Like many others, I’m very worried about the proposals to remove the requirement in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill for the ACMD members to include a doctor, a dentist, a vet, a pharmacist, a drugs industry expert and a scientist from another branch of chemistry.
The Coalition government may be taking a more honest position than that of the last Government, though that does not make it less mistaken or more damaging for any hopes that we might move towards sensible, evidence-based drug policy.
When I resigned from the ACMD over the Mephedrone debacle, it was because I felt that rather than giving balanced, research-based advice, the committee had bowed to inappropriate media and political pressure to make recommendations which were incomplete in themselves and based on inadequate research evidence or consideration of important issues, such as how the drug was being used and what the likely consequences of a ban would be. So my problems were with the Government in putting undue pressure on the ACMD and also with the ACMD itself for neglecting its statutory and moral responsibilities by bowing to that pressure.
Fast forward to the current situation: I think that there are at least two important issues here:
1. The ‘scientific’ advice – I think for the ACMD to function at all, this needs to be absolutely the best and the statutory positions are required for that. From what I can see, I think the ACMD members have been naive and mistaken in ceding this position.
2. In addition to this, I believe that the ACMD needs also to be advised by experts who know about education, prevention and harm reduction practice and research, about how people behave and how to influence that – therefore, educationalists, social scientists and practitioners with substantial experience are also required.
Rather than removing the no. 1 requirement, the ACMD would have been strengthened by adding new statutory requirements re no. 2.
As it is, the public perception now is that the scientific credibility of ACMD members is of no importance to political decision makers, and the latter are now not even trying to hide that fact. Moreover, there are even suggestions being circulated on the internet that the change has been prompted not just because politicians want to avoid science-based deliberations on drug policy but also because scientists worth their salt might not wish to tarnish their reputations by joining the ACMD.