Proving once again that no controlled substance will make you feel as bullet-proof as having a net worth $5 billion, Richard Branson just decided to pick a fight with the United Nations, leaking an official document that calls for international drug decriminalization.
In a post on the Virgin website titled, “Finally — a change in course on drug policy,” Branson claims the report from the U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime was scheduled to be revealed Sunday at the International Harm Reduction conference in Malaysia. He and several other media outlets — BBC included — had been given an embargoed version. Fearing the U.N. would reverse itself under political pressures, Branson took it upon himself to leak the document, writing:
“If you look at the available evidence, UNODC is on the right side of history. In places where decriminalisation has been tried, like Portugal, drug-related deaths were reduced significantly, as were new HIV or Hepatitis infections. Combined with harm reduction programmes, decriminalisation will save lives as people who use drugs will no longer fear arrest and punishment when accessing healthcare services, it will also reduce crime and ease the burden on prison systems and law enforcement agencies.”
Here’s the full briefing Branson worried would be suppressed:
The report specifically calls out the “millions” serving prison sentences for non-violent sentences while tough drug laws get in the way of effective treatment programs.
Branson has long been critical of prohibition, calling the criminalization of drugs a “trillion dollar failure” in a 2012 opinion piece for CNN. More recently, he celebrated the election of Justin Trudeau for the future Canadian MP’s progressive drug policies.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s response is either justification of Branson’s paranoia or evidence of a huge misunderstanding. They denied they had any intention of calling for decriminalization just hours after the leak.
Here’s the UNODC’s full statement:
“The briefing paper on decriminalisation mentioned in many of today’s media reports, and intended for dissemination and discussion at a conference in Kuala Lumpur, is neither a final nor formal document from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, and cannot be read as a statement of UNODC policy.
It remains under review and UNODC regrets that, on this occasion, there has been an unfortunate misunderstanding about the nature and intent of this briefing paper. UNODC emphatically denies reports that there has been pressure on UNODC to withdraw the document. But, it is not possible to withdraw what is not yet ready.
Overall, UNODC remains committed to the balanced approach that, in particular, promotes alternatives to incarceration in line with international human rights standards.”