Some of Britain's leading drug experts yesterday launched an attack on Professor David Nutt, who was sacked as chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) after he argued that alcohol and tobacco were more dangerous than cannabis.
Professor Andy Parrott, the country's foremost authority on ecstasy, accused him of making "misleading and factually incorrect" comments. He said: "Professor Nutt has stated that ecstasy/MDMA is 'less pleasurable' than cocaine or nicotine, and hence less damaging. This is nonsense." He said such mistakes are "very worrying" and "may help to explain his recent dismissal", he added.
And Professor Robin Murray, a cannabis expert at the Institute of Psychiatry, added to his previous criticism of Professor Nutt when he said the ACMD hadn't "covered itself with glory in its understanding of cannabis" and has "always been several years behind the evidence". "It isn't an exclusively expert scientific body... and has been badly led by a few individuals," he said.
Professor Nutt's dismissal for criticising government drugs policy created ministerial divisions, with Lord Drayson, the science minister, criticising his boss Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, for not consulting those responsible for science policy within his department. Two ACMD members resigned in protest.
Speaking to The Independent on Sunday yesterday, Professor Nutt rejected the criticisms. "The ACMD has done extraordinarily thorough research," he said. "We don't have positions other than evidence-based positions... it would be completely inappropriate to have anyone on there that had a position. That would be incompatible with an objective assessment of the issue."
The furore is set to continue this week with the Commons science and technology committee demanding that Mr Johnson, Professor John Beddington, the Government's chief scientific adviser, and Professor Nutt provide written evidence for its investigation into the sacking. And on Tuesday Mr Johnson is to hold crisis talks with ACMD members over its future.