Is it time for marijuana supporters to grow a golden goatee beard? Richard Branson has been very vocal about his recreational marijuana use, and lately, he has ramped up his support for marijuana policy reform as well. All political movements need high profile support and wealthy backing, and the marijuana movement is no exception. So when I see guys like Richard Branson stepping up and throwing their name behind the marijuana movement, it makes me happier than when I get a gift card to a headshop.
I was talking to a fellow activist today at the Students for Sensible Drug Policy Conference in Denver, and he told me that he was present at the recent ‘Versus War on Drugs’ debate. Apparently, Richard Branson pointed out that The Weed Blog was the first blog to pick up the event. Hopefully Richard Branson reads this article too and knows how much the marijuana movement appreciates what he is doing, and how much we need him. Everything Richard Branson has touched in his life has turned to gold, and his skill set is an invaluable asset to not only the marijuana movement, but also the greater global drug war.
In the past year, Mr. Branson has stepped out as a prominent supporter of drug policy reform. His involvement with the Global Commission on Drug Policy electrified the global media and brought a new level of attention to the growing movement to end the 40-year-old war on drugs. The Global Commission is comprised of Branson, former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, four former presidents, (including the commission’s chairman, Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil), and several other distinguished world leaders.
“The time and energy that Richard has given over the past year to advance drug policy reform is extraordinary given all the other demands on him, “said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “I am grateful and delighted that he has joined the Honorary Board of the Drug Policy Alliance. His commitment to this cause – combined with the enormous respect in which he is held by leaders in business, politics and entertainment – provides us with an ally of enormous importance.”
Speaking by videophone to attendees at DPA’s Reform Conference last November, Branson said, “I think it became clear to all of the commissioners that the war on drugs has failed, and that what we need to do is to treat drugs as a health problem, not as a criminal problem.”
Recently, Mr. Branson wrote a passionate piece in London’s Daily Telegraph calling for a new approach to global drug policy. Below are some excerpts:
“Just as prohibition of alcohol failed in the United States in the 1920s, the war on drugs has failed globally. Over the past 50 years, more than $1 trillion has been spent fighting this battle, and all we have to show for it is increased drug use, overflowing jails, billions of pounds and dollars of taxpayers’ money wasted, and thriving crime syndicates. It is time for a new approach.”
“Unless this issue is tackled now, countless individuals and families will continue to suffer, no matter how much money is spent. We need a debate on how policy can cut consumption and reduce harm, rather than inflammatory scaremongering. It is not about supporting drug use; it is about solving a crisis.”
“The next step is simple: countries should be encouraged to experiment with new policies. We have models to follow. In Switzerland, the authorities employed a host of harm-reduction therapies, and successfully disrupted the criminal drug market. In Portugal, decriminalisation for users of all drugs 10 years ago led to a significant reduction in heroin use and decreased levels of property crime, HIV infection and violence. Replacing incarceration with therapy also helped create safer communities and saved the country money – since prison is far more expensive than treatment. Following examples such as these and embracing a regulated drugs market that is tightly controlled and complemented by treatment – not incarceration – for those with drug problems will cost taxpayers a lot less.”
“For all the successes I’ve had in business, I’ve also learnt to accept when things go wrong, work out why, and try to find a better way. The war on drugs is a failed enterprise. We need to have the courage to learn the lessons and move on.”
Sir Richard Branson, you are my marijuana hero. I look forward to hearing what you have to say at future debates and events. Something that I would like to see happen is Richard Branson using his resources and networks to raise money for the cause. I could ask every single person that I know to support marijuana reform with their dollars, but I would probably round up a couple bucks and a bowl of supers. However, if Richard Branson asked some of his friends to dedicate just one day’s worth of their profits to marijuana reform, every marijuana activist in the country would be well funded, and therefore in a better position to make change. If you are reading this Richard Branson, dig deep, sell a jet, tell your buddies to do the same, and put that money to good use! The world will be better off for it!