Pubdate: Wed, 04 Mar 2015
Source: Guardian, The (UK)
Copyright: 2015 Guardian News and Media Limited
Author: Patrick Wintour, Political editor


Sir Richard Branson and Nick Clegg are urging the UK to begin 
decriminalising the use and possession of almost all drugs, following 
the example of Portugal.

The Virgin founder and deputy prime minister are to address a 
conference on fighting drug addiction today, and in an article on the 
Guardian website they write: "As an investment, the war on drugs has 
failed to deliver any returns. If it were a business, it would have 
been shut down a long time ago. This is not what success looks like.

"The idea of eradicating drugs from the world by waging a war on 
those who use them is fundamentally flawed for one simple reason: it 
doesn't reduce drug taking. Home Office research, commissioned by 
Liberal Democrats in government and published a few months ago, found 
that there is no apparent correlation between the 'toughness' of a 
country's approach and the prevalence of adult drug use.

"This devastating conclusion means that we are wasting our scarce 
resources, and on a grand scale." They argue: "The status quo is a 
colossal con perpetrated on the public by politicians who are too 
scared to break the taboo."

Branson has always made a point of not endorsing party politics, but 
as a member on the Global Commission on Drugs Policy has called for 
an international rethink on drugs laws.

Portugal decriminalised all drugs at the turn of the century and has 
seen drug abuse drop by half, with the money spent on prohibition 
enforcement spent instead on reconnecting drug addicts with society.

Portuguese citizens are allowed to purchase and possess one gram of 
heroin, two grams of cocaine, 25 grams of marijuana leaves or five 
grams of hashish.

Clegg and Branson write: "The Portuguese system works, and on an 
issue as important as this, where lives are at stake, governments 
cannot afford to ignore the evidence. We should set up pilots to test 
and develop a British version of the Portuguese model".

But the Centre for Social Justice, a charity associated with work and 
pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, said charities on the front 
line in the struggle against addiction are opposed to 
decriminalisation. In recent CSJ research, nearly three-quarters of 
charities surveyed were concerned about the effect cannabis use had 
on their clients and families. Over half (56%) felt decriminalisation 
of cannabis would lead to increased use.

Christian Guy, CSJ Director, said: "Drug addiction is ripping 
Britain's poorest communities apart. Our network of 300 frontline 
charities sees this on a daily basis.

"Politicians need to listen to these experts. They are the people who 
witness the devastating impact of drugs in our poorest neighbourhoods 
day in, day out."

But Clegg, who is due to meet the Mexican president, Enrique Pena 
Nieto, on a visit to Britain, will point out an estimated 100,000 
people have been killed in the war on drugs in Mexico since 2006.
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