Richard Branson: End failed war on drugs

02:02, Jan 24 2012
Richard Branson
RICHARD BRANSON: 'It is not about supporting drug use; it is about solving a crisis.'

The war on drugs has failed and it's time to decriminalise them, Sir Richard Branson says.

The billionaire British entrepreneur, who is due to appear at a UK parliamentary inquiry into drug policy today, wrote in London's Daily Telegraph that political leaders needed to find the courage to speak out against current drug policies.

"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," he wrote.

"It is time for a new approach."

Sir Richard argued for a move away from prohibition and enforcement towards a focus on cutting consumption and reducing harm, saying that a study by the Global Commission for Drug Policy - which he was a part of - on international drug policies over the past 50 years revealed the failure of current measures.

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

"We need a debate on how policy can cut consumption and reduce harm, rather than inflammatory scaremongering. It is not about supporting drug use; it is about solving a crisis."

Sir Richard wrote that while it was not yet known which policies would work best, lawmakers all over the world should be encouraged to experiment with new policies, citing some steps taken by Switzerland and Portugal.

"Following examples such as these and embracing a regulated drugs market that is tightly controlled and complemented by treatment - not incarceration - for those with drug problems will cost taxpayers a lot less."

The Virgin boss said the methods to evaluate such policies should also be radically changed - with the focus on outcomes instead of on arrests, prosecutions and drug seizures, "which turn out to have little impact on levels of drug use or crime".

"We should instead measure the outcomes in the same way that a business would measure the results of a new ad campaign.

"That means studying things like the number of victims of drug-related violence and intimidation, levels of corruption connected to the drug market, the amount of crime connected to drug use, and the prevalence of dependence, drug-related mortality and HIV infection."

- Sydney Morning Herald