The Sketch: The war on drugs? There's no fight Branson can't win

He knows better than anyone the way to crush enterprise is to have them register for VAT

Simon Carr
Wednesday 25 January 2012 01:00
Sir Richard Branson gives evidence to the select committee
Sir Richard Branson gives evidence to the select committee

What an idea from Richard Branson, you can see why he's a billionaire. Representing the Global (sic) Commission on Drug Policy, he came along to Keith Vaz's Home Affairs Select Committee, tieless and surfing blond, to propose a revolution.

From his account, you could see how it could halve the crime rate, eliminate burglary, empty the prisons, dismantle the base of organised crime, reduce the num- ber of addicts and Class A deaths, swell tax revenues, sort out Afghanistan, and clear the deficit.

It's like that song by Flanders and Swann: "And its root in little doses keeps you free from halitosis, Oh there's nothing that the Wom Pom cannot do." Branson's got a wonder drug, and there are billions in it, untold billions.

His idea is to move the responsibility for narcotics from the Home Office to the health service. It's not legalising drugs, it's medicalising them. Addiction is an illness more than a crime and it needs treatment more than punishment. Normally, this brings out the inner Mail-reader in the best of us. But he surely says the truth that the "war on drugs has failed", that there are other ways of dealing with drugs, and it's time to try and get our hands on the £200bn that goes into the underworld every year.

Drug use might even fall. And it might. He knows better than anyone – the way to crush the spirit of enterprise and shackle the energy of entrepreneurs is to have them all register for VAT.

Branson insists there are various countries that have done this and addiction levels drop and national well-being bounces.

He had a pleasant old companion helping him make the case, but every time she said, "In Switz- erland, we have found that..." observers had to reach for their coke phials to keep them going.

A committee member suggested that the biggest opponents to his plan would be the drug barons and criminals. Maybe– but the UK Drug Policy Commission isn't that keen on it either. "Has the war on drugs been lost?" the chairman asked. "I don't think in those terms at all," Dame Ruth Runciman said. Or was it Roger Howard? "We don't think we've had a war." Er, yes. I mean, no.

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