Page last updated at 16:07 GMT, Friday, 15 January 2010

Sacked government drugs adviser vows to tell truth

Professor David Nutt said his new group "will do the science"

The government's sacked former chief drugs adviser Professor David Nutt has vowed to tell the "truth about drugs" as he launched a rival advisory group.

He claimed it would "take over" the role of scientific advisers from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), which could no longer function.

The Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs (ISCD) included "powerful" former members of the ACMD, he said.

The government said scientific advice would remain a key ACMD component.

'We are future'

Prof Nutt told the BBC: "This new committee we have set up is a very, very strong scientific pedigree, already we have over a dozen members of the top scientific pedigree.

What this committee will do is provide to you the truth about drugs, unfettered by any political influence
Prof David Nutt

"So it is difficult for the government to set up a comparable group because many of the key scientists are with us, but more than that, because we are independent... the government's own committee is not able to function."

Launching the ISCD, Prof Nutt claimed: "We are the future of scientific advisory committees to government."

He earlier told reporters: "What this committee will do is provide to you the truth about drugs, unfettered by any political influence."

He said the ACMD was no longer a scientific body, but made up of drug treatment people, police and magistrates who would focus on policy.

ANALYSIS
Danny Shaw
Danny Shaw, BBC home affairs correspondent

At the ACMD, said David Nutt, there was always "pressure" from his political masters.

Now, in his new group, he has the freedom to spell out the scientific evidence behind drugs without worrying what politicians think.

As if to illustrate his sense of "liberation", he has already ditched the panel's working title, the Independent Council on Drug Harms, to the more stately Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs.

The committee aims to be Britain's leading authority on the health risks of drug-taking.

If it achieves that ambition, the ACMD's role in this regard would then be superfluous.

The fact that four former and five current ACMD members have signed up to or shown an interest in joining simply adds to doubts over the ACMD's future.

He also said he had received a "very supportive e-mail" from pharmacology specialist Professor Les Iversen, who was named on Wednesday by the Home Office as the new ACMD chairman.

"We will do the science and I guess they will do what they can do, which I suppose will be policy," he said.

When he announced his plans for the group, Prof Nutt said it would take over the science role of the ACMD.

But a government spokesman said: "The ACMD will continue to offer recommendations to government on the control of harmful drugs. Scientific advice has always been a key component of its recommendations, and will continue to be so.

"However, the ACMD also provides advice on issues such as scheduling (under the Misuse of Drugs Regulations) for legitimate use of substances; a non-statutory body would not necessarily look to provide this advice."

The government also said the ACMD routinely considers evidence from a wide range of sources, including external experts and would continue to do so.

BBC home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw said he understood the new organisation of around 20 specialists had secured funding from a benefactor for three years.

Les Iversen
ACMD chairman Prof Les Iversen once backed the legalisation of cannabis

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

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.

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.

Prof Iversen's appointment as the new ACMD chairman was overshadowed by the revelation he had once backed the legalisation of cannabis.

In an article in 2003, he 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.

But 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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