The global war on drugs has been declared a "failure" and governments should "urgently" consider decriminalisation and legal regulation, according to a report by former world leaders and politicians.
The Global Commission on Drug Policy, whose members include former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan and entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, has warned that major policy reforms are needed to help reduce the prison population and stop wasting millions of pounds.
The news comes as Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke plans to divert more people with drug problems away from prison and into treatment as part of a "rehabilitation revolution".
Sir Richard, founder of the Virgin Group and co-founder of a group of global leaders said it was time to stop pretending the 'war on drugs' is working".
He said instead, it has "filled our jails", cost millions of pounds of taxpayers' money, "fuelled organised crime and caused thousands of deaths".
"We need a new approach, one that takes the power out of the hands of organised crime and treats people with addiction problems like patients, not criminals," he added.
A letter published by campaign group Release said nearly 80,000 people in the UK were convicted or cautioned for possessing an illegal drug in the past year and "most were young, black or poor".
The commission called for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to help create "a truly coordinated and coherent global drug strategy that balances the need to stifle drug supply and fight organised crime with the need to provide health services, social care, and economic development to affected individuals and communities".