Richard Branson Makes Appearance at Cannabis Conference
During the second annual New West Summit conference, billionaire and tech entrepreneur Richard Branson told a room full of marijuana advocates he was in the mood to “take a spliff or two.” He said much of the world is ready for legal cannabis, too.
The theme of the conference was “The Future of Cannabis Now”. Branson spoke as a long time cannabis supporter. He has spent the past five years serving on the Global Commission on Drug Policy. The purpose of The Global Commission on Drug Policy is to bring to the international level an informed, science-based discussion about humane and effective ways to reduce the harm caused by drugs to people and societies.
Established just five years ago, the Commission is redirecting the conversation away from prohibition to a more balanced discussion. Composed of 25 political leaders and leading thinkers from across the political spectrum, the Global Commission is today acknowledged to be a key reference on drug policy reform. Through informed advocacy and quiet diplomacy, the Commission has broken the taboo on debating drug policy and legitimized a more balanced, comprehensive and evidence-based debate on drugs, privileging human rights, safety and public health
“That’s the only way of sorting out the problems that come with drugs by not regulating and leaving it up to the underworld to supply drugs,” Branson said. “Our commission has worked really quite hard on that. We’ve had some successes and some massive failures, we’re going to keep going until we get governments to see otherwise.”
The Stigma of Cannabis in Business
The New West conference was self described as, the first conference to focus exclusively on the game changing, disruptive developments in technology, investment and media within the cannabis space. Branson being involved in the event is an indicator that the sigma of marijuana in the business world is taking a backseat to the potential growth of the industry.
Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington have legalized the recreational use of marijuana, and five more states including California are voting in November to expand that number. Almost half of the country has laws in place to allow for its medical use. In 2015, investors put approximately $360 million into marijuana startups. In 2012 that number was a mere $7 million.
The growth of the industry was shown in the turnout for this years event. New West had a few hundred participants in a single room in 2015 to filling the main space of the hotel this year. The event featured over 30 panel discussions and was sponsored by some of the biggest names in the Cannabis industry.
“We’re at an inflection point. This year could be one of the most important years in the cannabis industry,” McCarty CEO of Eaze, a cannabis company. “The stigma of using marijuana has been reduced so much that there’s no shame to support it from the business side because there’s so much opportunities here.”