United Nations Drug Czar (Almost?) Endorses Decriminalization

Fans of celebrity philanthropist and Virgin CEO Richard Branson may have noticed a pertinent news announcement on the entrepreneur’s personal blog and social media profiles yesterday when he chose to leak the text of the United Nations Draft Report on Decriminalisation of Drug Use and Possession for Personal Consumption.

Among other issues, Branson has always outspokenly argued for policies of harm reduction and decriminalization when it comes to cannabis and other psychoactive substances. This time, he has the world’s foremost intergovernmental organization backpedaling in the media, as it claims he misinterpreted its latest report and that the draft is still being researched and finalized.

“In the face of overwhelming evidence, UN expert opinion, and international human rights law, it’s not decriminalisation that ‘sends the wrong message’ – it’s the continued refusal to engage, review or discuss reform.” – Richard Branson

The draft report, released by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), cites successes in nations like Portugal who have seen societal improvements since reducing or eliminating criminal penalties for drug possession while positing that drug policy should be a health issue rather than one of criminal justice.

“The UNODC’s initial inclinations in support of drug decriminalization are indicative of a much larger trend in support of sensible drug policy that is gaining support throughout much of civilized society. However, their decision to back down from their inclinations is part of another, much older movement of authority figures backing away from sensible policies in the face of stigma, which is unfortunate but very common.” – Kris Krane – Former Associate Director at NORML & Former Executive Director for Students for Sensible Drug Policy

The United Nations will meet on drug policy for the first time in 18 years, next April at the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS 2016).


UNODC Spokesperson Statement:

Vienna, 19 October 2015 – “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 from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, and cannot be read as a statement of UNODC policy.

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.

Overall, UNODC remains committed to the balanced approach that, in particular, promotes alternatives to incarceration in line with international human rights standards.”


Post-clarification, Branson updated his blog post to challenge UNODC to back up the draft report.

Update 18:30 19/10/2015:

It’s good to see UNODC have now engaged in this issue. However, I hope that they will remain strong in defending and implementing what is a remarkable statement.

I challenge Yury Fedotov, the Executive Director of UNODC, to point out if there is anything in their briefing paper that is inaccurate and to explain why (he should be proud of it). The paper spells out in clear terms and based on extensive evidence: there are strong arguments for treating drugs as a health issue and not imprisoning or otherwise criminalising people for personal use or possession of drugs.

As I outlined in this interview with Bloomberg, and the Global Commission on Drug Policy has stated for many years, drugs should be treated as a health issue. My great hope is that today’s actions bring that day a little bit closer to reality, so that the millions who continue to be harmed by current policies can be helped instead.


What do you think? Could this be a harbinger of a new era of global drug policy?

Trafficroots Analysis Pixel