If it were your job to reduce the societal impact of the 20 most harmful substances, a good plan might be to painstakingly evaluate them, publish the rankings in a medical journal, and then proceed accordingly. Unless you’re Dr. David Nutt, recently fired as the U.K.’s top drug advisor.
Nutt made the mistake of promoting findings that disrupt cultural norms. The list started with heroin (1). But then alcohol (5) came in above tobacco (9), marijuana (11), LSD (14) and ecstasy (18), and then Nutt was quoted as saying it might be a mistake throwing marijuana smokers in jail.
Two months after his firing, Nutt maintains we need to “get the scaling of harm right,” while UCLA’s Mark Kleiman notes that “at a certain point scientists should excuse themselves from the discourse” on drug policy. Where is the minimum elegant next step when politics, science and culture collide?