Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Friday, 2 April 2010

Another ACMD member quits with outspoken attack on Johnson

Another member has quit the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. Eric Carlin announced his resignation earlier today.

Having read his resignation letter, I am struck by how much sense he makes and how closely his views accord with my own. It is clear that he thinks criminalising people (predominantly young people) for using drugs is very damaging and distracting from what the real focus should be - harm reduction. Given all the other resignations (7 so far) on a similar basis from the body since the enforced resignation of its former Chair Professor David Nutt last year it is clear that many senior government advisors think that their policy is illogical, goes against the evidence of what works and is actually causing more harm. I interviewed Professor Nutt about this very issue back in January.

I have reproduced Mr Carlin's resignation letter to Home Secretary Alan Johnson below (which he published himself on his blog) and highlighted the parts that I think are most damaging to the government and its increasingly discredited policy:

Dear Home Secretary

Resignation from Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs

With regret and sadness, I am tendering my resignation as a member of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.

I was honoured to be appointed to this position and I had hoped that my substantial experience of managing drug prevention and treatment services might help influence the Committee, and thereby the Government, to think about drugs as more of a Public Health issue rather than focussing narrowly on the Criminal Justice aspects. This has not been the case.

My main interest and competence is in the field of prevention and early intervention with young people. I have grown increasingly disillusioned not only with the lack of attention paid to this by politicians and the media but also by the ACMD’s apparent lack of interest in the subject (with a few individual exceptions). At our meeting earlier this week, the update report on ‘Pathways to Problems’, published on the same day, received scant attention. Indeed, there was no time for questions on the report due to the haste with which we were being pushed to make a decision about classifying Mephedrone; this so that the Chair could come to meet with you later in the day and you could do a round of press announcements.

Re-Mephedrone; we had little or no discussion about how our recommendation to classify this drug would be likely to impact on young people’s behaviour. Our decision was unduly based on media and political pressure. The report was tabled to the whole Council for the first time on Monday; the Chair came to brief you before the whole Council had even discussed all of the report. In fact, I still haven’t seen the final version.

When, as Home Secretary, David Blunkett (note – should be Charles Clarke) announced that the entire classification system would be reviewed, I welcomed it and was disappointed when the idea was shelved. This needs urgently to be revisited. We need to review our entire approach to drugs, dumping the idea that legally-sanctioned punishments for drug users should constitute a main part of the armoury in helping to solve our country’s drug problems. We need to stop harming people who need help and support.

At the end of last year, I decided not to resign over the sacking of David Nutt, preferring instead to see how things panned out and to hope that the ACMD could develop a work programme which would help prevent and reduce harm, particularly to young people. I have no confidence that this will now happen, largely though not totally due to the lack of logic of the context within which the Council is constrained to operate by the Misuse of Drugs Act. As well as being extremely unhappy with how the ACMD operates, I am not prepared to continue to be part of a body which, as its main activity, works to facilitate the potential criminalisation of increasing numbers of young people.

Yours sincerely

Eric Carlin

I wonder how many more eminently sensible and public spirited people like Mr Carlin will eventually conclude that the government is not interested in evidence, only in placating newspaper editors whipping up the latest moral panic.

Jock Coats also has an interesting piece today where he argues that far from a general election being the time to shut up about a more liberal approach to drugs policy, it is precisely the time to set out our stall and argue our case.

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