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Speaking via Skype, Branson, an unapologetic cannabis supporter, said he’s spent the past five years serving on the Global Commission on Drug Policy along with former United Nations General Secretary Kofi Annan and 15 former world leaders calling not only for the controversial decriminalization of drugs, but also for its legalization worldwide.
“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,” he 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.”
Branson’s appearance during the two-day confab focusing on the budding billion-dollar emergence of weed immersed with technology, business and media, underscores how big the industry is becoming. It also comes as nine states in the US, including California, are set to vote on possibly legalizing marijuana on Election Day.
Branson lending his name also shows how far the industry has come, said Adrienne Nascimento, a marketing executive for WeedWeek, a Colorado-based newsletter. “It’s huge. This is a wellness industry and Richard Branson shows how this business is evolving,” she said.
The buzz was evident literally and figuratively. The conference has gone from holding hundreds in a small ballroom in its inaugural year in 2015 to occupying main spaces inside the same hotel this year. The event featured dozens of information booths and more than 30 panel discussions devoted to pot-related topics.
Why? Weed is big business. Four states — Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington — have legalized the recreational use of marijuana, and 25 states allow for its medical use. That figure is bound to grow.
Just how big would legalizing marijuana be in California? Well, it’s the most populous state in the US and has the world’s sixth-largest economy with a gross domestic product of about $2.5 trillion.
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