David Nutt, head of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), has been sacked by Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, after questioning the Government’s policies.
Mr Johnson said he had “lost confidence” in the advice of the professor, who heads the Psychopharmacology Unit at the University of Bristol.
This week, Professor Nutt – who was earlier reprimanded by Jacqui Smith, the previous Home Secretary, for his remarks – gave a lecture at King’s College London in which he said that smoking cannabis created only a “relatively small risk” of psychotic illness.
He also claimed that those who wanted ecstasy to be reclassified as a less harmful substance had “won the intellectual argument”.
In a letter to Professor Nutt, Mr Johnson writes: “I cannot have public confusion between scientific advice and policy, and have therefore lost confidence in your ability to advise me as chair of the ACMD… I would therefore ask you to step down from the council with immediate effect.”
The BBC cites a reply from Professor Nutt in which he says he is “disappointed” by the decision. “While I accept that there is a distinction between scientific advice and government policy, there is clearly a degree of overlap… If scientists are not allowed to engage in the debate at this interface, then you devalue their contribution to policymaking and undermine a major source of carefully considered and evidence-based advice,” he says.
Scientists are likely to react with shock to the news.
Phil Willis MP, chair of the Science and Technology Committee, said: “It is disturbing if an independent scientist should be removed for reporting sound scientific advice.
“I am writing immediately to the Home Secretary to ask for clarification as to why the distinguished scientist… has been removed of duties as chair of the ACMD at a time when independent scientific advice to government is essential.”
The ACMD is described on its website as an “independent expert body that advises government on drug-related issues”.