On Wednesday, at a White House state dinner in honor of British Prime Minister David Cameron, Richard Branson, billionaire businessman and Virgin Group founder, asked President Obama for a marijuana cigarette.
On Thursday, Branson told the story of his encounter with Obama to a prestigious forum organized by The Atlantic to discuss the failed global war on drugs. Branson said:
“I asked him (Obama) if I could have a spliff. But they didn’t have any.”
Branson claims he was only joking with Obama. Yet just by raising the issue of marijuana Branson makes a significant point.
In the past year, Branson has stepped out as a prominent supporter of drug policy reform. His involvement with the Global Commission on Drug Policy electrified the international 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, former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz, former Chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve Paul Volcker, the former heads of state of Brazil, Colombia, Greece, Mexico and Switzerland, and several other distinguished world leaders.
The event came at an especially timely moment, as the current presidents of Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Colombia are now calling for a serious dialogue about decriminalization, legalization and alternatives to the U.S.-backed war on drugs.
About the failed war on drugs Branson said:
“We spent 18 months looking at the global war on drugs, and it was absolutely apparent to the commission that the war had failed. It cost countries gigantic amounts of money, it has imprisoned hundreds of thousands of people… people were executed for possession, and some countries, oppressive countries like Iran are using drugs as a way of executing their opponents.”
Branson is right. Marijuana prohibition, and the war on drugs, is a failure, a flawed policy, and the source of human misery here and abroad. Prohibition does not work: prohibition is a historical and contemporary failure.
Marijuana should be legalized, taxed and regulated for medical and recreational purposes. Drug use and abuse should be treated as a medical problem, rather than a criminal offense. The war on drugs is wrong. Let us end this assault on our friends and neighbors.