Open minds required

MANY great innovators are met with derision before the true worth of their big idea becomes clear.

Often great innovation stems from just looking at a problem from a new perspective. That is exactly what Professor David Nutt has done. The former government adviser on drug policy has turned conventional wisdom on alcohol on its head. Up until now almost all government efforts to limit the damage done by this country's addiction to alcohol have been to encourage prohibition or abstemiousness. Nutt's response to the problem is different. People will always want to get inebriated, his thinking goes, so why not get them inebriated on something that doesn't destroy their liver and send them to an early grave? And how about a pill that allows tiddly topplers to sober up instantly, banishing hangovers forever?

It is a beguiling prospect – and one our politicians are likely to run a mile from. Their response – already seen from the Scottish Government this weekend – reflects a concern that to follow Nutt's recommendations would necessitate introducing a new drug into society to add to the many already in use, some legally and some illegally. It would, in fact, amount to government-sponsored drug dealing. On the other hand, is this any more bizarre than the current situation, where harmful drugs such as alcohol and tobacco are legal and taxable, and less harmful drugs (if we are to believe Nutt and his fellow scientists) are criminalised. A new way of thinking is always valuable.