Sir Richard Branson, the CEO and founder of British multinational Virgin, made an incredible announcement on his company’s website yesterday, October 19. Branson states that the UN body tasked with drug crime, The UNODC, is about to release a statement that will call on all nations’ governments to put an end to the criminalisation of drug use and possession for personal consumption. He has made the claim after the BBC, himself “and others” supposedly received a document from the UNODC itself where the call for decriminalisation is made.
In the announcement on the Virgin website, Branson states:
“It’s exciting that the UNODC has now unequivocally stated that criminalisation is harmful, unnecessary and disproportionate, echoing concerns about the immense human and economic costs of current drug policies voiced earlier by UNAIDS, the World Health Organisation, UNDP, The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, UN Women, Kofi Annan and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.”
Branson announced the news with great pleasure as he has been a keen spokesman for decriminalisation of drug use, as he views the “war on drugs”, which has been raging for nearly five decades, to be utterly hopeless and is convinced that a new approach is needed to realise a more sustainable situation.
The document, however, is not yet public, and the UNODC has “denied the document’s status as “final nor formal” [via Mixmag]. The Guardian now claims that the entrepreneur is in a “bruising clash with the United Nations”, saying that the supranational organisation made it clear within hours of his announcement that the claims were nothing more than an “unfortunate misunderstanding”. A spokesperson of the UN came forward with the following statement that debunked Branson’s assertion:
“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 … and cannot be read as a statement of UNODC policy,”
The UN’s reaction continued that: “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.”
Whether the UN is now so embarrassed by Branson’s premature conclusions that they are postponing the idea outlined in the document – i.e. calling on governments for decriminalisation of personal drug use and possession for personal consumption – or if this is indeed just an unfortunate misunderstanding remains to be seen. To be continued, undoubtedly.
Read the entire UN document below.