Virgin Group Mogul Richard Branson Joins the Movement to End the War on Drugs

Some people might think that drug policy reform is a fringe issue. But reformers have won plenty of mainstream support, and achieved international victories.

Photo Credit: Edgar Neo on Flickr

 Virgin Group founder and social entrepreneur Richard Branson has joined the Honorary Board of the Drug Policy Alliance, the U.S.-based organization that is leading the fight for alternatives to current drug policy that are grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights.

Some people might think that drug policy reform is a fringe issue. But reformers have now won dozens of significant victories to reduce the role of the criminal justice system in drug policy across the U.S. and around the world – and have gained the support of many eyebrow-raising names that place drug policy reform squarely in the mainstream of national and international politics.

DPA’s Honorary Board includes prominent figures from both the left and the right who are renowned for their leadership in the fields of law, health, business, media and politics – from Harry Belafonte, Russell Simmons, Arianna Huffington and Sting to the former U.S. secretary of state, secretary of defense, surgeon general, attorney general, and chairman of the Federal Reserve. Like DPA’s supporters, they all believe that the war on drugs is doing more harm than good – and that we need to replace criminalization with an approach that instead focuses on minimizing the negative health consequences of drug misuse. 

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In the past year, Branson has stepped out as a prominent supporter of drug policy reform. His involvement with the Global Commission on Drug Policy electrified the global media and brought a new level of attention to the growing movement to end the 40-year-old war on drugs. The Global Commission is comprised of Branson, former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, the former Presidents of Brazil, Colombia, Greece, Mexico and Switzerland, and several other distinguished world leaders.

Speaking by Skype to attendees at DPA’s International Drug Policy Reform Conference last November, Branson said, "I think it became clear to all of the commissioners that the war on drugs has failed, and that what we need to do is to treat drugs as a health problem, not as a criminal problem." Branson also recently wrote a passionate piece in London’s Daily Telegraph calling for a new approach to global drug policy. The time and energy that Branson has given over the past year to advance drug policy reform is extraordinary given all the other demands on him. His commitment to this cause – combined with the enormous respect in which he is held by leaders in business, politics and entertainment – provides reform advocates with an ally of enormous importance. 

The drug policy reform movement is arguably the most dynamic political movement to emerge in recent years. Yet, the assault continues: In the U.S., almost a million people are arrested for marijuana offenses each year, and more than 500,000 people are behind bars tonight for nothing more than a drug law violation. The struggle to end the dominant role of the criminal justice system in drug policy is a multi-generational effort, but the ground has never been more fertile for a change in the way that policymakers deal with drugs and the people who buy, make, sell and use them. 

Jag Davies is publications manager for the Drug Policy Alliance.