Letter dated 20 January 2009 from Professor
John Beddington, Government Chief Scientific Adviser to the Rt
Hon Jacqui Smith MP, Secretary of State for the Home Office
I read with interest the recent comments in
the Guardian (Ian Sample's article of 5 January) attributed
to the Home Office regarding the classification of ecstasy, linked
to the forthcoming advice on this issue by the Advisory Council
on the Misuse of Drugs. I am concerned that, if the comments are
reported correctly, Ministers may be pre-empting their decision
without having seen the forthcoming scientific advice on ecstasy.
Under the legislation, decisions on such matters
do, of course, lie with Ministers, taking account of scientific
advice on harms and other factors that may have a bearing. In
providing evidence to the IUSS Committee in November I noted this
position in relation to earlier decisions on cannabis.
However, an important principle, and one that underpins
my own role and that of departmental Chief Scientific Advisors,
is that policy decisions should be informed by robust scientific
Policy decisions on drugs will inevitably be
difficult and contentious. There is a wider question as to whether
the current approach to classification is the best one. For the
longer term, I would welcome working with you, alongside Paul
Wiles, to consider possible alternative approaches that better
link the harm caused by drugs with the criminal justice system.
I hope this is helpful.
I am copying this letter to Sir Gus O'Donnell,
Sir David Normington and Professor Paul Wiles.