WHITEHALL’s former chief drug adviser has called for Scotland to legalize cannabis and ecstasy as medicines.
Professor David Nutt – sacked by the last UK Labour government after saying some drugs were less dangerous than alcohol and tobacco – has long campaigned for decriminalization.
Now, with other campaigners, Prof Nutt wants to see the SNP use its Westminster influence after next month’s general election to push through reform north of the border on cannabis and MDMA, the scientific name of ecstasy.
The psychiatrist said: “Scotland has its own health service and it’s perfectly possible for Scotland to say we want to start developing cannabis and MDMA medicines that would have a massive impact on not only the patient base in Scotland but also on the economy of Scotland.
“I’m going to campaign for Scottish scientists to actually take the world forward where there are bans on useful medicines like cannabis and MDMA to an enlightened attitude that is world leading. I think Scotland can do that.”
The current prohibition regime was introduced across the UK more than 40 years ago. The Scottish Government is responsible for treating drug addicts – but has no power to decriminalise drugs, even for medicinal use. The SNP was urged to campaign for this during Smith Commission negotiations on the future of devolution but did not do so.
Prof Nutt, speaking to The Herald, continued: “If it turns out the SNP have some influence in the next government this could be one of the things they call for because you don’t have to change the Misuse of Drugs Act, all you have to do is change the schedules – which doesn’t even need an act of parliament – so that, in Scotland, cannabis and MDMA could be medicines.
“I’m almost certain you can do this within the current legislation but if not you could just change the legislation so that you could do it.”
Professor Nutt, who is currently the Edmond J Safra chair in Neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London, said he would relocate his research to Scotland if there was a change in legislation.
He is currently trying to set up trial of psilocybin, a short acting psychedelic found in mushrooms, to treat resistant depression, but claims academics like him are treated “like we’re drug dealers”.
He now hopes to “reach out” to SNP ministers and convince them that his plan will bring “tens of millions of pounds in health tourism”.
Professor Nutt said: “I did try to put out some feelers towards them in terms of a more broad based, rational approach to drugs but I didn’t get any further with it.”
An SNP spokesman dismissed the suggestion yesterday, saying: “The SNP does not agree with Professor Nutt’s proposal.”
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government also poured cold water on the idea.
“Our position is that all medicinal products must be fully tested and researched before they can be licensed and made available,” she said.
However, Katy MacLeod, National Training and Development Officer at the Scottish Drugs Forum, said the use of controlled substances as medicines should be explored.
She said: “There has been a recent growth in research projects looking at potential medicinal benefits of psychedelics such as use in psychotherapy or as treatment for mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.”
Ms Macleod will join Professor Nutt at the inaugural meeting of the Psychedelic Society of Edinburgh (PSE) on Monday.
She added: “It’s important for people to be able to access the evidence base on not only harms of substances but also to properly understand the possible benefits such as medicinal uses and potential implications of use, in order to make informed choices.”
PSE has been set up to campaign for the legalisation of drugs which have been shown to provide medical benefits by some scientific studies.
Organisers say the event has been oversubscribed with more than 600 people paying £4.50 each for a ticket.