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Home > Culture and Society

Drugs: Still Bad, Now With Added Confusion

4 August 2006

Imagine the evil looks Professor David Nutt, a senior member of a committee that advises the government on drug classification, must be getting for devising a new classification scale that rubbishes the reliable A/B/C one. After all that effort and money we put in to simply and firmly stating that all drugs must be avoided, because they are illegal and immoral and make you psychotic or at least unproductive and they might make you foam at the mouth and punch people or die. Now *that* was a message the stupidest unwary fool could understand - but no, here comes this speccoid from the University of Not Living in the Real World and messes it all up, with this confusing complicated list that seems to include alcohol and tobacco. He's just doing it to get a grant for another year. Let's kill him.

Actually, the government can't be too narked about it, struggling as they are to relax just a hummingbird's wingspan's worth about drugs. Even if the guy is called 'Nutt' and is thus the reason all tabloid editors went to the pub early yesterday. They have to at least be seen to entertain these notions, nodding sagely and neutrally, before finding all kinds of excuses not to return their calls for the next five years. The Science Select Committee, chaired by Phil Willis, had some strong words about the current system this week, calling it 'clearly unfit for purpose' and saying the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs stands accused of 'dereliction of duty'. Quick, give those boys some meth and watch them go at it!

The idea of the new scale is to put penalties aside and more closely reflect the overall harm each drug causes - to the individual and to society as a whole, taken together. Heroin and coke (which includes crack) are up at the top, logically enough, but booze comes in at four, like some sort of late-career Westlife single. Glance down the list and you do blink quite a bit, instinctively after all the years of having your head stuffed down the toilet of the ostensible; and you also cackle a bit, like the oh-so-transgressive child you are. Because look - there's tobacco at nine, kicking cannabis's leafy arse as it slouches in bleary-eyed at 11! If cannabis were a record producer, it'd be, like, some weak hitter who once worked with Shaggy. There are literally hours of fun to be had combining nostalgia for 'Top of the Pops' with liberal glee that science says Es (coming in at number 18, after stuff we can't even pronounce) are actually good.

Obviously science doesn't say anything of the sort (curses). It merely softly suggests that the millions spent trying to scare people out of taking it may have been a teensy bit much, and that a little perspective on what really is dangerous to the populace is overdue. But when Professor Nutt was interviewed on BBC News 24 earlier in the week, the interviewer inevitably implored him to think of the children.

The phrase 'wrong message' we could stomach, but when 'ivory tower' showed its face we demanded our licence fee back. Nutt refuted that the new scale would send any sort of wrong message, because it's just a rational breakdown based on facts, rather than a hysterical breakdown based on something Leah Betts' dad said. (You could argue, anyway, that young people actually have better intuition much of the time than elders whose brains have become befuddled with guesswork, haystacks of statistics and conflicting research, without the organic root of direct experience to call on. But we're not going to.)

Logical as the scale is, it's bound to cause some flapping, not least because the assumption is that the public has been so tenderised and indulged that it can't think for itself anymore. Or rather, it's dangerous to let them try. True, it's a bit optimistic expecting every last plonker to be able to snap into thinking in such broad terms, leaving their comfortable assumptions behind as they go to the pub to further erode their liver. But the time probably is right to make such a nudge towards officially rejigged thinking on a national scale. At the very least, it'll be funny to watch all the outraged smokers hopping up and down, but only for a minute before they have to bend over, put their hands on their thighs and go 'hhhhhhhh'.

Anyway, the idea is too laudable: to try and apply logic to an extraordinarily emotive issue, and put aside the moral implications that have thoroughly buggered up any efforts to be coherent about drugs and their use and abuse. It's a wonderfully rational, calming, soothing concept. So much so that looking at the scale is like having a tug on a big old bifta. No, but really, it's a good thing and a controversial one, and thus we shouldn't get too excited about it. We might take a valium (down three places at 27).

Here for breakdown and handy graph.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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