Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson has used his address at the international AIDS conference in Melbourne to once again call for an alternative approach to prohibitionist drug laws.
Sir Richard, a member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, which in a 2011 report concluded that drug prohibition has been an abject failure, said that while some countries have virtually eliminated drug-related HIV transmissions, drug war policies in the US, Russia and certain South East Asian countries are still causing needless infections and AIDS deaths.
‘There has been four decades of the so-called war on drugs and it has done terrible things to societies everywhere,’ Sir Richard told delegates at the International AIDS Conference on Tuesday via video link.
‘It’s done damage to drug users, their families, their communities.
‘It’s time to put an alternative approach to the prohibitionist framework that has been in effect and has been so ineffective for decades now.’
Sir Richard said those who use drugs should be treated with compassion, rather than being treated as criminals.
‘In Russia, repressive drug laws fuel the HIV epidemic, and in South East Asia people who use drugs are forced into compulsory treatment, which often involves beatings and torture,’ he said.
‘The US has just five per cent of the world’s population, yet disgracefully it has 25 per cent of the global prison population, outstripping China and Iran; much of this is driven by the imprisonment of low-level drug offenders, often from poor, black and Hispanic communities.’
He said money that is wasted on law enforcement would be better spent on education and other initiatives.
‘The UK has one of the highest GDP spends in Europe on drug law enforcement and yet it has one of the highest rates of drug use in western Europe,’ he said.
‘Looking at this as a businessman, I’d say that’s a pretty bad investment.
‘It’s time to try a new model.’