The key components of a good entrepreneur – the ability to get creative with ideas, think outside the box, convince stakeholders, get the impossible done, crunch numbers, and inspire others – aren’t just key to success in business. For Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson these attributes have underscored one of his biggest passions: ending the war on drugs.
“Superficially, the war on drugs sounds like a good idea because drugs are generally not good for people,” Richard recently told Collective Hub. “But the facts are that the war on drugs has failed. When alcohol prohibition failed in America, after 15 years of Al Capone and so on, they decided, ‘let’s regulate alcohol, we’ll have a few casualties but for the vast majority of people they’ll be able to have a drink of wine without hurting themselves’. It worked and taxes went into building hospitals and schools and so on.”
With global drug law enforcement costing more than US$100 billion each year (about the same amount spent on foreign aid), Sir Richard cites Portugal’s move to decriminalise drugs in 2001 as a better model, one that resulted in drug deaths and addictions both significantly declining.
“In Portugal, they had a massive heroin problem at the turn of the century,” says Sir Richard. “Turn the clock forward 15 years the heroin problem has gone away, … it’s worked.”
Internationally, a number of countries have decriminalised cannabis while Switzerland, Germany and Denmark all have policies to treat drug use as a health, rather than a criminal, issue – a step Sir Richard believes is vital.
Since 2011, Sir Richard has served on the Global Commission on Drug Policy, alongside former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, and he has well and truly thrown his weight behind this issue even more recently. Earlier this year, he met with a number of global leaders and experts, including the former presidents of Switzerland, Brazil, Colombia, Nigeria and Mexico, and together they contributed to the book Ending the War on Drugs, which further pushes for global decriminalisation.
“The gist of it would be to say ‘not one person with any kind of drug problem will ever be criminalised ever again’,” he tells us. “You’re not going to be in risk of going to prison, you’re not going to be fined but we want to help you.”