Prince William’s ‘massive’ drugs question
Is it time to legalise drugs? We can’t be sure what he believes but Prince William has just floated the notion to a group of addicts. Many others believe it would be catastrophic for society.
The second in line to the throne. A man who has studiously avoided controversy after 35 years in the public eye. A figure whose status demands neutrality.
So when Prince William visited an east London charity for people with drug problems, those present expected a few handshakes, a bit of polite small talk with some cups of tea, and a photo opportunity.
But the prince ploughed headlong into an issue that divides conservatives and liberals, cautious parents and rebellious adolescents.
“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?”
When a woman responded saying “You get punished — which is not going to stop anyone taking drugs,” William’s tone was understanding: “So there needs to be more of a social element to it?. . . So prison doesn’t tackle the root cause of why someone is taking drugs?”
William was careful not to offer a firm opinion of his own, but this royal intervention will embolden those who back decriminalisation.
The cause is supported by many prominent celebrities around the world, but even some scientists are urging governments to adopt a new approach.
Professor David Nutt, who was controversially sacked as the British government’s drugs advisor in 2009, believes “criminalising people for the use of drugs is almost always counterproductive”, adding: “The vast majority of people – probably 70 to 80% of people who use drugs – will come to no harm”.
Others point to the fact that legalisation in Uruguay and Portugal has not led to a spike in drug use.
But we still know surprisingly little about the effect of certain drugs, for example the possible link between cannabis and mental illness.
Journalist Peter Hitchens, who has written a book about what he sees as Britain’s overly soft stance on drugs, believes legalising these drugs at this crucial juncture would be an “absurd risk”.
So would more lenient laws lessen the damage?
Countries which criminalise narcotics are “locked into a futile battle that flies in the face of evidence, human rights and logic”, writes Ian Birrell in The Guardian. Giving people a criminal record just for taking a drug could ruin their lives, thus making further drug-taking more likely. And is it not our own choice what we put into own our bodies anyway?
“But drug-taking is not just about you,” counter others. If you become hooked on heroin, your family and friends will suffer on your behalf. It is not a victimless crime. Legalisation would inevitably make these poisons more freely available, leading to more people taking them. Keeping them illegal could save thousands of lives.
- Should all drugs be legalised? Or some? Or none at all?
- Is drug-taking immoral?
- Pick a drug (legal or illegal) and produce a brief fact file on it, including at least three risks.
- A point frequently made by those in favour of legalisation is that alcohol and tobacco are just as dangerous and are now legal. Write 500 words on whether you find this a convincing argument.
Some People Say...
“The world’s most popular drugs are legal.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- Prince William asked a group of drug addicts at a charity in east London what they thought about the prospect of legalising drugs. The prince was careful not to express a direct opinion of his own on what remains a heated debate, but his words certainly suggest he has an open mind on the subject. Cannabis has already been legalised in certain US states, while other countries, such as Portugal have decriminalised almost all drugs.
- What do we not know?
- Just how dangerous certain drugs are. Links and correlations have been made between cannabis and mental illness, but many drugs are still surprisingly under-studied. Cannabis use in many Western countries is already widespread enough that some believe no punishment could wipe it out completely.
- Prominent celebrities
- Rihanna, Miley Cyrus, Danny DeVito, Morgan Freeman, Lady Gaga and Justin Timberlake have all voiced support for cannabis legalisation in the US.
- British government’s drugs advisor
- Alan Johnson, the home secretary under the Labour government in 2009, sacked Nutt after he had accused ministers of "devaluing and distorting" the scientific evidence over illicit drugs in their decision to reclassify cannabis from a class C to a class B drug against the advice of experts. This drug classification determines the severity of the legal punishment.
- After the Portuguese government decided to reclassify small-scale drug use from being a criminal issue to a public health issue, the country now has the second lowest drug-related death-rate in the European Union.
- Surprisingly little
- The main active ingredient in cannabis was only discovered in the 1960s.
- The War We Never Fought, Bloomsbury, 2012.