I have written this letter to Mr. Iain Duncan Smith, my constituency MP and Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, regarding the proposed shake-up of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs and the relegation of scientific advice in the formulation of drugs policy. I decided to write the letter following the publication of an Early Day Motion tabled by Julian Huppert MP (Lib Dem, Cambridge); should you feel inspired (!) by what you read, please copy/paste the letter, alter as appropriate and send on to your MP using the funny little box below courtesy of MySociety.org as well - I know Mr. Duncan Smith will not sign given that he is a Minister of State, but the more signatories this EDM gets the clearer the message to the Government - it is not acceptable to pursue a drugs policy based on whimsical populism, nor to relegate scientific evidence to the background. If you do send a letter to your MP regarding this issue, please do come back to the comments below and let me know how it goes - you could even link to the text of your letter...
Dear Iain Duncan Smith,
I write as a constituent concerned about the Coalition government's plans to downgrade the status of scientific advice when formulating policy on drugs.
The previous government had a strained relationship with the scientific community, exemplified by the summary dismissal of Prof. David Nutt, Chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), for speaking in favour of an evidence-based approach to drugs policy. The advent of the Coalition brought with it renewed hopes for evidence-based policy formulation, not least with respect to drugs where we've seen decades of failed policies based on little more than populism and a desire to appear 'tough on drugs,' policies which ignore the core aim of harm reduction.
Sadly those hopes appear dashed with the news that the Police Reform Bill seeks to amend the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act (which established the ACMD and its terms of reference) such that the statutory requirement for six scientific experts to be appointed to the Council is to be removed - leaving the Home Secretary to decide its makeup as they see fit.
The Minister for Crime Prevention James Brokenshire MP claims this is necessary " to add greater flexibility to the provision of advice given to government, in order to ensure that we are able to get more effective policies, given the changing nature of the drugs threat" I fear that this is little more than a cover story for the removal of expert scientific advice from the process of formulating drugs policy; and Paul Flynn MP agrees, as his question to Mr. Brokenshire in Parliament clearly demonstrates (http://bit.ly/hnqpKo).
Moreover, the proposed Bill creates new powers for the Home Secretary to impose seemingly arbitrary temporary bans on substances they chose in the absence of evidence that they cause harm; last year saw a fiasco when the Government rushed to ban Mephedrone in a knee-jerk reaction to exaggerated media reports of its lethality, and these new powers make such baseless bans more likely.
I would therefore urge you to signal the government's support for a rational, evidence-based drugs policy with science at its heart - many people are asking their MPs to sign Dr. Julian Huppert MP's Early Day Motion 1148, the text of which is as follows:
That this House expresses its concern that the proposed changes in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill to the membership of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs remove the requirement to have any members on the Council with specific scientific knowledge; recognises the importance of evidence-based policy making, especially in the area of drugs policy; and requests that the Government brings forward amendments to the Bill to ensure that a reasonable proportion of the members of the Council have relevant scientific experience.
I am aware that Members of the Cabinet do not usually sign EDMs, but would request that you indicate your support regardless by return of post. It is vital that Parliament passes legislation on matters of public interest based on sound scientific evidence, and these measures undermine that goal; I request that you seek a way for the ACMD, and other advisory committees, to retain their integrity and scientific rigour.
I eagerly await your reply - for your information, this letter will be posted on my blog (teekblog.blogspot.com), as will - pending your permission - any reply you send.