Page last updated at 13:33 GMT, Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Nutt vows to set up new drug body

David Nutt
Prof David Nutt has warned that more ACMD members could resign

The drugs adviser controversially sacked by the government says he will establish a new scientific committee if the current advisory body disbands.

Professor David Nutt was removed from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs last week after saying cannabis was less harmful than tobacco or drink.

Two other members have resigned, and the rest are to meet the home secretary next week to discuss its future role.

If talks fail, Professor Nutt says he has backing for an independent body.

The professor said he had been pledged sufficient funding to cover the costs of a new council. The present Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs costs £150,000 per year to run.

But he refused to comment on where this money would come from, stressing only that "it was not surprising that there is someone out there who wants to support sensible voices".

Responding to the suggestion of a new council, a spokesperson for the Home Office said: "The government already has an independent advisory body to give advice on drug related issues."

Concessions

There have been no further resignations since Dr Les King and pharmacist Marion Walker left the 31-strong committee over the weekend.

In principle, without a pharmacist on board, the ACMD is contravening its statutory requirements.

The remaining members are due to meet Alan Johnson on Tuesday 10 November to discuss how the body will continue to function.

The government has to wake up to this timebomb and the health risks of

alcohol


Professor David Nutt

It is thought likely they will press for written assurances from Mr Johnson as to how government sees their role.

"They have to make their own minds up," said the professor, asked how many might resign.

"All I can say is many of them are completely behind me and many of them are minded to resign. If they all get the right kind of concessions, they might not."

Mr Johnson sacked Professor Nutt last week after a lecture he gave stating his view that illicit drugs should be classified according to the harm they cause, and that alcohol and tobacco caused more harm than LSD, cannabis and ecstasy.

The sacking, Mr Johnson said, was because he had "crossed a line" into politics with remarks that amounted to "lobbying" against government drugs policy.

Spice wars

Speaking at a media briefing on Wednesday, Professor Nutt claimed a number of high profile drugs projects were threatened, regardless of whether the committee stayed or was disbanded as the expertise of the departed Les King was so important.

He highlighted work into what is known as Spice - an often complex mixture of synthetic cannabinoid drugs easily available on the internet and GBL - a chemical solvent party drug. Mr Johnson said over the summer that these would be banned by the end of the year.

He also highlighted ongoing work into ketamine, the class C anaesthetic drug, and its effect on the bladder.

And he raised questions about the drugs policy of a future Conservative Government, which he characterised as "back to get 'em off, lock 'em up and keep 'em clean".

The Conservatives have already backed Mr Johnson's decision to sack Professor Nutt, saying some of his comments had been "particularly ill-judged".

But Professor Nutt made clear he was unrepentant, and that it was high time society engaged with the real drug problem - alcohol. If it were developed tomorrow, it would quickly become illegal, he argued.

"The government has to wake up to this timebomb and the health risks of alcohol," he said.



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