PROFESSOR David Nutt, the ex-government drug adviser who provoked a media storm when he said taking ecstasy was no less dangerous than horse riding, renewed his criticisms of politicians and policymakers during a talk in Stroud last week.

The approach of successive governments towards drug policy had been out of step with scientific opinion and consequently the classification of illicit substances fails to reflect their relative harm, he argued.

In his lecture entitled, ‘Science and non-science in the current drug and alcohol laws,’ Professor Nutt focused particular scrutiny on the 2009 re-classification of cannabis as a Class B drug.

That decision to upgrade the drug, Professor Nutt said, was motivated less by scientific evidence and more by political considerations and a desire to appease a hostile tabloid press.

Contrasting the risks associated with cannabis with those from consuming alcohol, the eminent psychiatrist argued that the policy of criminalising cannabis defied common sense.

Alcohol was responsible for 8,000 deaths a year, he said, while cannabis could only be implicated in a handful of deaths.

Professor Nutt, currently a researcher at Imperial College London, said the dramatic increase in liver disease in recent years coupled with the £30 billion annual cost to the taxpayer of alcohol misuse, meant drink posed a far greater risk to society than cannabis use. "There has been a 20 times increase in the number of people using cannabis in the last forty years, yet we are not seeing a surge in the number of deaths.

"One of the reasons we have always argued cannabis is safer than alcohol is because you cannot overdose on cannabis," he said. The drug expert claimed lobbyists working on behalf of the drinks industry possessed too much power and were able to shape government drug policy and legislation to their liking.

All it would take to bring about a change, he said, was for politicians to start exercising a ‘little political courage’.

He urged the government to challenge the status quo, saying that drug policy should be influenced by scientific facts rather than politicians’ fears of being castigated by the popular press.

A graduate of Cambridge University, Professor Nutt had to endure the glare of the media spotlight when in 2009 he was dismissed from his post as chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) by then Home Secretary Alan Johnson, who accused him of campaigning against government policy.

Elements of the print press loudly applauded his sacking with one red-top dubbing him ‘Professor Poison’, while Daily Mail columnist Melanie Phillips declared him part of ‘a manipulative, subversive and largely dangerous clique’ – a suggestion he laughed off with a wry smile at the talk last Thursday, January 19.

The treatment he received at the hands of the raucous British tabloids went beyond personal insults however, as he revealed at the event in St Laurence Church Hall.

Professor Nutt, a father of four, claimed one newspaper accessed his sons’ Facebook accounts and published personal information about his family shortly after he was fired.

He said he is now hoping to give evidence to the Leveson Inquiry, which has been tasked with examining the standards and ethics of the press in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal.

Discussing Alan Johnson’s decision to relieve him of his duties, Professor Nutt appeared somewhat bemused by the whole furore.

"They said I was getting involved in policy and as a scientist I should not do that," he said.

"They said they lost confidence in me which is political speak for saying I would not toe the line."