Wednesday, 7 May 2008


As predicted, Gordon Brown is re-classifying cannabis as a class B drug. It's a slightly odd decision, given that when he asked the experts for advice, they told him not to. But it's not as perverse as it looks,for two reasons:

First, the committee was asked only about the effects of the drug on individual users, not about wider policy concerns such as the effect on policing and crime or on the message re-classification sends. These are perfectly legitimate factors for the government to consider.

Secondly, all scientific advice comes hedged with probabilities and caveats, and it's fair enough to make a decision about levels of risk. This apparently is the main reason for the re-classification - the government is applying the precautionary principle, not wanting to find out twenty years down the line that it stood by while people melted their own brains.

All well and good. But the popular suspicion is that these are not the reasons for the change in policy. It is whispered that this is a political calculation - an attempt to look tough to law'n'order voters, notably Daily Mail readers. If so, then Brown is simply choosing between two sets of experts - the medical and the political. While the appearance of such a choice can give rise to a certain cynicism, let's bear one thing in mind: it's listening to his political experts that got Brown where he is today.

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