Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Virgin boss addresses drugs inquiry

Sir Richard Branson says fact-based approaches are needed to reduce the harm caused by narcotics

Sir Richard Branson is to tell MPs that the Government should consider decriminalising drugs.

The war on drugs has failed and alternative, fact-based approaches are needed to reduce the harm caused by narcotics, the tycoon will say.

Sir Richard will be among the first to give evidence as the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee launches the first parliamentary inquiry into drugs policy for more than 10 years.

Its previous inquiry in 2002, when David Cameron was on the committee as a Tory MP, said drug use was a "passing phase" for many young people which "rarely results in any long-term harm".

The cross-party group dismissed legalisation and decriminalisation as a way forward but, paving the way for future changes, urged ministers to lobby for the loosening of international treaties which prohibit such radical steps.

Speaking more than 10 years ago, Mr Cameron added that the UK's drugs policy "has been failing for decades" and said he hoped the report "will encourage fresh thinking and a new approach". But the Home Office has already said it has "no intention of liberalising our drugs laws".

Sir Richard is a member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, whose members include former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan. It warned in June last year that major policy reforms were needed to help reduce the prison population and stop wasting millions of pounds.

Dame Judi Dench was among a host of high-profile stars to back the call, saying an "immediate decriminalisation of drug possession" should follow if a policy review showed it had failed.

The Government's official drugs advisers have also called for possession to be decriminalised. The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) said there was an "opportunity to be more creative" in dealing with those accused of possessing drugs, sending them on awareness courses rather than charging them with criminal offences.

Keith Vaz, the committee's chairman, said: "We will be talking to a number of people during what is sure to be a long-running inquiry. I look forward to hearing the commission's evidence on why the war on drugs has failed and why it is now time to decriminalise drugs and focus on providing treatment to drug users in a bid to bring an end to the destructive cycle of addiction."

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