The Mail on Sunday
DRUGS TSAR’S LINKS TO LADY MINDBENDER
EXCLUSIVE THE Government’s new drugs tsar is listed as an adviser to a shadowy foundation run by an aristocrat lobbying to liberalise laws on mind-altering drugs.
Professor Les Iversen is head of the official Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), which is currently at the centre of the debate over regulating mephedrone – known as M-Cat or Meow Meow.
But the Beckley Foundation, a controversial charity campaigning against anti-drug regulations, claims he is one of its key advisers.
The foundation is run by Amanda, Lady Neidpath – dubbed Lady Mindbender – who admits using drugs herself, including
cannabis and LSD, and says one of her two children has also been a heavy user.
Professor Iversen – the third senior Government drugs adviser to be linked to the organisation – does not declare his connection to it on the Home Office’s register of interests.
Last night he claimed he no longer had anything to do with the organisation, but its website yesterday still listed him as one of its panel of 13 scientific advisers. The listing was most recently updated last month.
Lady Neidpath, 67, said yesterday: ‘He, like many important people in this field, agreed to be on our advisory panel. We don’t meet, but Professor Iversen has never asked me to remove him from our scientific advisers list.’
Last night one senior Tory MP called on the professor to resign as head of the ACMD.
Critics say the Beckley Foundation, operating out of a secluded 16th Century Oxfordshire manor house, is committed to legalising drugs under the guise of ‘studying consciousness and altered states’.
The foundation says its work is to ‘direct and support world-class research into the practices used to alter our conscious states, and the policies that seek to regulate some of these practices’. In 2003, Professor Iversen wrote a paper for the foundation comparing the effects of alcohol and cannabis, and concluded that alcohol was more dangerous. It led him to question why cannabis was illegal when alcohol was not.
At the time, he said: ‘Cannabis should be legalised, not just decriminalised, because it is comparatively less dangerous than the legal drugs alcohol and tobacco.’
But Professor Iversen now says this is no longer his position. He said:
‘Less dangerous than alcohol and tobacco’
‘That was a view I had in 2003 and a great deal has happened since then.
‘As a scientist it is only right that I should be guided by the best available evidence. As the evidence develops in the drugs field, it is to be expected that individuals will refine their judgments.’
However, his association with the Beckley Foundation publicly continued until at least 2005, when he gave a speech on The Medical Potential Of Cannabis at a seminar for the organisation at the House of Lords.
The event was hosted by Lord Mancroft, the Conservative politician and former heroin addict. Described as ‘the most knowledgeable parliamentarian on the subject of drugs’, the Eton-educated peer has been the chairman of the Addiction Recovery Foundation since 1989 and is also chairman of the Drug and Alcohol Foundation.
Lord Mancroft supports prescribing heroin on the NHS, saying it could ‘stabilise the lives of those addicts dependent on an ever-growing black market’ and has called for a major rethink in drug-control policy, saying: ‘You can’t ban these drugs because people want them.’
Last night, an ACMD spokesman said: ‘Professor Iversen has presented to the Beckley Foundation. However, he is not employed by them. Professor Iversen has presented the evidence concerning the harms of cannabis to the Beckley Foundation in an adviser capacity.
‘Professor Iversen has publicly stated that he fully supports the report that the ACMD produced in April 2008 concerning its consideration of cannabis. The ACMD believe that cannabis is a harmful drug and poses a real threat to the health of those who use it.’
Last month the Beckley Foundation called for the reintroduction of LSD for medical use. It paid for a series of clinical trials to study its effects on the human brain.
In 2008, the foundation published a 226-page document – the Global Cannabis Commission Report – examining the use, prohibition and control of cannabis. The report, which cost the charity more than £80,000, was launched at the House of Lords and urged the lifting of criminal convictions for use or possession.
Lady Neidpath was brought up in the Oxfordshire manor house from which the Beckley Foundation operates.
Her foundation publicly says it examines links between drug use and creativity, as well seeking to provide a scientific base for changing current drugs laws.
Lady Neidpath, who admits taking cannabis and psychedelic drugs including magic mushrooms, mescaline and LSD, has said: ‘I have always considered myself my own best laboratory.’
She does not think cannabis is harmless, although she believes it is ‘a lot less bad’ than tobacco or alcohol.
And she says that if cannabis was authorised, it could be properly labelled, and Government-controlled.
Her husband Jamie – Lord Neidpath – was a close friend of the Queen Mother and a regular at parties on the luxury Caribbean retreat of Mustique with Princess Margaret and her lover Roddy Llewellyn. Now in his 60s, he also features in Andy Warhol’s diaries as part of the artist’s louche New York set.
Last night Lady Neidpath confirmed she still considered that Professor Iversen was a scientific adviser to her organisation.
She said: ‘I have a great admiration for him. I think he is an excellent person to head up the Government’s drugs advisory committee.
‘The last time I asked him to talk at one of our seminars he said he couldn’t because of his Government role. I completely understood.’ She added: ‘He has never asked me to remove him from our advisers list but I suppose if people now make a great fuss about it he may ask me to remove his name.’
The revelations about Professor Iversen and the Beckley Foundation come after Eric Carlin, a member of the ACMD, resigned following the decision to ban mephedrone.
Yesterday Mr Carlin, who has attended seminars run by the Beckley Foundation, said Ministers had pledged to ban the drug to appear to be ‘acting tough’ in the run-up to the General Election. He said experts were being ignored and the advisory council was ‘not doing its job’. Two former Government drug tsars are also involved in the Beckley Foundation.
Co-director Mike Trace, who for four years under Tony Blair was
‘He never asked me to remove his name’
Britain’s deputy drugs tsar, quit a UN post after it was revealed that he intended to use it to try to promote making cannabis and other dangerous drugs legal across the world.
Mr Trace fell out with his bosses at the UN Office on Drugs and Crime after his attempt to set up a pressure group devoted to the cause of legalising drugs was made public.
In November, Professor David Nutt, a scientific adviser to the foundation, was sacked as head of the ACMD after insisting that the use of alcohol and cigarettes poses a greater danger than cannabis and ecstasy. Home Secretary Alan Johnson said he no longer has confidence in his policy advice.
Professor Nutt last week said mephedrone – the so-called ‘legal high’ known as Meow Meow – should be handed out in nightclubs rather than banned. He argued that doling out small amounts of the drug with guidance on its use would be ‘safer’ than banning it.
Professor Iversen became the new interim chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs in place of Professor Nutt in January.
The retired Oxford University professor of pharmacology is a specialist in neuro-pharmacology, the study of how drugs or chemicals affect the brain and nervous system.
In 1998, he acted as the key specialist adviser to a report into cannabis by the House of Lords’ respected Science and Technology Committee which concluded that the Government should allow doctors to prescribe cannabis for medical use but said the ban on recreational use of cannabis was justifiable.
He wrote a book, The Science Of Marijuana, detailing the advances made in understanding marijuana and the balance between benefits and risks of using the plant in medicine.
Cannabis has never been legalised for medicinal use in the UK – but Professor Iversen has been at the heart of the debate over its classification.
He was a member of the committee when it recommended downgrading cannabis from Class B to Class C in 2004. He was still a member when former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith reversed that decision in 2008.
Last night, former Tory Home Office Minister Ann Widdecombe called on Professor Iversen to resign as head of the ACMD.
She said: ‘The fact that he was prepared to lend his name to a body pushing for softer policies on drug use means he should not be advising the Government on this issue.’