Billionaire investor Richard Branson has attacked the global war on drugs and advocated decriminalisation as the only way to "wrest back control" from criminal networks.
Branson claimed worldwide spending on drug law enforcement, which currently exceeds $100bn (£70.2bn) annually, has done nothing to reduce the problem and has instead served "as seed funding for a vast criminal industry with an estimated annual turnover of $320bn, eager to meet a growing worldwide demand for illicit drugs".
"It's high time we stop pretending we have any control over drugs. The only way to wrest back control is to end the drug war, take the markets back from criminal networks and put governments in charge, so that drug production, supply and use can be regulated via doctors, pharmacists and licensed retailers," Branson said in his introduction for a new book, An Introduction to the War on Drugs, which he released online in a blog post.
"The more dangerous a drug is, the more important that it is properly controlled by the government. Only then can there be a role for legitimate businesses, working as they do now within the legal medicine industry, following safe, accountable systems under the rule of law."
In his introduction, Branson also calls attention to the mass incarceration fuelled by the war on drugs, particularly in the US, where more than 1.5m people were arrested in 2014.
Branson did not specify which drugs or the extent to which he believes drugs should be decriminalised in the introduction.
The book, assembled by the entrepreneur, is a compilation of essays from "global opinion-leaders on the frontline of the drug debate" released ahead of the UN General Assembly's first global drug policy debate in 18 years, which will take place in April 2016.
Branson has previously described the war on drugs as an "epic, costly failure" and promoted the Global Commission on Drug Policy's 2014 report Taking Control. Among other recommendations, the report advised governments to stop criminalising people for drug use and possession, ro rely on alternatives to incarceration for low-level participants in the drugs trade and to ensure equitable access to essential medicines, such as marijuana, for pain.