Dear Ms. Luppi,
Thank you for posting an open letter to me about the drugs debate. This is the kind of discussion we must have in order to come up with better policies to help people suffering from addiction.
I am not sure if you have had a chance to read my articles on this subject. If you had, I think you would find my position to be quite close to your own.
I wrote in the Daily Telegraph of London in January:
"Drugs are dangerous and ruin lives. They need to be regulated. But we should work to reduce the crime, health and social problems associated with drug markets in whatever way is most effective.
Broad criminalisation should end; new policy options should be explored and evaluated; drug users in need should get treatment; young people should be dissuaded from drug use via education; and violent criminals should be the target of law enforcement. We should stop ineffective initiatives like arresting and punishing citizens who have addiction problems."
I hope you will read the entire article posted here.
My approach is to provide help to those who suffer from drug addiction, instead of prison. I have seen many lives ruined by drug abuse. Before I even started Virgin, I ran a young people's advice centre which helped many people cope with drug issues. During our days at Virgin Records, a number of the artists we worked with had drug issues, and we looked after them and tried to get them healthy again. I support programmes like Portugal's, where non-violent drug users go before a panel and have options for treatment, and governments devote resources to treatment and rehabilitation rather than prison.
The quote you cite in which I note that half of my generation, and probably 3/4 of my son's generation, have smoked cannabis was not to condone or condemn the use of drugs. It's about facing reality and focusing on need. People with dependency or addiction need help, whether they are addicted to legal substances like alcohol and tobacco or illegal drugs.
In short, I think you and I agree on the vital importance of treatment, rehabilitation and prevention and that governments should devote any savings made on cutting prison sentences into spending on these kinds of program.
Thank you for your work to help those in need.
Follow Richard Branson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/richardbranson