Sir Richard Branson went to the White House this week to attend a state dinner. It's reported that when he got a chance to speak to President Obama he asked him if he could have a spliff (joint).
He was only joking but it was a gentle way of reminding Obama that the issue of marijuana -- which the president has avoided -- is an important one.
Branson told this story at the offices of The Atlantic magazine, where he recently joined Drug Policy Alliance Executive Director Ethan Nadelmann and spoke about the need for greater momentum and political debate to end the failed drug war on Thursday at a forum organized by The Atlantic.
In the past year, Branson has stepped out as a prominent supporter of drug policy reform. His involvement with the Global Commission on Drug Policy electrified the international media and brought a new level of attention to the growing movement to end the 40-year-old war on drugs. The Global Commission is comprised of Branson, former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz, former Chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve Paul Volcker, the former heads of state of Brazil, Colombia, Greece, Mexico and Switzerland, and several other distinguished world leaders.
The event came at an especially timely moment, as the current presidents of Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Colombia are now calling for a serious dialogue about decriminalization, legalization and alternatives to the U.S.-backed war on drugs. When Vice President Biden visited the region last week, he made clear that the Obama administration firmly opposes legalization -- but also acknowledged, as President Obama had in early 2011, that the topic was a legitimate subject for discussion. Nadelmann recently returned from the region, where he met with business and governmental leaders at the highest levels.
The event also came on the heels of the launch of the new Google+ debate program -- the first such event was called "It's time to end the war on drugs" and was viewed by millions of people on Tuesday. The event featured a statement by Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former president of Brazil and chair of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, and a panel featuring Richard Branson, Russell Brand, Elliot Spitzer, Julian Assange, and several other eyebrow-raising participants.
Last week evangelical leader Pat Robertson also made news when he reiterated his support for legalizing marijuana and publicly endorsed Washington and Colorado's ballot initiatives to legalize marijuana. Nadelmann and the Drug Policy Alliance are also deeply involved in a broad variety of efforts to legally regulate marijuana, including the ballot initiatives in Washington and Colorado.