02 Nov 2009
November 2, 2009

Class Drugs

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The Home Secretary’s sacking of Professor Nutt, erstwhile advisor to the goverment on drug classification, strikes me as interesting for two reasons.  First, he’s saying little new by pointing out that cannabis is less dangerous than nicotine; that Ecstasy seems less dangerous than alcohol.  Scientists and sociologists, and probably most laypeople (i.e. most of us) can probably readily agree with that.  The question is really more about how people want society to deal with substances which are not very good for the people who consume them.  That in turn is related closely, I think, to how people choose to manage risk in their lives and in the lives of those close to them.  There are many activities  like horse riding(climbing, rugby, boxing) which are inherently risky, yet because they’re perceived to involve ‘endeavour’ most folk would prefer sensible precautions to banning.  Drugs are not generally seen as involving an element of endeavour (although a few users behave like it does) so the question for most is, it seems to me, how risk is reduced to them and their families.  Some folk think it’s best to ban (or increase the penalties of use) and others think it’s best to recognise that many people use soft drugs from time to time and to encourage folk to be sensible with it.  That leads me on to the second point, which is that many would agree that the final decison on how society ought to tackle the issue through public policy should be made by democratically accountable politicians.  I read that Prof Nutt felt that the government was ‘undermining (his) advice’, yet it’s hard to see how advice can be undermined as such.  I think, more likely, he feels that where there is strong scientific evidence it should be followed without question by politicians.  That would, of course, involve politicians abrogating responsibility and experts making public policy in effect as of right.  Yet surely that wouldn’t be right?  In many ways, the science inthis case isn’t that complicated – it’s interpreting what the public want to do about it which is, and that’s surely the job of the bloke who’ll lose his seat or appointment if he gets it wrong.  That’s democracy, isn’t it?