British billionaire Sir Richard Branson has hit back at a Barbadian criminologist who last week accused him of being way off the mark after he recommended decriminalization of marijuana use.
The Virgin Atlantic boss, who addressed a business seminar here last week, got drawn into the controversial and emotive domestic debate and ended up calling for the use of small amounts of cannabis to be made legal here.
However, Director of the Criminal Justice Research and Planning Unit Cheryl Willoughby immediately brushed aside the suggestion, arguing that the local criminal justice system was by no means inundated with people charged with using small amounts of ganja.
In fact, the criminal justice expert said that nearly all of the marijuana-related cases in Barbados were linked to possession and trafficking of large amounts of the illegal substance.
Nonetheless, Sir Richard stuck to his guns.
In a statement issued Tuesday seemingly in response to Willoughby, he maintained that criminalization and tough law enforcement did nothing to make societies like Barbados safer.
“We all know this. Cannabis is everywhere in the Caribbean, freely available to anyone who wants it and looks for it, and yet, the entire market is controlled by people that have no interest in ensuring that potent, harmful types of cannabis stay out of the hands of minors.
“If the safety of your child matters to you, this cannot be an acceptable situation,” the business mogul stressed.
While advocating strongly for policy reform, Sir Richard however made it clear that he was not encouraging use of drugs.
“But I believe strongly that as with alcohol in the United States, only decriminalization helps and will free the law enforcement resources needed to focus on organized crime,” he said.
Sir Richard further warned of the need for a new approach to regulation, suggesting it was the only way to ultimately protect children and communities from the drug scourge.
“The approaches of Colorado or Washington in the US, now followed by many others, including Canada and Uruguay, will show that (as with alcohol), sensible drug policy reform means taking control, not ceding it,” he said, adding, “I hope this thinking will catch on in the Caribbean, too.”
In support of comprehensive reform of global drug laws, Sir Richard, who is a member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, further cautions that “the so-called war on drugs launched in the 1970s, has been a costly and deadly failure that has taken tens of thousands of lives, needless incarcerated millions and wasted trillions of dollars in taxpayer money globally.
“Yet the global drug trade continues unabated, and many countries, including some with zero-tolerance drug laws, have recorded dramatic increases in drug abuse and overdose deaths,” he added.