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Nov 04 2009

Keep your pesky science out of our policy

Category: Politics,The Law Author:

The laughable state of drug laws in the UK has been getting some play recently, with the news that Prof. David Nutt has been sacked for daring to intimate that perhaps placing cannabis in the same broad category as amphetamine and codeine is somewhat unreasonable. Understandably, his colleagues have begun resigning in a show of solidarity; most people don’t take kindly to bluntly being told their job is a sham and that they are required to act merely as yes-men.

It’s rather perplexing to witness the government admitting so openly that they 1) create and enforce policy based on nothing more than gut instincts and uninformed opinions, and 2) are in possession of instincts and opinions in direct contradiction to considered scientific evidence. And moreover, that they are so invested in these assertions that they must engage in peculiar twists of argument in order to keep them propped up against all the evidence, rather than graciously acknowledge the results and change policy accordingly. The result, our misinformation-based antidrug laws and propaganda seem to me to be taking on characteristics all too similar to rituals and traditions based on fear and legends instead of any rational base.

Prof. Nutt has written an interesting response in the Guardian, which highlights not only the massively overstated risk from cannabis, but also the incredibly biased way in which drugs are reported in the media. We’ve had the evidence of cannabis’ low-risk status for a couple of years now; I remember when the BBC first reported on Nutt’s Lancet paper in 2007 with its telling graph ranking drugs by actual harm rather than popular opinion.

I’m optimistic, however; more and more people are taking cannabis and discovering for themselves how absurd the tales spun by the government are, and I believe the pro-science angle this story has been given reflects on a population mature enough to being seriously reconsidering the rationale for keeping it illegal. America is ahead of the game on this one – the town of Breckenridge in Colorado recently voted to decriminalise cannabis; although a largely token gesture due to its illegality at a state level, it’s a posture that is gaining traction across the US.

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