Science & Technology

No Science, Please, We're British Drug Warriors


The British government's Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) no longer needs to have any scientists among its members. The same legislation eliminating the requirement for scientist presence on the council also gives the Home Secretary power to unilaterally ban any drug for a year with no consultation with the ACMD at all. Tom Chivers at the UK Telegraph explains why they want it that way–and why they shouldn't get away with it:

Scientific advisers have always said that cannabis should not be lumped in with amphetamines as a class B drug, and that ecstacy's position as a class A – like heroin and crack – makes a nonsense of the classification. And last year, after two deaths were linked with mephedrone (nicknamed "meow meow" in the press), a ban on the drug was rushed through to appease the hysteria in the press, against the advice of the ACMD and prompting the resignation of two council members.

Tragicomically, the two deaths were later shown not to have had anything to do with the drug at all – the teenagers had been taking methadone, a completely different drug available on prescription to heroin addicts, mixed with alcohol. Dozens of other deaths' links to the drug turned out to be equally spurious. Strangely, the media firestorm had passed on by that point.

And there is the problem with removing scientific advice from drug policy. It would have been politically very difficult to ignore press calls to ban mephedrone, despite there being no evidence-based reason for such a ban. If the ACMD could have been rendered toothless enough to give Home Office-friendly advice to ban it, that would probably have made the Home Secretary's life considerably easier. But it would have been giving bad advice. As it was, the good advice they did give was not taken, hence the resignations. But at least the Government could not pretend that they were doing it because they had been scientifically advised to do so.

[Hat tip: the Drug Policy Alliance's Meghan Ralston]