Press Release: Breaking the Taboo – International figures back radical new campaign to end war on drugs


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International figures back radical new campaign to end war on drugs

40 years of devastating failure “must end to protect our children” says UK-based drug policy reformer Amanda Feilding, Countess of Wemyss

A new global campaign to end the War on Drugs is launched today, backed by world leaders and celebrities.

In a radical drive to reinforce public support, a documentary, Breaking The Taboo, narrated by Morgan Freeman, goes live worldwide on 7 December, on YouTube at

The film – directed by Cosmo Feilding Mellen and promoted by Google globally – will mark the “devastating failure” of half a century of worldwide prohibitionism, says Amanda Feilding, Countess of Wemyss, Director of the Beckley Foundation.

The Countess has rallied support from nearly 70 of the world’s most influential figures to sign the Beckley Public Letter, including nine Presidents (among them Jimmy Carter and the current leaders of Colombia and Guatemala); twelve Nobel prizewinners; and a host of international celebrities such as Sting, Yoko Ono, Noam Chomsky, Sean Parker and Sir Richard Branson.

The film Breaking the Taboo follows the Global Commission on Drug Policy to expose “the biggest failure of global policy in the last 40 years”. It features leading doctors, law enforcement officers and experts on global drug policy, as well as many Presidents including Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter; Juan Manuel Santos, Colombia (current); Ruth Dreifuss, Switzerland; César Gaviria, Colombia; and Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Brazil.

In the film, both Clinton and Carter acknowledge that the international, US-led War on Drugs has failed, and that a change in international policy is needed.

The campaign website, is produced by the Beckley Foundation in association with Virgin Unite, Avaaz, Sundog Pictures and the Global Commission on Drug Policy. It invites visitors to sign a petition calling on political leaders to consider all possible options for reform.

The Countess of Wemyss said: “Politicians won’t act unless the public demand it, so we are giving world citizens a voice in challenging the international prohibitionist approach to drug control. When we have 1 million signatures we will present the petition to Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General.”

Today, global annual spending on drug law enforcement exceeds $100 billion, and the UK alone spends over £300 million. The money would be far better spent on education and treatment. There is also a terrible cost in human life – Mexico has seen over 50,000 people die in drug wars in the last six years.

Despite this, drugs have become the world’s third largest industry (behind food and oil); are cheaper and more available than ever before; and remain in the hands of criminal cartels.  The worldwide illegal drug market is estimated to be worth $300–400 billion a year.

Amanda Feilding added: “Parents worldwide should recognise that their children would be better protected if drugs were strictly regulated by governments, rather than what we have at the moment: totally unregulated markets all in the hands of criminal cartels.

“We need pragmatic, evidence-based drug policies oriented towards health, harm reduction, cost effectiveness and human rights – not, as we have had for the last half century, policies based on taboo, ideology and political cowardice.”

The film Breaking the Taboo is directed and produced by Cosmo Feilding Mellen, Amanda Feilding’s son, and is a production of Sam Branson’s company Sundog Pictures.

Amanda Feilding continued: “It is a great pleasure working together with my son Cosmo on this important mission. Reforming our drug policies along more rational lines could arguably reduce global suffering and increase happiness more than any other change in public policy.” Cosmo echoes: “Having grown up with drug policy as an ever-present topic of conversation, I’ve always dreamed of making a film about this subject. The tide is turning, and the Breaking the Taboo film and campaign couldn’t come at a better time”.

The release is backed by a series of viral announcements from musician Dizzee Rascal, Richard Branson, Morgan Freeman, Kate Winslet and others, encouraging the public to Break the Taboo on alternatives to the War on Drugs.  Follow the campaign on #breakthetaboo.

For further Press information contact:

Alan Murray – (+44) 7887 877077.

Ben Clyde – (+44) 1865 351209/351019

Notes for editors

  • Drug deaths in the UK in 2011 were 596 for heroin; 112 for cocaine; 293 for prescription tranquillisers; 393 for antidepressants; 207 for paracetamol (Office of National Statistics). Estimated UK deaths from tobacco were 102,000 in 2009 (Clinical Trial Service Unit, University of Oxford)
  • Over a million hospital admissions in England in 2009/10 were wholly or partly attributable to alcohol (NHS Information Centre).
  • UK spending on enforcement is estimated at £300 million per year. Total UK government expenditure on drug-related offending across the criminal justice system is estimated at £3.355bn per year (Count the Costs).
  • The cost of alcohol in terms of health, crime and the workplace was estimated at £15.4bn back in 2001 (Royal College of Physicians). The human cost was considered incalculable.
  • The 2013 fiscal year Federal drug control budget for the USA is $25.6bn (White House). NB this excludes state spending.
  • Over 1.5 million people were arrested for drug offences in the USA in 2011, with nearly 45% being for cannabis possession alone (FBI Uniform Crime Reports).
  • Today the UN estimates there are 230 million drug users in the world, with around 90% not classified as problematic (UN Office on Drugs and Crime).
  • In 2005, the UN estimated that criminals were trading more than $320 billion a year on the illegal drug market.
  • In 1970 there were approximately 330,000 prisoners in the US.  Today there are 2.3 million behind bars – more than any country in the history of the world.
  • In Mexico around 50,000 people have died in drug wars since President Calderón came to office in 2006, according to government sources. Independent experts argue that the true figure is up to twice that.

The Beckley Foundation is a leading UK-based think tank and ECOSOC-accredited NGO working in the policy and science of psychoactive substances. It was established in 1998 by its Director, Amanda Feilding, in order to build an evidence base for rational drug policy, a field in which Feilding was an early pioneer.

The Foundation has hosted nine highly influential seminars, held mainly at the House of Lords, and has produced over 40 much-cited books, Reports and Briefing Papers on key policy topics. In 2006, Feilding convened the Global Cannabis Commission, whose Report was initially published in 2008 and released in extended book form in 2010 by the Beckley Foundation Press together with Oxford University Press as Cannabis Policy: Moving Beyond Stalemate. In 2011, working with the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Policy Reform, she launched the Global Initiative for Drug Policy Reform.

In July 2012, at the invitation of President Otto Pérez Molina, Amanda launched the Beckley Foundation Latin American Chapter in Guatemala at a ceremony at the Presidential Palace, where the President also became the first incumbent Head of State to sign the Beckley Public Letter. The Foundation is working closely with President Pérez and his Government to advise them on the development of a sophisticated range of policy alternatives, including regulation, aimed at reducing violence and corruption. The Beckley also has good working relationships with other regional political leaders and key players in civil society.

In the scientific arena, the Foundation is undertaking pioneering research in collaboration with some of the world’s leading academic institutions, including Imperial College London, King’s College London, University College London and Johns Hopkins University. Recent brain imaging results from studies using psilocybin and MDMA – part of the Beckley Foundation/Imperial College Psychopharmacological Research Programme – have highlighted important novel potential avenues of treatment for depression, cluster headache and post-traumatic stress disorder. The recent Channel 4 documentary Drugs Live featured brain imaging research on MDMA, which was also part of the Beckley/Imperial Programme.


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