Page last updated at 02:12 GMT, Friday, 15 January 2010

Rival to government drug advisory panel launched

The government's former chief drugs adviser, David Nutt, on why he set up the panel

An independent group designed to give "politically neutral" information about the risks of drugs is being launched.

It has been set up by the government's former chief drugs adviser, David Nutt, who was sacked last October for criticising government policy.

The Independent Council on Drug Harms consists of about 20 specialists.

Prof Nutt has said the group will be "very powerful" and its "goal" will be to take over from the official Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.

'Focus on science'

Several former and current ACMD members are among the specialists in drugs, addiction and medicine who have joined the group, which held its first private meeting on Thursday .

I think in a way we will take over that particular role of the ACMD
Professor David Nutt

BBC home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw said he understood the new organisation had secured funding from a benefactor for three years.

It is also being supported by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies think tank.

When he announced his plans for the group, Prof Nutt said: "We have a really very, very powerful grouping - more powerful than the ACMD in the past has ever managed to pull together."

He said the new body would provide independent scientific evidence about the effects of drugs.

"I think in a way we will take over that particular role of the ACMD," said Prof Nutt.

"We're going to focus on the science and the ACMD can continue, if it likes, to deal with issues about treatment provision, about social policy etc."

Prof Nutt was sacked by Home Secretary Alan Johnson last October after publicly disagreeing with the government's decision to re-classify cannabis as a Class B drug and not to downgrade ecstasy.

Appointment overshadowed

Five ACMD members then resigned in the row that followed Prof Nutt's departure.

It later emerged that two other ACMD members had also stepped down, though the Home Office said their departures were unrelated to the Nutt affair.

On Wednesday the Home Office named pharmacology specialist Les Iversen as the new chairman of the ACMD, but the appointment was overshadowed by the revelation he had once backed the legalisation of cannabis.

In an article in 2003, Prof Iverson wrote that cannabis had been "incorrectly" classified as a dangerous drug for almost 50 years and said it was one of the "safer" recreational drugs.

However, he told BBC Radio 5 live he had since changed his mind because of new evidence about the dangers of cannabis.

It was the home secretary's prerogative to make decisions about drug classification and accept or reject scientific advice, Prof Iverson added.

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