We need to make defending the failed drug war a political liability through this vigorous debate. We will need people to demand change from their political leaders. Interestingly after a global Google debate 93 per cent said the War on Drugs had failed and 90 per cent said they should be treated as a health problem, not a criminal issue. So public opinion is changing.
Do you consider marijuana addiction to be comparable to other addictions, such as alcohol, gambling, gaming or pornography? Do you believe it actually functions as a gateway drug? (from Anika Heinmaa)
Sir Richard Branson: Addiction is a problem no matter what the person gets addicted to. I've seen many people addicted to drugs over the years, and I've seen many of them beat back addiction.
I think teaching our kids about the nature of addiction and the risks of addiction is the best foundation for helping them understand and take responsibility for their own actions and well being. Alcohol and marijuana would probably be similar in terms of being gateways to other things - under the current system, marijuana is a gateway to buying things from the criminal underworld, which is the bigger problem.
I am a wife and mother living in suburbia. Exactly what can I do to bring about the necessary change? (From Holly Richter-White)
Sir Richard Branson: Vote. Talk to your kids, your friends, your school staff. Are your kids learning a about drugs and alcohol so they will be able to take responsibility for themselves? That's where we should all start. Also, learn more about the war on drugs by reading the Global Commission report and checking out the Drug Policy Alliance.
What jurisdiction has developed an effective policy that balances substance abuse and drug control? (From Phil Gibson)
Sir Richard Branson: Switzerland and Portugal have interesting models. The fact is, no model is perfect, but many are better than the "war on drugs." In Portugal, all drug use is legal but the drug trade is still illegal. I've been there and I know:
1. Their drug use rates did not surge;
2. More people are in treatment than ever;
3. They've actually seized more drugs because law enforcement is focused on criminal cartels instead of users;
4. HIV infections have dropped;
5. Drug related break-ins have dropped.
When production and distribution of marijuana become legal, who would you trust to produce it and/or distribute it? (From Shean MacDonald)
Sir Richard Branson: I think the market and regulators would work this out and it will likely be different in different jurisdictions. Whatever shape it takes, it would be safer than the current system of criminal production and distribution.
Why hasn't the global business community - of which you are a leader - done more to lean on governments to end the abomination of drug prohibition?
Sir Richard Branson: The war on drugs is a long-standing set of global policies and I don't think business leaders have seen much value in fighting to end it. I'm fighting it because I think it has a horrible impact on society, but not because of any commercial interest. I think businesses tend to focus on their work and I want to urge more business leaders to focus on doing good along with doing well. That should include taking a stand on issues they find compelling.
How would you respond to criticism that changes in drug policy encourages and condones drug use? (From Niall Birtwell)
Sir Richard Branson: There is literally no evidence that the threat of incarceration deters drug use. And there is no evidence that drug decriminalization causes use to surge. Alcohol is often said to show the risk because so many people use and abuse alcohol. But society celebrates alcohol. We can continue to stigmatize and discourage drug use. Look how cigarette use dropped when it went from being portrayed as cool to being shown as dangerous and disgusting.
I live in Mexico and see the negative effects of the war on drugs. Isn't spending the money on education and treatment of drug related problems more cost effective than continuing the war on drugs? (From George Rudd)