News circulated Monday morning that the United Nations had officially called for the decriminalization of all drugs in a brief, two-page report. Richard Branson, CEO of Virgin, hinted on Sunday that the announcement would be made, but by Monday morning, the U.N. announced it had no such intention and that the document merely reflected the author’s opinion. Even so, the BBC and Branson himself suggest the document was withdrawn following resistance from at least one country.
As Richard Branson wrote in a blog post before the official release of the report:
“In an as-yet unreleased statement circulated to the BBC, myself and others, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), which has shaped much of global drug policy for decades, call on governments around the world to decriminalise drug use and possession for personal consumption for all drugs.”
The report was to be released at an international harm reduction conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Branson continued:
“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.”
However, Branson, a long-time opponent of the Drug War, wrote that as he drafted his blog post, the briefing had already drawn harsh opposition. “But as I’m writing this,” he said, “I am hearing that at least one government is putting an inordinate amount of pressure on the UNODC.”
“Let us hope the UNODC, a global organisation that is part of the UN and supposed to do what is right for the people of the world, does not do a remarkable volte-face at the last possible moment and bow to pressure by not going ahead with this important move.”
By Monday, the U.N. had disputed Branson’s announcement of the document. “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,” a spokesperson announced.