Pubdate: Tue, 20 Oct 2015
Source: Guardian, The (UK)
Copyright: 2015 Guardian News and Media Limited
Author: Alan Travis


The entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson has been involved in a clash 
with the United Nations over his claim that the organisation was 
poised to endorse a global policy of decriminalising drugs.

Branson, a member of the Global Commission on Drugs Policy, claimed 
on his personal blog on the Virgin website yesterday that the UN's 
Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), which has been a bastion of the 
"war on drugs", was poised to publish a statement endorsing the 
decriminalisation of the personal possession and use of drugs.

He described the move as a "refreshing shift" from a "body that has 
shaped much of global drugs policy for decades" and said he was 
breaking an embargo on an expected statement because he feared that 
political pressure would lead to it being withdrawn at the last minute.

Branson said he and his colleagues on the commission could not be 
more delighted over the move as he had argued for years that drug use 
should be treated as a health issue, not as a crime.

Within hours of his claim, however, the UNODC moved to make clear 
that no such change in policy was imminent and said it regretted that 
an "unfortunate misunderstanding" had occurred over the nature of a 
two-page briefing paper by one of its senior officials. The paper, by 
its head of HIV/Aids, was due to be delivered at a international harm 
reduction conference in Malaysia.

"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 UNODC and cannot be read as a statement of policy," said a 

"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 to withdraw the document. But it is not 
possible to withdraw what is not yet ready."

The paper, seen by the Guardian, says that it "clarifies" the 
position of the UNODC and "explains" that decriminalising drug use 
and possession for personal consumption is consistent with 
international drug control conventions.

It highlights the imprisonment of "millions of people" for minor, 
non-violent drugs-related offences in spite of legal alternatives and 
emphasises that the threat of arrest and criminal sanctions have been 
widely shown to obstruct access to lifesaving health services such as 
sterile needles and opioid substitution therapy. But it makes clear 
that it is asking states to consider decriminalising personal drug 
use and possession "as a key element of the HIV response among people 
who use drugs".

UN sources stressed that the short briefing paper did not mark a 
major change in policy. They pointed out that such a historic shift 
would have had to go through its policy-making process first.

Branson's blog said: "As I'm writing this I am hearing that at least 
one government is putting an inordinate amount of pressure on the 
UNODC. Let us hope the UNODC, a global organisation that is part of 
the UN and supposed to do what is right for the people of the world, 
does not do a remarkable volte-face at the last possible moment and 
bow to pressure by not going ahead with this important move."

Danny Kushlik of Transform, a drug legalisation campaign, claimed 
that the UNODC had been blocked from announcing its support and at 
least one member state had prevented or delayed a planned announcement.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom