(video link = http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uRJUKALr24E)
HIGH TIMES: We’re here with Sir Richard Branson from the Virgin Empire, I guess we could call it. Thanks for coming to St. Paul to speak with us today.
Richard Branson: Yes.
HT: We just saw the film “Breaking the Taboo” and one of the major elements that was a part of this was the corruption and money being spent and a lot of the money being made by the drug cartels. However, we recently saw the big bank, HSBC, was found guilty of laundering about nine billion dollars in drug cartel money. How much of this war on drugs owes to high finance, the big banking industries, and do you see any way of breaking this war on drugs without addressing that issue?
RB: Um, I haven’t given it a lot of thought, to be honest. We’ve concentrated on whether or not the current war is doing damage to people or not doing damage to people. And the Global Commission on Drugs has come out very clearly in saying that far more damage is being done to people by the current approach than by changing it to a different approach. What we’re arguing is that drugs should be treated as a health problem, not a criminal problem, and that we should be locking up children, we shouldn’t be locking up our brothers and sisters, and we shouldn’t be locking up other people’s children and brothers and sisters. We should be helping them get back on a normal path. I think if we do that, and take drugs away from the cartels, then the problems you mention with both banks and the cartels should go away and we should be able to concentrate on helping that small minority that have issues.
HT: We saw in the film a lot of movement in South America and Central America where the leaders there – it used to be just once they got out of office they would address this problem – now we’ve got the president of Colombia addressing it in office. What do you see… is that pressure from the Organization of American States having an effect on Washington DC, and to some extent, Ottawa as well? Are they beginning to realize this is a hemispheric problem that needs to be addressed?
RB: I hope so. And I think that the fact that President Obama has not sent in the federal authorities to close down Washington State, having voted for the legalization of marijuana indicates that he would like to see some experiements and he would like to see the public’s reaction to that. So my feeling is that it could well spill over from South America to North America and the rest of the world.
HT: We’d like to see that. You saw President Clinton in the movie, referring to his brother Roger having a cocaine addiction problem and many people that I interview that are involved with trying to end the war on drugs, there’s a personal aspect to it. Is there a personal aspect in this for you that was the “aha!” moment that made you want to get involved with this? I mean, I’m sure you’ve got a lot on your plate, what made you want to get involved with this?
RB: Well, having run a record company for many years, I’ve seen, um, I’ve lost artists… someone was talking about The Sex Pistols earlier – Sid Vicious was a heroin addict. We nearly lost other artists – Boy George from Culture Club, we very nearly lost, and I’ve obviously tried to help people who’ve got problems. The police’s intervening with us helping to get them… Boy George was arrested in my home when he was actually, we had him there under treatment, set him back four or five years until he finally got himself clean. So yes, I think that those of us who’ve had personal experience in situations like this are better able to, I think, to understand the problem than those who haven’t.
HT: With the example of Portugal in Europe, just so close, and the Netherlands, we’re still seeing in the UK what we call in America “Reefer Madness”. I mean, Professor Nutt lost his job by saying ecstasy was safer than horseback riding, for example. Are you making efforts in Europe as well and how are the parliaments and various legislative bodies, France, Britain, Germany, reacting to this message of “Breaking the Taboo”?
RB: Well, the Global Commission on Drugs has met with the House of Commons Select Committee, and the House of Commons Select Committee came out with a report after that saying that the policy needs to be changed. And we’re hopeful that policy will be changed. Britain is better than quite a few countries in that, you know, we are – although it’s not written in law – by and large drugs are treated as a health problem. There are a lot of needle exchange centers in Britain. But there’s further they could go.
HT: While the United States has driven a lot of this drug war, much of it is tied in with international treaties at the UN level. Do you feel that the other community of nations – the European community, the South American community – can make this change without the United States getting involved, or is the United States going to have to be a part of this?
RB: Look, ideally as many countries as possible should be a part of it. And I think in some ways the United States is actually moving quite quickly with things like the medical marijuana centers cropping up throughout America. So I think, by de facto, United States in some areas is moving quicker than some other countries, and therefore it would be very hypocritical for them to continue with the current stance.
HT: Thank you. And one final question: If a person wanted to get a job with one of the Virgin companies, is there a drug test involved?
RB: I suspect for our pilots, but, uh, or our astronauts, but I doubt for any other position at Virgin.
HT: Good luck with the Global Commission, thank you for sitting down with us, and I hope Virgin Galactic takes off soon, because I want to go.
RB: It will be and I look forward to getting you up there.
HT: Thank you so much.
RB: Thank you. Cheers!