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Should Britain legalise cannabis? Virgin boss Richard Branson thinks so

Richard Branson, boss of Virgin (Getty Images)
Richard Branson, boss of Virgin (Getty Images)

Virgin boss Richard Branson has appealed to the UK government to legalise and regulate cannabis, claiming it would save lives and bring in more tax.

The entrepreneur and tycoon penned a heartfelt blog saying the move “makes sense”, and that the efforts to legalise it are ones he has “long supported”.

Branson said he backed it because it would “wrestle control from those in charge of the illicit market” including gangs, which would “reduce harm, and ultimately make people and communities safer.

This comes after it was reported by Politico this week, that while Rishi Sunak’s government is looking to effectively ban smoking, he might look to “relax cannabis farming regulations”, for medicinal use.

There have long been calls for the UK to legalise and regulate the drug, to follow other European countries which have done so, also in a bid to prevent the use of harder drugs.

In June 2022, a report suggested the UK’s cannabis industry could be worth more than £1bn by 2026, while London Mayor Sadiq Khan has previously spoken about being open to its legalisation.

In May 2022 during a visit to Los Angeles, he met with members of the police force, public health officials and licensed sellers as he announced the beginning of a fact finding commission into decriminalisation.

“The illegal drugs trade causes huge damage to our society and we need to do more to tackle this epidemic and further the debate around our drugs laws”, he said.

He added the UK’s drug policy wasn’t working and politicians needed to “learn from others” in how to tackle it.

According to ITV News this week, 6.5 million people in the UK are using Cannabidiol (CBD) products, such as oils, which are legal.

The industry is now reportedly worth £300m, with experts branding current laws “ridiculous”, because products from the cannabis flower are illegal, regardless of whether it contains the psychoactive THC substance. Some users of proscribed CBD products has spoken about having their houses raided and being arrested.

Branson said he’s part of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, stating his view that “no one should be criminalised, marginalised, or stigmatised for simple possession and personal use of illicit drugs”, and that instead it should be a “public health issue, not a responsibility of already overburdened criminal justice systems.”

The Virgin boss also argued cannabis being illegal means providers sell stronger strains, which are more dangerous, because they get higher returns.

Pleading with the government to change course, he said “the only effective response to this dilemma.. is to decriminalise and legally regulate cannabis, offering not only greater transparency and choice to consumers, but, ultimately, greater safety.”

He added that “regulated markets create tax revenues that governments can invest in public education, prevention campaigns and harm reduction measures”, including mental health services.”

Criticising those who lobby for it remain illegal, he compared it to the damage caused by alcohol, noting there has been a “steady decline over the last decades” as people come to terms with the risks.

When asked for a comment, the Home Office told City A.M.: “Illegal drugs destroy lives and devastate communities. We are committed to preventing drug use by supporting people through treatment and recovery and tackling the supply of illegal drugs, as set out in our 10-year Drug Strategy.

“We have no plans to decriminalise drugs as it would not eliminate drug dependence or prevent the illicit trade.”