Prince William was last night branded ‘naive’ for raising the contentious issue of whether drugs should be legalised with a group of former addicts.
His invitation to discuss the highly controversial topic will give ‘grist to the mill’ of the ‘powerful’ pro-legalisation lobby, an expert warned.
The future king, who in recent weeks has embarked on a new role as a full-time working royal after quitting his job as an air ambulance pilot, spoke out on a visit to an addiction charity on Tuesday.
William admitted the issue of legalising drugs was a ‘massive’ question as he spoke to the former addicts, although he steered clear of voicing an opinion himself.
Britain’s Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, waves as he leaves after formally opening the new Urgent Care and Trauma Centre (UCAT) at Aintree University Hospital in Liverpool, north-west England on September 14, 2017
The Duke of Cambridge during his visit to Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust’s Life Rooms in Walton – a community hub and home for the Recovery College
However, Kathy Gyngell, a research fellow at think-tank the Centre for Policy Studies, said the prince’s question was ‘well-meaning but naive’ and he risked giving succour to those campaigning for a relaxation in the law.
Other experts warned that making it legal to use dangerous substances would send out the wrong message and harm vulnerable people.
The Home Office also issued a blunt statement saying it had no plans to decriminalise drugs because of ‘substantial’ evidence showing they damaged both physical and mental health.
William raised the issue while visiting the Spitalfields Crypt Trust in east London which works with people battling substance abuse.
Duchess of Cambridge, Princess Charlotte of Cambridge, Prince George of Cambridge and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge look out from the balcony of Buckingham Palace during the Trooping the Colour parade in June
He said to the former addicts: ‘Can I ask you a very massive question – it’s a big one.
‘There’s obviously a lot of pressure growing on areas about legalising drugs. What are your individual opinions on that?’
Heather Blackburn, 49, from Hackney, replied: ‘I think that it would be a good idea but the money is kind of wasted on drug laws, that put people in prison… You get punished – which is not going to stop anyone taking drugs.’
But Miss Gyngell said William’s question suggested he failed to grasp that what addicts need is earlier intervention from the authorities, not greater freedom.
She said: ‘Had Prince William asked whether legalising drugs would help addicts quit their addiction, he might have received a different reply.
‘Addicts in recovery that I have spoken to say that enabling supply, making drugs cheaper and normalising general use by the removal of sanctions, is the last thing they or we need.
‘Their turning point often was arrest and police pushing them, not into prison, but into treatment.
‘But a propaganda battle has raged in the UK for 25 years or more for legalising drugs, backed by powerful and well-financed legalisation lobbies.
‘The prince’s well-meaning but naive intervention gives grist to their mill.’
Britain’s Prince William poses for a photograph as he visits Aintree University Hospital in Liverpool on September 14, 2017
Miss Gyngell told The Guardian the debate over how to combat the country’s drugs problem should centre around more prohibition, not less.
Dr Marta Di Forti, a consultant psychiatrist at King’s College London, said: ‘My concern about asking drug addicts for their views is that drug addicts have views related to their experiences.
‘The harm that is reported to be done by cannabis does not come from addiction but among people who develop mental illnesses.’
Norman Wells, of the Family Education Trust, added: ‘Laws prohibiting the sale and use of certain drugs are in place for good reason.
‘To decriminalise drugs would send out all the wrong messages – especially to vulnerable young people.’
Professor Neil McKeganey, director of the Centre for Drug Misuse Research in Glasgow, said asking people who have abused drugs did not give a rounded view of the situation, when the laws were also there to protect the largely law-abiding general public.
Sources close to the prince stressed that he was not attempting to intervene in the issue or express a view, but trying understand the ‘very complicated issues’ around the legalisation debate.