a friend's monkey babies' cousin's blue winged, golden chested, long billed phoenix (a distant relation to the one from Harry Potter perhaps) had some personal experiences with the sacked government adviser Professor Nutt, as he was treating him for a time for certain medical problems fairly recently.

    Apparently these experiences were not very positive. Clearly this mythical animal's best interests were not at the forefront of the professor's mind, which may well have been wrapped up in his many other pursuits; (only just formerly!) in his role as chief government adviser on drugs, his research programs, and various television appearances (recently horizon (bbc2) - showing his research involving a less harmful alcohol substitute).

    Nonetheless despite lingering animosity towards the Professor, on hearing these recent developments he finds himself overwhelmingly convinced by the Professor's report and recent comments.

    Professor Nutt, being a well respected medical scientist by trade and having much experience with illicit as well as legal drug use is, one would imagine, well placed to draw conclusions about the whole spectrum of drug use, their harm to the individual as well as of that to society as a whole. Presumably, this was the reason he was given this government advisory post in the first place.

    Now of course any scientist can be wrong, and as is the nature of science as a whole we must permanently question and remain open minded. But the points he makes are not hugely radical. If I understand his report correctly, the wider point is that the current government policy and stance on drugs does not correlate with each corresponding drug's, legal or otherwise, harm both to the individual user and to the wider society. So to give one example, the comparable harm caused by tobacco far outweighs that of ecstasy on every level. To give another, he suggests that the so called stronger versions of cannabis or skunk, are not quite the worry the media may have led us to believe and it is even feasible that the dangers are lessened by stronger cannabis as you need to smoke less to get the same high. Without boring you with more examples, that is enough to give you a flavor. He goes further too, by saying that we should more readily accept that people will always want to experiment with drugs. This seems pretty obvious to anyone, even politicians!

    Now naturally alcohol and tobacco are legal primarily because of long standing cultural reasons. If introduced now they surely wouldn't be. But this doesn't mean that his appraisal is incorrect and it also doesn't mean we should ban those products. It is more about the fact that drugs policy should better reflect the realities of harmfulness as well as respecting cultural values where appropriate.

    So his report is important as it could have been the precursor to what would be a better informed and more progressive attitude towards drugs that would have benefited all of us.

    So the next part of the story is disheartening, and if one observes politics at all, in some respects it isn't surprising. His sacking must then be solely due to a big melting pot of political reasons. Firstly, while from a scientists point of view making a rational well thought out argument is (hopefully) second nature, from the politicians, acknowledging the need for shifts of policy is always more difficult to swallow. This is the case even in the best of times, but especially so now, as it would fly in the face of a recent U-turn on cannabis reclassification made by the British government.

    Also, this comes at a time when the Prime Minister and his governing party have ratings so low that anything even mildly contentious must surely be vehemently unwelcome. Further, public appetite for step changes in policy is currently undermined by public disenchantment in the political system in Britain, as well as resentment towards politicians thanks to an ongoing MP's expenses scandal. This is compounded even more, by the tabloid media that generally spouts black and white opinions of the form; illegal drugs equals bad, full-stop.

    What a shame on our political system and our own damned fickleness, which is equal in blame to a dull sensationalist obsessed mainstream media. We are robbed of the opportunity to even have an open debate about the merits of this report.

    Rather than welcome challenges to our beliefs and policies as being a fundamental building block of progress, we are stifled by greedy short-sightedness. With this sort of ethos, how are we ever to work effectively on far more important and pressing issues such as climate change?

    Bring the revolution!
  4. Joe-(5-HTP)
    What exactly is he referring to here? Spice? Sprayed (adulterated) cannabis? Skunk? Either way, this is a despicable counter-argument and is completely irrelevant. There is no rejecting the argument that cannabis is less harmful than alcohol and cigarettes except a scientific one. This makes me feel ill as he must realise the validity of Nutt's comments and is thus purposefully and willfully in total knowledge of what he is doing employing rhetoric to distort the truth in favor of his argument in a matter of public health. Despicable.
  5. ianzombie
    Mr. Brown likes to go on (and on, and on) about the 'youngsters' in his speach, but what about the responsible adults?
    I know he wants to be seen to be 'doing it for the kids' espicially as people feel uncomfortable about standing up against that line.

    Will Mr. Brown consider the reclasification of Alcohol now, as im sure that does plenty of damage to the 'youngsters' or would he like to explain to the public why it is acceptable to have that legal but not other drugs?

    I think its great that this whole issue has become so public.
  6. Doublefields
    The simple fact is that every reason he gives for cannabis being dangerous (drug dealers, adulterants etc..) are very obviously dangers of prohibition and not the drug at all. I really can't grasp how people reading stories like this can't see that?!
  7. MrG
    No, what people can see in the estates in London is the damage that a severely dysfunctional environment has on the developing mind of the young people who have to endure being raised in a state of near-permanent toxic stress.

    Drugs are the least of their worries and simply telling them a bunch of bullshit scare stories to try and frighten them off using is ignorant, blinkered and doomed to fail.

    Help them avoid becoming 'troubled children' and they'll stop turning into 'troubled drug abusers'.
  8. spunkymunky
    I think that a problem from the politicians' p.o.v. regarding the issue of legalising drugs is that MPs and the media have misled people who have little direct experience with drugs for so long into believing that drugs such as cannabis and ecstacy do more harm than they actually do, leaving many (particularly older generations such as my parents') with irrational fears e.g. their children will lose their sole if they experiment with any illegal drugs ever.

    Therefore, to "U-turn" on the whole system now by basing the law and advice provided to the public on scientific evidence would mean that the government lose votes because these people feel betrayed by the false messages they have consistently had pushed at them - they will be angry at yet more inconsistency in the government's policies and will not vote for them.

    The green party's drugs policy makes perfect sense to me - legalisation, strict control and, most importantly, education being the only way to minimise harm to individuals and society from drug use!
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