In light of the recent legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington, the BBC interviewed two advocates of further reforms, both in the U.S. and world-wide.
The BBC sat down with Ethan Nadelmann, founder of the N.Y.C.-based Drug Policy Alliance, and Richard Branson, chair of Virgin Group. His son produced the documentary “Breaking the Taboo,” which critiques the costs and strategies of enforcing current drug laws.
“Countries that are oppressive about drugs are suffering, and the people in particular are suffering. Countries like Portugal or spain, which are treating the drug as a health issue, rather than a criminal issue, are getting on top of the problem,” said Branson.
“This is a lot like what happened with the repeal of alcohol prohibition in America in the late twenties and early thirties,” said Nadelmann, “where more and more state governments began to repeal their own state alcohol prohibition laws, and eventually the national government followed suit.”
When asked if legalization could increase drug use, he replied, “Is there a risk of more people using marijuana? There is a risk. But I don’t think it’s a risk of a dramatic increase. And meanwhile, no longer arresting 750,000 Americans a year, no longer spending tens of billions of dollars to enforce these unenforceable prohibitions, taking the money out of the hands of the gangsters, allowing police to focus on real crime, those are the arguments that are compelling for most Americans.”
When asked if legalization could make “drug gangs” more powerful, Branson referred to Portugal. The country itself began providing heroin to heroin addicts, “pulling the rug” under drug kingpins while reducing the number of people using heroin, all while combating HIV by providing clean needles.
“The worst thing that could happen to the gangsters and organized crime is for marijuana or other drugs to be legalized,” Nadelmann said. “Because quite frankly they would no longer play a role in the market. Their competitive advantage is in the employment of violence and intimidation, not in marketing, not in dealing with government regulations.”
Branson expressed his desire that in a few years, “I hope that nobody in the world will be sent to prison for taking drugs ever again. I hope that anybody that has a drug problem will be helped. I hope that some countries will experiment with deregulation of drugs like marijuana. And I hope that the money that the state gets from deregulation will go towards education, health, and helping people who actually have drug problems or alcohol problems.”
Watch the video, via the BBC, below.