Nutt, the former government advisor who was sacked in 2009 after describing ecstasy as no more dangerous than horse riding, told The Huffington Post UK that May has consistently stifled the debate on drugs in Britain over the last six years.
He alleged that she had “actively excluded evidence and common sense” over drugs policy in her time as Home Secretary between 2010 and 2016 and that, as Prime Minister, things under her premiership could get worse.
She comes from quite a religious background and she has a religious, what you might call an extremist, position about drugsProf David Nutt
“She comes from quite a religious background and she has a religious, what you might call an extremist position, about drugs, except alcohol,” Nutt said. “So she has made the situation worse because she has actively excluded evidence and common sense from the Home Office.”
May has spoken candidly before about the role religion plays in her decision making. “I suppose there is something in terms of faith, I am a practising member of the Church of England and so forth, that lies behind what I do,” she told the Sunday Times in November.
Last year, former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg accused May and her aides of tampering with a report which found no link between tough laws and illegal drug use because they “didn’t like the conclusions”.
“Now she’s Prime Minister I kind of feel things could even get worse, it’s hard to see how they could get worse because we’ve now banned everything, apart from alcohol,” Nutt said. “But I think the attitude that it is someone’s fault for taking drugs and that they have to be punished if they’re caught is exactly the wrong attitude.”
In a wide-ranging interview on drugs policy, Nutt claimed:
- Brexit is unlikely to lead to greater control of drugs policy, or the legalisation of currently illegal narcotics;
- The legalisation of medical marijuana is the only ‘chink in the armour’ of current drugs policy in the UK, as evidence of its benefit mounts;
- Sustained efforts by ‘hysterical’ tabloid newspapers have consistently misinformed the public about drugs, providing an example of ‘alternative truth’.
Speaking to HuffPost in his office at Imperial College in west London, Nutt said that the vote to leave the EU suggested a willingness to dispense with wisdom and common sense when it came to decision making.
“Brexit tells us that there is a significant, small majority even, of people in this country who are prepared to sacrifice common sense, wisdom, sanity for a principle of self-determination,” he said. “It doesn’t give me great confidence that the people of this country are going to be rational about decision making.”
Nor will Brexit allow the UK to pursue new avenues of regulation around drugs “because the majority of laws are UN conventions which we misinterpret,” Nutt added.
The only chink in the armour at present is medical cannabisProf David Nutt
Making cannabis legal as a medicine to treat conditions such as chronic pain and neurological problems has proven health benefits and represents the best opportunity for drugs campaigners, Nutt argued.
“The only chink in the armour at present is medical cannabis. Cannabis was a medicine for over 4,000 years, it was a medicine in the British Pharmacopoeia for over 200 years,” he said.
It is absurd to be denying it [cannabis] to the British peopleProf David Nutt
But Nutt, who wants drugs less harmful than alcohol and tobacco to be legalised, argued that America’s example, where cannabis is available by prescription in 28 states, and without one in eight states, will influence Britain.
“I think that is where the British public will see that if it is good enough for 200m Americans it’s good enough for 60 million Brits,” he added. “It is absurd to be denying it to the British people.”
Senior MPs last year called on Theresa May to consider potential tax receipts from legalising cannabis altogether.
The Home Office said its approach on drugs remained focussed on preventing drug use in communities and on treatment and recovery.
Nutt said there is a wider effort on the part of tabloid newspapers to whip up frenzied “hysteria” to ban drugs that have been used with little harm for decades.
And in the sort of clinical detail expected of a world-leading psychopharmacologist, Nutt explained his belief that The Sun sought to ban nitrous oxide in a ferocious campaign of “alternative truth”.
“Nitrous oxide, this wonderful British discovery, 210 years old, widely used in the 1800s as a way for scientists to explore their mind, developed as an anaesthetic, one of the very first anaesthetics, used by hundreds of millions of women in childbirth, is now illegal,” Nutt said.
“Why? Because a couple of footballers started getting photographed using balloons of nitrous oxide at parties and The Sun got these photos. The Sun created hysteria: ‘Look! These expensive footballers are poisoning their brains with nitrous oxide.’”
Footballers are quite smart, they realised you can play better the next day after a couple of bags of nitrous oxide than you can after a couple of pints of beerProf David Nutt
“Why did [the footballers] do that? Because they’re not as stupid as you think, footballers are quite smart, they realised you can play better the next day after a couple of bags of nitrous oxide than you can after a couple of pints of beer,” Nutt said. “So they’re using a short acting drug to have fun at a party and still be able to play the next day.”
Nutt believes banning a drug is seen as a “badge of honour” by newspaper editors.
“So the hysteria about nitrous oxide was just fuelled over footballers,” he continued. “The Sun, to get nitrous oxide [banned], they didn’t say ‘ah we’re worried that footballers are taking Entonox, like all you millions of women have done’. No, they said footballers are taking ‘hippy crack’.”
Who wouldn’t want to ban ‘hippy crack’? Who wants hippies coming back? And crack must be dangerousProf David Nutt
‘Hippy crack’, or ‘hippie crack’, is a term by no means limited to The Sun. Its origin is not certain, but in 2013, the Guardian described it as “being all the rage with the kids at the moment”. The Daily Mirror, Daily Mail and The Sun all investigated the trend.
“Who wouldn’t want to ban ‘hippy crack’? Who wants hippies coming back? And crack must be dangerous,” Nutt said.
“Basically you create false stories, you create false fears, it’s been done for the last hundred years,” he added. “The public should wake up. This is really the classic example of ‘alternative truth’.
“Newspapers almost never tell the truth about drugs,” he said.
This Government has no plans to decriminalise drugsHome Office
A Home Office spokesperson said: “This Government has no plans to decriminalise drugs. Our approach on drugs remains clear - we must prevent drug use in our communities, support people through treatment and recovery, and tackle the supply of illegal drugs.
“The decriminalisation of drugs in the UK would not address the harms associated with drug dependence and the misery that this can cause to families and communities.
“We are currently developing a new Drug Strategy, working across Government and with key partners, to identify what further steps we can take to tackle this issue.”