When the world’s most successful businessman tells you that your business plan is failing – on a colossal scale – you’d probably sit up and start taking notes.
Sir Richard Branson has been calling for a ceasefire on the War on Drugs, a campaign which costs the UK Government £1.5 – £2.5 billion per year – one of the highest spends in Europe on drug law enforcement. Despite the colossal amount of money spent, the UK also has one of the highest rates of drug use in Western Europe.
In a recent interview with The Evening Standard Branson said, “As a businessman, I’d say that’s a pretty bad investment. It’s time to try a new model.” In another interview with the Huffington Post in March, he opened with, “If I started a business and it was clearly failing, I would shut it down. The war on drugs has failed – why isn’t it being shut down?”
Given that branded revenue from companies bearing the Virgin name topped £13bn in 2012, I think it’s fair to say that Branson knows a thing or two about a successful campaign. It seems outrageous to me that the Government has ignored his advice – nay, desperate plea for reform – year after year.
The brightest business brains in the country are getting behind Branson; the front cover of Management Today’s June Issue featured an enormous cannabis leaf with the title: “Drug Money: The global war on illegal narcotics is as good as lost – big business is moving fast as getting high goes legit”. The front cover of last weekend’s Sunday Times Magazine features ‘cocaine art’ and tells us how the UK’s white, educated, middle-classes are funding al-Qaeda’s latest terror plot with their Friday night cocaine habit.
The global war on drugs began over 50 years ago, and it has yet to prevent or decrease drug supply or use. In addition to this failure, the ‘war’ has in fact created a lucrative criminal market worth billions, financed narco-terrorism across the globe, caused over-crowding in prisons to bursting point through criminalising addicts and driven racial disparity in the criminal justice system. If a business model was failing at so many levels the business would simply cease to function.
And it’s not just about business and figures and money – last week Sting and Russell Brand signed an open letter to David Cameron imploring the PM to end the so-called ‘war’ – to stop attacking those with dependency problems, addiction and mental illness and adopt a system that offers compassion and rehabilitation rather than criminalisation. The letter was also signed by the National Black Police Association and the Prison Governors Association.
So Mr Cameron, why aren’t you listening? In a time of supposed austerity where you so readily cut vital NHS services, reduce funding for childcare and domiciliary care, introduce a bedroom tax for society’s most vulnerable, reduce funding for education and triple tuition fees. If drugs were legalised, properly regulated and decriminalised, this would take billions of pounds out of the hands of organised criminals and back into the economy to revitalise the services the people of Britain need most.
Legalising drugs sounds pretty scary – thanks in part to the incredibly aggressive, scaremongering War on Drugs PR campaign – but actually, it would also allow for regulations to be imposed on the quality, age of the buyer and access control. Right now, a child or young person you know is probably buying something they really don’t know much about, from some dodgy guy down an out-of-sight side-street somewhere. Parents everywhere would sleep easier if buying drugs meant having to go in to Boots, produce valid ID, receiving proper advice and walking away with something that’s been tested safe in a pharmaceutical laboratory – and of course paying their 20% VAT.
And even if you disagree with Sir Branson – just look at prohibition in the US during the 1920s and 30s, when a national ban on alcohol played into the hands of gangsters such as Al Capone and saw the murder rate increase every year in which prohibition was enforced. It now seems ridiculous to us, and so will the War on Drugs in 50 years’ time.