Over the past year and a half, Sir Richard Branson has done a lot (Virgin Galactic, for instance), but he’s also done a lot of work with an international group reviewing drug laws. After looking at countries around the world, Branson says that harsher penalties for minor drug offences isn’t the way to cut crime or drug usage. Instead, countries should experiment and make drug use a public health issue, not a criminal one.
“When we heard Canada was thinking of going completely the opposite — they couldn’t have done the research into the subject,” Branson said in a telephone interview from Toronto, where he was in town to talk polar bear conservation.
(likely sometime this week), Canada will push through a law that the Global Commission on Drug Policy believes will do more harm than good for the country. And Branson pointed out that some members of the commission are right-wing politicians, ”just as right-wing as any of the Canadian politicians pushing this through.”
“It just means that politicians are going to be punishing young people and putting young people in prison is horrendous. You really are pushing Canada back into the dark ages,” Branson said. “Horrendous things happen in prison. It’s just not the answer.”
When the letter was made public last week, the government indicated that it didn’t see any need to amend the bill. This is what Julie Di Mambro, a spokeswoman for Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, told Postmedia News:
“The Safe Streets and Communities Act goes after the source of the illicit drug trade — the drug traffickers. The kinds of offenders we are targeting are those who are involved in exploiting the addictions of others for personal profit.”
Bill C-10 returned to the House of Commons Tuesday after passing through the Senate last week. The Senate made six amendments to the Safe Streets and Communities Act, all clarifying rules about what constituted terrorist activities, supporting terrorism and allowing victims of terrorism to sue the groups or supporting states responsible for the acts. The amendments were originally proposed by Liberal MP Irwin Cotler, but the amendments had to be introduced in the Senate because the government waited too long in the legislative process to make changes to its bill.
However, the bill didn’t receive an easy ride to passing the Senate, which sat until just past midnight Friday morning to pass C-10. One Tory senator voted against the bill, saying that he couldn’t agree with the drug provisions in the bill. Sen. Pierre Claude Nolin said those drug provisions, which included mandatory minimum sentences for trafficking for people convicted of growing as few as six marijuana plants, was counter to reasearch “that increasing enforcement efforts in urban centres leads to more, not less, violence.”
“We’ve studied the war on drugs and try to look at the best approach. The war on drugs has obviously patently failed,” he said.
“Why punish the young? The way I’d like to talk to a politician, if it was your son… would you recommend prison? And none of them would.”
Countries that have taken a public health approach to the issue of drugs (think about the supervised injection site Insite in Vancouver) have found that there has been a decrease in crime and drug use, Branson said. He pointed to countries such as Portugal that have panels that help ween people off of hard drugs through health care services.
“The end result has been a massive decrease in crime,” Branson said. “There’s been a massive decrease in HIV infections…heroine addcits and a smallish, but a decrease in usage of marijuana and other drugs.”
Now, Branson was quick to say that he’s not for the legalization of marijuana. He supports the idea of decriminalizing its use, but said it’s up to individual countries to experiment with ways to combat heavy drug use and the crime associated with it.
“It definitely should be decriminalized,” Branson said. “Ultimately, I”m pretty sure that marijuana will be treated just like alcohol.”
– Article from Canada.com.