Virgin Group founder Richard Branson has reiterated his call to end the criminal punishment of drug abusers. Branson was part of a panel discussion on drug policy sponsored by the International Crisis Group and Foreign Affairs in New York on Monday (26 October).

During the discussion, the British billionaire said, "The research that we've done has indicated that if you talk about treating drugs as a health problem, not a criminal problem, would you want your brothers and sisters or your children to go to prison or would you want them to be helped? Overwhelmingly, you'll get 95% of the public will say we want to treat it as a health problem, not a criminal problem. And that's the first major step to be won. And one I would suggest the politicians push. And that should be all drugs, not just marijuana. Treat all drugs as a health problem, not a criminal problem."

For years, Branson, who serves on the Global Commission on Drug Policy, has called the global war on drugs a failure. He argues the prohibition of drugs has worked no better than the prohibition of alcohol, and serves only to empower violent criminal cartels. He added that one way to break up violent cartels was to "legalise everything".

"If you legalise everything, then there's nothing left for them to traffic. And there is an argument for it. There're good Catholic countries like Chile that have legalised prostitution. And I know it's very controversial. Most people would put their arms up in horror. But by legalising it, they got rid of the pimps. The girls are monitored properly to make sure that they are healthy, to make sure they can come forward if they've got a problem. And they believe a lot of the illegal trafficking of young girls has gone away. If you were to do that, then there is not a lot left. They can go into a few banks, but there's not a lot of cash in banks anymore. So hopefully, we've sorted out the problem," he concluded.

The International Crisis Group is set to honour Branson at its 2015 In Pursuit of Peace award dinner. He is being recognised for his campaign for peace and justice, said the organisation.