In his rather flippantly titled article “Equasy” David Nutt, new chairman of The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, refers to “equine addition syndrome” and it’s responsibility for 100 deaths every year.
Professor Nutt, may be making a valid statistical point about the relative dangers of consuming ecstasy and horse riding, but his comments can only distract from the more serious issues of what is always a febrile and deeply polarising debate.
In this case, after a considerable amount of research and discussion from a thirty strong, and politically independent group of experts, the ACMD are recommending the downgrading of Ecstasy from class A, home of Heroin and Crack Cocaine, to class B, where it would join Cannabis, Amphetamines and Barbiturates.
On Monday, Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, led the all too predictable outpouring of clamorous censure at Nutt’s remarks, directing nothing less than a schoolmasterly scalding at the academic from the safety of the House of Commons, where she was guaranteed the warm glow of overwhelming support, and rendering the veto of the Council’s sage advice nothing more than a formality.
Defenders of the status quo refuse to acknowledge the obvious parallels with, say, speed limit offences, where punishment for contravention increases to reflect rising hazard. Indeed there is no other comparable political subject where reasoned thinking is so non-negotiably traded for the imperative of popular perception.
Above all, the government consistently falls backs to the “mixed messages” argument, somehow deciding that young adults, though trusted enough to vote, cannot distinguish between different categories of drugs. And it is, after all, only the categorisation of Ecstasy which is the matter in question here.
When it comes to the patronisation of “young and vulnerable” drug users, the voices of authority seem to want it both ways. In a recent radio interview, Ian Johnston, President of the Police Superintendent’s Association for England and Wales referred to the lack of sophistication of clubbers as a reason to avoid any downgrading of ecstasy, without considering that the very same naivety might lead to all Class As being regarded as equal. That I would suggest is a far greater danger.
In essence, evidence-based policy appears to be meaningless in such politically-charged territory as the misuse of drugs (the illegal ones at least) and with the latest dismissal of its findings, now begs the question of the ACMD’s very existence.