The sacking of Professor David Nutt as Government chief drugs adviser was criticised by an unholy alliance of Guardianistas and Brown-bashers, the former seeing it as giving support to liberalising drugs policy, the latter as more evidence that the government are unwilling to tolerate dissent or criticism.
But, once you look into it more closely, Prof. Nutt’s message is as much anti-alcohol as pro-drug.
I heard a radio interview with him yesterday in which he said that if he had his way alcohol would be a Class B controlled drug. He also refused to be drawn on whether the harm caused by ecstasy, proportionate to the number of users and the frequency of use, was less or more than that caused by alcohol. The interviewer, to be fair, did press him on that particular point and he waffled and prevaricated, but he wasn’t asked the vital question as to whether he consumed alcohol himself.
He also said that “parents should be aware that the drug that is by far the most likely to harm their children is alcohol” – without adding the essential caveat that any drug can only harm you if you actually use it. Obviously parents don’t want their offspring either pissed on Diamond White or stoned on skunk, but I would imagine the vast majority would prefer them to have a glass or two of wine or beer rather than a daily joint.
It’s often said, by Prof. Nutt and others, that alcohol is more dangerous than many illegal drugs. It always seems to me that they are clouding the issue by confusing the overall effect on society with the effect on individuals. Obviously, given the prevalence of alcohol in society, it is not surprising that more people in total experience harmful effects. But is it true that it is more dangerous on a proportionate basis? I really don’t think so.
For a start, many people consume alcohol as much (if not more) for the taste as for the effect. I’m not aware that you can say that for any other drug. And, more importantly, alcohol can be consumed in moderation through an adult lifetime without any adverse health effects, and even with some small benefits. Other drugs such as cannabis, ecstasy, LSD and cocaine must be judged against the same yardstick.
In the final analysis, Nutt is not a hero of rationality and free speech, he is just, at heart, another Righteous bansturbator.
Edit 01/11/09: There's a very interesting commentary on the issue here from Frank Davis: A Plague on Both Their Houses.