Seventh expert resignation leaves UK drug policy 'in tatters'

Seventh expert resignation leaves UK drug policy 'in tatters'

By staff writers
4 Apr 2010

Government drug policy descended further into farce over the Bank Holiday, as a seventh expert resigned from a key advisory group citing "media and political pressure".

Critics say the current strategy is now "in tatters", but Home Secretary Alan Johnson has vowed to plough on regardless.

Eric Carlin left the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) following its decision to recommend that mephedrone, known popularly as "meow meow", should be made a class B drug.

The government had opted to outlaw the "legal high" within an hour of the Council making a verbal recommendation to this effect, despite significant expert opposition.

The ACMD appeared to have found itself cajoled into "a knee-jerk call to ban mephedrone," commented Danny Kushlick, head of policy at the Transform Drug Policy Foundation, a think-tank that supports humane regulation and control as an alternative to both prohibition and a free-for-all.

Critics of the government's drugs policy say that a ban will simply create a criminal black market in mephedrone, divert more money from health to criminal justice, see otherwise law-abiding citizens criminalised and popularise the drug.

A potential panoply of synthetic legal drugs are ready to come on to the market to replace the likes of mephedrone, they point out - with the authorities left impotently chasing chemical developments but never being able to keep up adequately.

The government is now reported to be considering banning a relatively obscure drug, NRG-1, used as an appetite suppressant in France but available as one of a range of possible cheap "legal highs" to replace mephedrone.

Transform says that a paradigm shift is needed in thinking about the drugs challenge - with an end to the unfeasible tabloid-fuelled 'war on drugs' attitude, and a move towards credible regulatory strategies which acknowledge the full range of medical, economic, political, social and cultural factors involved.

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Also on Ekklesia: 'End the prohibition on open debate about drugs' by Professor Mick Moore - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/11634

Eric Carlin's full resignation letter reads as follows:

Dear Home Secretary,

With regret and sadness, I am tendering my resignation as a member of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.

I was honoured to be appointed to this position and I had hoped that my substantial experience of managing drug prevention and treatment services might help influence the committee, and thereby the government, to think about drugs as more of a public health issue rather than focusing narrowly on the criminal justice aspects. This has not been the case.

My main interest and competence is in the field of prevention and early intervention with young people. I have grown increasingly disillusioned not only with the lack of attention paid to this by politicians and the media but also by the ACMD's apparent lack of interest in the subject (with a few individual exceptions).

At our meeting earlier this week, the update report on Pathways to Problems, published on the same day, received scant attention. Indeed, there was no time for questions on the report due to the haste with which we were being pushed to make a decision about classifying Mephedrone; this so that the chair could come to meet with you later in the day and you could do a round of press announcements.

Re: Mephedrone; we had little or no discussion about how our recommendation to classify this drug would be likely to impact on young people's behaviour.

Our decision was unduly based on media and political pressure. The report was tabled to the whole council for the first time on Monday; the chair came to brief you before the whole council had even discussed all of the report. In fact, I still haven't seen the final version.

When, as home secretary, [Charles Clarke] announced that the entire classification system would be reviewed, I welcomed it and was disappointed when the idea was shelved. This needs urgently to be revisited.

We need to review our entire approach to drugs, dumping the idea that legally sanctioned punishments for drug users should constitute a main part of the armoury in helping to solve our country's drug problems.

We need to stop harming people who need help and support.

At the end of last year, I decided not to resign over the sacking of David Nutt, preferring instead to see how things panned out and to hope that the ACMD could develop a work programme which would help prevent and reduce harm, particularly to young people.

I have no confidence that this will now happen, largely, though not totally, due to the lack of logic of the context within which the council is constrained to operate by the Misuse of Drugs Act.

As well as being extremely unhappy with how the ACMD operates, I am not prepared to continue to be part of a body which, as its main activity, works to facilitate the potential criminalisation of increasing numbers of young people.

Yours sincerely,

Eric Carlin

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[Ekk/3]

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