Richard Branson calls for end to 'failed war on drugs'

Jan 23, 2012

Despite billions spent on effort to curb illegal drug usage, governments have achieved nothing

THE entrepreneur Richard Branson has called for the de-criminalisation of drug use in an article for The Daily Telegraph titled 'It's time to end the failed war on drugs'.

The billionaire magnate, who is a member of the Global Commission for Drug Policy, said that "over the past 50 years, more than $1 trillion has been spent fighting this battle, and all we have to show for it is increased drug use, overflowing jails, billions of pounds and dollars of taxpayers’ money wasted, and thriving crime syndicates".

The 61-year-old Branson sits on the commission alongside such luminaries as former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan, the Nobel prize-winning Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa and a slew of ex-presidents.

The group was formed last year to "bring to the international level an informed, science-based discussion about humane and effective ways to reduce the harm caused by drugs to people and societies". It claims that harsh law enforcement policies against users are failing to combat the menace of drugs.

As prison populations of those jailed for drug offences have grown, there has been no drop-off in demand for narcotics - if anything demand has grown faster, Branson writes.

This shows "prohibition and enforcement efforts have failed to dent the production and distribution of drugs in any part of the world." More importantly, "the threat of arrest and punishment has had no significant deterrent effect on drug use."

While cautioning that "drugs are dangerous and ruin lives", the Virgin founder says they will need to be regulated and that "broad criminalisation should end". Branson says the "next step is simple: countries should be encouraged to experiment with new policies. We have models to follow.

"In Switzerland, the authorities employed a host of harm-reduction therapies, and successfully disrupted the criminal drug market. In Portugal, decriminalisation for users of all drugs 10 years ago led to a significant reduction in heroin use and decreased levels of property crime, HIV infection and violence."

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It's been long argued that there needs to be a re-evaluation of drug policy not only in the UK but everywhere there is a growing drug crime rate.

Decriminalising and controlling the distribution of drugs would, at a stroke, reduce the level of crime associated with and the main concern that populations have about drug taking.

It's surprising how long it has taken or, at least, how long it has taken those with the ear of government to put their heads above the parapet and state the obvious. 

Branson is not the only one to suggest the current policy is not working. He is supported in principle by the head of the violence reduction unit of Strathclyde Police, perhaps surprisingly, but as history and practice has shown prohibition is the least likely policy to have the desired outcome of reduced drug harm and abuse and consequent continuing and rising drug related crime.

But, how many of Branson's fellow commissioners have the courage to support him?