Richard Branson for Australian PM!. Then again, I don’t think we would want to give such a decent guy the dirty task of cleaning up the Australian politics. I’m quite happy to say I have a lot of respect for Sir Richard, not many have ever had that part of me.
A lot of this is geared towards the UK, which ultimately is Australia’s “mother country” or whatever you want to call it. Regardless of its direction, it just makes a lot of sense. There’s a lot of new medical proof on Marijuana, not only that, even the social benefits are much more appealing that drinking alcohol (well, maybe that’s just a bias example). Those that knock it and have not tried marijuana have been conditioned to think that way. I bet if they were ignorant on the issue and recently learned about the medical benefits their response would be different on the subject.
Anyway, onto the topic.
Anyone caught in possession of cannabis in Britain could face a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
In Portugal, things are a little different. Possession of small amounts of drugs there remains illegal, but under changes made in 2001, it becomes an administrative rather than a criminal offence.
The offender goes on to appear in front of a board of legal experts, social workers and psychologists, rather than a courtroom with a judge. The onus is on help, not punishment.
Billionaire businessman Sir Richard Branson thinks a similar system could work here. He is part of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, which wants the drug problem to be tackled as a health issue instead of a criminal scourge.
The commission is made up of a number of former world leaders, figures who, Sir Richard insists, would implement vastly different drug policies if they had their time in power over again.
‘They admit that they should have been braver when they were in power,’ he told Metro. ‘And they weren’t. They’ve seen the light and they’re doing everything they can to persuade people who are in power not to make the same mistakes that they made.’
In the US, the tide appears to be turning in favour of the decriminalisation camp. There are now 20 states where ‘medical marijuana’ is permitted, while two of those states – Colorado and Washington – have gone one step further and legalised cannabis entirely. The US Justice Department has recently confirmed it will allow the two states to operate the law as they see fit.
However, in Britain, there is more resistance in the corridors of power. Prime minister David Cameron has rejected a call for the establishment of a royal commission to consider the decriminalisation and legalisation of drugs. The proposal was made by a Commons Home Affairs Select Committee – Sir Richard was one of those who gave evidence before it last year.
Mr Cameron says there is already enough emphasis on drug treatment and that he doesn’t support decriminalisation. However, as a backbench MP, Mr Cameron once called for a discussion at the UN on the issue.
‘Politicians have got to be braver,’ said Sir Richard. ‘They have got to do what they believe is right. But David Cameron is not the only politician who has changed his mind once he’s come to power.’
Campaigners for decriminalisation believe the war on drugs has failed miserably, claiming that billions has been needlessly thrown at the problem and made criminals of hundreds of thousands of recreational users. However, its critics fear that it would make drugs more available and help the underground market thrive further.
Sir Richard says things are finely balanced, as several countries in Europe and South America begin to tread a path towards decriminalisation and legalisation.
He compared the situation with prohibition in the US in the 1920s and 30s, when a national ban on alcohol played into the hands of gangsters such as Al Capone. But he doesn’t want a free-for-all on every kind of substance.
‘What I’ve said about the harder drugs is that they should be not legalised but decriminalised,’ he added.
‘If somebody has a drug problem they don’t have to hide the fact that they have a problem. And they don’t end up having to go to the underworld – they can come to a small group of people, they can get help and in time they can be helped to get off it.
‘If my brother or sister had a drug problem or if my children had a drug problem, I would want them to be helped. I wouldn’t want them to be arrested and sent to prison. In Portugal, they come in front of a committee of psychiatrists and others and they are asked what’s wrong.’
Since it implemented decriminalisation, Portugal has been under scrutiny from those on both sides of the legalisation argument.
The Home Affairs Select Committee said the system put in place there should make Britain sit up and take a look at its own drugs policy, while US think tank the Cato Institute has said the number of addicts has dropped significantly. The HIV infection rate among drug users also fell.
However, the initiative has its critics – the Association for a Drug Free Portugal has questioned the figures and claimed that the system has ‘trivialised’ the drugs issue.
Sir Richard said taking a health approach to drugs will save the country enormous amounts of money on prison and policing costs. He said the current drugs policy, particularly through controversial police stop and search powers, had blighted the future of ethnic minority groups – black people, for instance, are six times more likely to be stopped and search, even though they use less drugs than white people,according to research by Release.
Sir Richard explained his interest in the issue of decriminalisation.
‘I spend 80 to 90 per cent of my time now on not-for-profit ventures on subjects that I feel strongly about. I spend a lot of time building organisations that are trying to address different problems in world.
‘If you see a lot of misery that’s created by a particular law, that you think is doing more harm than good, then I think it’s important to speak out about it.’
He also spoke about his own drug use in the past.
‘I’ve smoked a joint or two when I was young. Generally speaking, it just made me feel tired so it’s not something I ever did very much. I’ve been working since I was 15 years old, so I haven’t had the luxury of getting stoned too much because it’s not conducive to building a Virgin empire.
‘I had one incident of experimenting with something when I was a teenager, something harder, and that was the only occasion. That was LSD.
‘I haven’t smoked a joint in many, many years. I certainly know people who will choose to smoke a joint rather than have a brandy or have a whiskey and that’s their drug of choice and I certainly don’t begrudge them it.’
Britain’s current drugs policy needs a rethink, he said.
‘If I had a company which had lost money for 70 years in a row, I would close it down. This drugs policy has got worse every year for 70 years and this government has continued with it.
‘What they should do is learn – as business people do – what’s going on in other countries. And if something is working, in a country like Portugal, you learn from that and you change tact and you change policies accordingly.’
Source Metro Uk