[THS] UK: Government's New Drug Adviser Les Iversen
psalience at fastmail.fm
Thu Feb 4 00:49:00 CET 2010
Pubdate: Thu, 14 Jan 2010
Source: Times, The (UK)
Copyright: 2009 Times Newspapers Ltd
Contact: letters at thetimes.co.uk
Author: Richard Ford, Home Correspondent
Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/find?207 (Cannabis - United Kingdom)
GOVERNMENT'S NEW DRUG ADVISER LES IVERSEN WANTED CANNABIS LEGALISED
A retired academic who once called for cannabis to be legalised was
appointed yesterday as the Government's new adviser on the harm
caused by drugs.
Les Iversen, a former pharmacology professor at the University of
Oxford, was made interim chairman of the Advisory Council on the
Misuse of Drugs. He replaces Professor David Nutt, who was sacked for
criticising the Government's decision to reclassify cannabis as a
Class B substance.
After the Home Office announced his appointment it emerged that in a
2003 lecture Professor Iversen said: "There have been no deaths to
date caused by use of cannabis. Cannabis should be legalised, not
just decriminalised, because it is comparatively less dangerous than
legal drugs like alcohol and tobacco."
In an article in 2003 he wrote that cannabis had been incorrectly
classified for nearly 50 years as a dangerous drug and that it was
one of the "safer" recreational drugs.
Questioned about his remarks yesterday, Professor Iversen said that
he no longer held the same views. He said during an interview on BBC
Radio 5: "I don't remember saying that. It's certainly not my position now.
"We have now to confront the more potent forms of cannabis. We have
the new evidence that arose since 2003 linking cannabis to
psychiatric illness. I think it's quite free for a scientist to
change his mind when faced with new facts."
He said that he accepted it was the Home Secretary's prerogative to
make decisions about drug classification and to accept or reject
"The way I look at this is that the Government should have respect
for the experts on the advisory group and the advisers should have
respect for the Government's prerogative to govern."
The row over Professor Nutt's sacking provoked a crisis over the role
of scientific advice within the Government. It prompted ministers to
commission a review of how it deals with scientists and forced Alan
Johnson, the Home Secretary, to give assurances to the remaining
council members on how they would be treated in future.
Evan Harris, the Liberal Democrat science spokesman, said: "What the
scientific community wants to know is whether Professor Iversen has
been guaranteed academic freedom and the right to state what the
evidence says on drugs policy, even when this conflicts with government policy.
"Without that assurance, the crisis in confidence from scientific
advisers in the Government will continue."
Martin Barnes, chief executive of the charity DrugScope and a member
of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, said: "Les is a very
experienced, knowledgeable and highly regarded member of the council.
It has an important role in robustly informing a range of policy
responses to drug use and drug harms -- it is crucial that its work continues."
The council is required to keep under review drug misuse in Britain
and advise the Government on those drugs that appear likely to be
misused and of which the misuse is having, or appears to experts
capable of having, harmful effects sufficient to constitute a social problem.
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