Retired pharmacology professor Les Iversen succeeds David Nutt, who was sacked for criticising government policy
A retired Oxford pharmacology professor, Les Iversen, has been appointed interim chairman of the government's advisory committee on the misuse of drugs.
The appointment for a period of 12 months follows the sacking of the previous chairman, Professor David Nutt, for "crossing a line" by repeatedly criticising the government's decision to toughen the laws on cannabis, which he argued was less harmful than alcohol or nicotine.
Iversen, who is perhaps a more measured figure than Nutt, has been chairing the council's technical committee, which produced controversial reports on ecstasy and cannabis advising against reclassification.
He is an authority on the actions of drugs on the brain and has published research showing there is little evidence for a causal link between chronic cannabis use and psychiatric illness. He is known to be open-minded to concerns about the long-term effects of the more potent strains of skunk cannabis.
Iversen was a member of the Royal College of Physicians inquiry into the medical uses of cannabis and is the author of two books on drugs, Science of Marijuana and Speed, Ecstasy and Ritalin: the science of amphetamines.
The home secretary, Alan Johnson, said he was pleased to appoint Iversen. "The council's work continues, including a forthcoming assessment on the harms of the so-called 'legal high' mephedrone, following on from our control of GBL, BZP and others late last year."
Iversen said he was honoured to take up the position. "I look forward to ensuring the ACMD provides government with continued expert advice on drug issues in the UK."
He is said to have impressed committee members with his chairmanship of the difficult eight-hour meeting that took place in the aftermath of Nutt's dismissal.
One effect of the row over the sacking is that the home secretary is now obliged to meet the council formally once a year and its chairman more regularly. Johnson has also agreed that in future the committee's reports will not be dismissed out of hand but given proper consideration.
The advisers are due to set up a sub-group to look in detail at mephedrone, a legal drug sometimes called Bubbles, which imitates the effects of amphetamines. It is already illegal to sell it marked for human consumption, but is marketed instead as plant food.
by Alan Travis
13 January 2010 11.56 GMT
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