Weed should be completely legal to use, says Virgin Tycoon Richard Branson. In fact, according to him, a number of drugs, not just weed, should be decriminalized. He claims the only thing stopping it from happening in his native country, England, is fear amongst politicians who think they would lose votes.
"People are languishing in prisons and lives are wasted," Branson is quoted as saying in The Guardian earlier this month. "[When I] speak to politicians individually, I've found no one who disagrees. I would say that, if a party really took on the issue [of decriminalisation] and went for it, they would not lose votes."
This type of quote has become typical for the billionaire who joined the Global Commission on Drugs over two years ago. Since then, Sir Richard has become an outspoken advocate for legalized drug use and, when considering the rationale he uses, it's hard to argue against him.
"Here we are, four decades after Richard Nixon declared the war on drugs in 1971 and $1 trillion spent since then," he said in a special report he wrote for CNN this past December. "What do we have to show for it? ... Have U.S. drug laws reduced drug use? No. The U.S. is the No. 1 nation in the world in illegal drug use. As with Prohibition, banning alcohol didn't stop people drinking -- it just stopped people obeying the law."
Whether he's speaking about drug policy in the U.K. or in the U.S., Branson provides undeniably interesting points. Policing drug use, he says, is one big waste of money and there is so much more to be gained by legalization. The facts, from both recent history and past, back him up as well.
This MSN report says that the U.S. could pay over $8 billion a year in law enforcement costs, according to a 2010 study conducted by a Harvard economics lecturer, while the 2005 CNN report stated that the government is missing out on $14 billion dollars by not legalizing and taxing pot.
With time, estimates on just how much the U.S. is spending (or wasting, depending on where you stand on the issue) on policing marijuana will always change. But there is one consistent effect of the "war on drugs" that Branson says he detests.
"It also represents racial discrimination and targeting disguised as drug policy," he said. "People of color are no more likely to use or sell illegal drugs than white people -- yet from 1980 to 2007, blacks were arrested for drug law violations at rates 2.8 to 5.5 times higher than white arrest rates."
The perceived underlying racism may be enough for some to turn against proponents of anti-drug enforcement, as well as the idea that youthful persons are being senselessly jailed.
"The U.S. has the largest prison population in the world, with about 2.3 million behind bars. More than half a million of those people are incarcerated for a drug law violation. What a waste of young lives."
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