Government panel to consider ecstasy harm

LONDON (Reuters) - The government’s advisory body on drugs meets on Friday to discuss whether ecstasy should be re-classified as less harmful, with senior police officers warning against such a move.

Seized ecstasy tablets in an undated photo. REUTERS/DEA/Handout

The independent Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), which makes recommendations to ministers on the control of dangerous and harmful drugs, is taking evidence from a range of experts as part of its review of ecstasy, or MDMA.

Last year Professor David Nutt, who will take over as chairman of the ACMD in November, called for a re-think of Britain’s classification of drugs, arguing that ecstasy should be ranked in the lowest class C category.

Currently, ecstasy is in the most serious class A category along with substances such as heroin and cocaine, but Nutt said it was less harmful than these.

The government believes ecstasy should remain a class A drug because there is no safe amount an individual can take.

A 2007 study by researchers at Hertfordshire University suggested that taking ecstasy just once can cause significant short and long-term memory loss.

The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) said it has written to the advisory panel to say it does not support moves to downgrade the drug.

“From an operational policing perspective, ACPO does not support any change in classification of ecstasy from its current class A status,” it said.

Although the ACMD was set up to advise the government on classification issues, ministers are not obliged to follow its recommendations.

Earlier this year the government said it would raise cannabis to a class B drug against the advice of the ACMD which said it should remain class C.

It had been originally downgraded to class C -- which includes substances such as anabolic steroids -- in January 2004 following a recommendation from the panel.

Transform Drug Policy Foundation, a charity that argues prohibition is the major cause of drug-related problems, said the review would produce “little more than posturing on all sides.”

“Given that the government overruled the Council on cannabis reclassification, the entire exercise is doomed before it has begun,” a spokesman said.

Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Steve Addison