Professor David Nutt wants to do scientific research into illegal drugs. What's so nutty about that?

The erstwhile drugs tsar's wants more freedom to conduct scientific research into the medical properties of drugs. It isn't all that radical, so why isn't Government listening?

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The Nutty Professor is at it again. Social conservatives will see nominative determinism at work in Professor David Nutt’s statement to the British Neuroscience Association (BNA) that “absurd” drug laws are preventing his research into the treatment of depression with magic mushrooms. You may recall Nutt was sacked from his job as the Labour government’s drug tsar in 2009 for uttering the unspeakable depravity / plain truth that legal classification of recreational drugs is out of step with scientific measures of harmfulness. And yet he keeps saying it. I see nominative determinism at work here too, of a different kind. This is a man with the metaphorical nuts necessary to keep talking, even when no one wants to listen.

It’s important to note that he’s not proposing anything as polarising as legalisation. The Houses of Parliament is not going to turn into the stone circle at the Glastonbury Festival overnight. He simply wants to manufacture a small amount of psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms) for research that could immeasurably improve the lives of the estimated 1 in 10 British adults who suffer from depression. His work received ethical approval and a grant from the UK’s Medical Research Council, before crashing into the brick wall of our unnuanced, unscientific drug laws. You’d have an easier time getting hold of anthrax.

Even in the US, home of the Puritans, prohibition and the prison-industrial complex, there’s more room for manoeuvre. The US has been quietly amending drug policy on a state-by-state basis since the 70s. Washington and Colorado recently voted to legalise cannabis for recreational use, as well as medical, joining 16 other states with some kind of decriminalisation laws.

If anything, it should be easier here. Isn’t that the whole point of our trendy, socially liberal prime minister? By day he’s tough on the economy, but by night, he’s just like the rest of us, chilling out at home after a dinner party with his married gay friends, the latest Coldplay album, and if not an actual spliff, at least the warm memory of a spliff smoked once at University.

In fact, at the end of last year when a Commons select committee recommended closer consideration of decriminalisation, the Government closed down debate before it could begin with a terse “simply not necessary”.

Focus is on the economy, of course, yet as long as the Government successfully frames welfare cuts as the only possible salvation, the potential revenue and savings of many policies, including drug law reform, will go unexplored. If it wasn't for Professor Nutt’s occasional reminders, drugs law reform would be forever parked it on the list of Things We Won’t Be Discussing, alongside the Robin Hood Tax, infrastructure investment and Jeremy Hunt’s weird haircut.

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