The past decade and a half has been largely dominated by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Yet while the images of bloodshed and violence in these countries have largely and sadly become commonplace to us all, one war the world overlooks that is still happening today is the so-called "War on Drugs," which was famously declared by former President Richard Nixon more than 40 years ago. It's the longest running war in the world.
But it's a war -- like many -- that doesn't need to be happening, and it's a war, like many, that is costing way too much money and too many innocent lives along the way. Consider this: Four decades after President Nixon's declaration, the United Nations estimated that the illegal drug trade is worth more than $320 billion. If that was a country, it would have the 19th largest economy in the world. But this isn't just about money. It's about the innocent people being killed along the way.
For instance, the U.S. and Colombian government's struggle against former Colombian President Pablo Escobar turned Columbia into the murder capital of the world with more than 52,000 violent deaths in two years. At the peak of his power, Pablo Escobar's cartel was smuggling 15 tons of cocaine a day into the United States, with Forbes magazine naming him the seventh richest man in the world as a result of a $25 billion fortune he'd amassed. As the world watched the United States government grind to a halt recently -- costing that nation $24 billion in lost income, one of the very few agencies hard at work was the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) trying to arrest people for drugs. Does this really make sense?
That's why I decided to make my very first documentary film about this issue, which I screened in Hong Kong last week. Breaking the Taboo is narrated by Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman and directed by the filmmaker Fernando Grostein Andrade and Cosmo Mellen. It takes a critical look at how after 50 years of prohibition, illicit drugs are now the third most valuable industry in the world after food and oil. The film is the international adaptation of the polemic Brazilian documentary "Quebrando o Tabu" and in order to explore as many countries as possible on this issue, we filmed in eight countries, conducted interviews with more than 176 people, and garnered the support of four former presidents and The Global Commission on Drug Policy. The documentary feature follows The Global Commission on Drug Policy on a mission to break the political taboo over the United States-led War on Drugs and expose what it calls the biggest failure of global policy in the last 40 years.
The Global Commission on Drug Policy is based in Geneva, and does outstanding lobbying on this issue. The group is made up of former presidents, prime ministers, and foreign ministers, as well as my father Richard Branson. In attending various meetings with my father on this issue, and talking to other members of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, I quickly realized that the current "war on drugs" needed to end, and a more humane approach to this dilemma is needed.
The purpose of The Global Commission on Drug Policy is to bring to the international level an informed, science-based discussion about humane and effective ways to reduce the harm caused by drugs to people and societies. There is proof that in many countries the harm caused by drug prohibition in terms of corruption, violence and violation of human rights largely exceeds the harm caused by drugs. This concept is one shared by former U.S. President Bill Clinton, who says during Breaking the Taboo, "Obviously if the expected results were that we would eliminate serious drug use in America and eliminate the narco-trafficking networks, it hasn't worked." President Clinton should know, as he has a brother, Roger, who was arrested for cocaine possession.
The world has seen enough wars. It's time we all leave in a more peaceful way and treat these kinds of issues on a more humane level. It's why this film is so important for everyone to see, and discuss. This current global drug policy has failed. Let's have a new approach, let's be more embracing of that new policy, and lets all join together. It's time to "Break the Taboo."