Melia Robinson, Business Inside
Richard Branson is one of the most exuberant and successful entrepreneurs of our time. Now, the UK’s eighth richest person is throwing his support behind the marijuana industry.
Branson gave the keynote address at the New West Summit in San Francisco over the weekend, where thousands of medicinal marijuana patients, investors, and “potrepreneurs” converged to debate the future of weed. The 66-year-old Virgin Group founder, who called in via Skype, did not mince words.
When asked what advice he would give to the industry’s pioneers who are leading the fight for legalization, Branson said, “My main motto in life is, ‘screw it, just do it.'”
It was the first time Branson spoke so openly about marijuana. For the last five years, however, the serial entrepreneur has been a member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, a 22-person panel of world leaders and intellectuals that advocates for an end to the war on drugs.
The group calls for the decriminalization of all drugs, and believes regulating drugs — rather than “leaving it up to the underworld,” Branson says — places a greater emphasis on public health and protects the safety of communities around the globe.
During his talk, which Branson gave over a cup of English tea from his home on Necker Island, he gave the example of Portugal’s revolutionary drug policy. In 2001, the small European country decriminalized marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and other illicit substances to shift government efforts from locking addicts up to providing treatment.
Drug-related HIV infections plummeted over 90% since 2001, while the number of people in drug-treatment rose 60% from 1998 to 2011. The results were astounding.
Branson called the move “a lot more effective than sending you to prison.”
The business maverick did not rule out a future career in marijuana.
“If I was not part of the global drug commission, I certainly would be out there in this industry,” Branson said. “It’s an industry with enormous potential, and it can do a lot of good.”
He ended by saying, “I’m going to go have a spliff, I think.”