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UN Will Shift Toward Drug Decriminalization: Sources

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 19/10/2015 Willa Frej

The United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime is planning a historic move away from a criminalization-first approach to drug policy, according to a statement by Virgin Group founder Richard Branson.

Branson, who has teamed up with the UNODC, released a statement Monday as part of the Stop the Harm campaign, which pushes governments worldwide to decriminalize "drug use and possession for personal consumption for all drugs."

Another source close to the U.N. drafting process confirmed the move is in the works.

"This is a refreshing shift that could go a long way to finally end the needless criminalization of millions of drug users around the world," Branson wrote. "We should treat drug use as a health issue, not as a crime." 

Branson also argued that the international war on drugs has cost billions, but that criminal organizations are still thriving. "Globally, more than one in five people sentenced to prison are sentenced for drug offenses," he said.

"This is a big move, and part of a global awakening that the war on drugs is not only a failure but causes devastating public health and safety harms," Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority, told The Huffington Post.  

"Decriminalizing possession is an important step forward and will protect users from getting life-damaging criminal records," Angell added. "But until we fully legalize and regulate drugs, their production and profits will remain in the hands of violent organized crime networks."

This international push was preceded by a similar Global Commission on Drug Policy initiative last September. The commission, made up of prominent world leaders and public figures, including Branson, called for the decriminalization and legalization of marijuana.

"We need drug policies informed by evidence of what actually works, rather than policies that criminalize drug use while failing to provide access to effective prevention or treatment," former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, one of the commissioners, said at the time. "This has led not only to overcrowded jails but also to severe health and social problems."

Marijuana is increasingly being decriminalized, but the trend hasn't caught on for other drugs. Uruguay became the first country in the world to legalize the production, distribution and sale of marijuana. It's now legal in four U.S. states -- Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington, plus the District of Columbia -- to purchase marijuana. Other states may be on their way to legalization.

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