Faces and Places

Richard Branson advocates legalizing marijuana in the US

Richard Branson

Richard BransonRichard Branson is a smart man. After all, you don’t get to own over 400 companies, including his highly successful Virgin Group, for being lucky. But what we really appreciate about Branson, apart from his savvy business acumen and love for seeking thrills, is his opinionated mind on some pretty serious issues in the world.

In a recent op-ed for HuffingtonPost.com, Branson touched on the issue of drugs in America and how in light of the impending US elections, both competing parties – the Republicans and the Democrats – need to address subjects and, as far as Branson is concerned, the equal need for actual drug policy reform in the country.

One of the biggest sticking points with the current policy is the rather harsh penalties – in our opinion – issued by the American drug policy on offenders, or at least that’s how they describe it.  Branson quotes the website, NORML whose sole existence is hinged on pushing for reform in marijuana laws in the county, saying that in 2010 alone, 850,000 Americans were arrested for marijuana with 88% of that number attributed to mere possession of the recreational drug. Combine that with yet another sobering fact that in 2010, 2.3 million Americans are incarcerated, many of whom are there because of the country’s stringent drug policy.

Yet for all the outdated views that come from the federal level, there has been an undercurrent of growing support for the legalization of the regulation of marijuana from a number of US states. California, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington have been riding the bandwagon and have received considerable backing from the public. Colorado, in particular, has seen lessening opposition for a proposed state amendment to legalize marijuana while California has always been in the forefront of using the drug for legitimate medical purposes.

The real issue here is on the federal level because a sea of change is developing from underneath their noses and their either to naive or hard-headed to recognize it. Taking the stance that marijuana is a drug worth taking criminal action on is not only missing the boat, it’s missing the entire ocean. The current American drug policy has seen little to no positive effects relative to the different steps other countries have taken to undermine drug use in their country.

A country like Portugal, for example, decriminalized drugs, including marijuana back in 2001. Instead of treating users and those in possession of drugs with the swift hammer of the justice system, Portugal treats these individuals similar to those with alcohol addiction: as a public health service. Instead of throwing them behind bars – the distributors and the traffickers are the ones that get sent to the can – the users are sent to a special court where they are then evaluated for treatment with the hopes of getting them off the hook.

In the US, the focus is on criminalization when it shouldn’t be. Earler this year, we attributed a report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association – the research was carried out by researchers from the University of California and the University of Alabama, spanning more than two decades and involving more than 5000 men and women in four American cities – that basically said that there is reliable evidence that occasional marijuana use can cause an increase in lung airflow rates and lung volume with the latter measured by the total amount of air a person can blow out after taking the deepest breath they can.

Here’s another sobering fact that Branson pointed out: money allocated by the US government on its war on drugs has reached $51 billion per year. Imagine what kind of assistance and aid that kind of money, even a tiny portion of it, can be allocated if, for one, it was allocated on help and rehabilitation instead of punishment, and two, on other issues currently plaguing the US.

Clearly, we’ve been hammering home our point that there’s a skewed balance in ideology and reality as far as the issue of marijuana is concerned. We have taken a pro-active approach in pushing for rational policies in legalization of marijuana, and continue to do so the same way we strive to drive for rational gaming laws in the world.

Richard Branson is one voice that has made his opinions clear on the matter. Others have done the same, including Bill Maher, the TV host and activist who is also a member of NORML’s advisory board. Former US Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders has also been outspoken on her support for the legalization of marijuana, as have former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura, author Stephen King, and politician Ron Paul, who co-sponsored the States’ Rights to Medical Marijuana Act and has voted favorably on marijuana issues.

The number of people supporting legalizing marijuana is growing and if the powers-that-be remain true to their mission of change as they have tirelessly preached in the run up to the elections, the issue of legalizing marijuana in the country is something that they shouldn’t miss out on. Everybody’s getting on board. Get on it or be left out.

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