April 14, 2016
Contact: Shea Dewar

Over 1,000 Leaders Worldwide Call for End to "Disastrous" Drug War, Ahead of UN Special Session

For Immediate Release:  April 14, 2016                                 

Contact: MacPherson,  778.782.9355,  Donald_MacPherson@sfu.ca

Tony Newman 646-335-5384, tnewman@drugpolicy.org

Hannah Hetzer, 917-701-7060,  hhetzer@drugpolicy.org 

Top Canadian Leaders Join Over 1,000 Worldwide Calling for End to “Disastrous” Drug War Ahead of UN Special Session 

Former Presidents of Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, Chile, Nigeria, Cape Verde, Switzerland & Poland; Former Prime Ministers of Greece, Hungary & The Netherlands Join With Distinguished Scholars, Jurists, Clergy, Business Leaders, Elected Officials, Celebrities and Others in Calling for Alternatives to Prohibitionist Drug Control Policies 

“Humankind cannot afford a 21st century drug policy as ineffective and counter-productive as the last century’s,” Letter Says

(New York, New York) – On the eve of the 2016 United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on the World Drug Problem, world leaders and activists have signed a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urging him to set the stage “for real reform of global drug control policy.”

“The drug control regime that emerged during the last century,” the letter says, “has proven disastrous for global health, security and human rights.  Focused overwhelmingly on criminalization and punishment, it created a vast illicit market that has enriched criminal organizations, corrupted governments, triggered explosive violence, distorted economic markets and undermined basic moral values.

“Governments devoted disproportionate resources to repression at the expense of efforts to better the human condition.  Tens of millions of people, mostly poor and racial and ethnic minorities, were incarcerated, mostly for low-level and non-violent drug law violations, with little if any benefit to public security. Problematic drug use and HIV/AIDS, hepatitis and other infectious diseases spread rapidly as prohibitionist laws, agencies and attitudes impeded harm reduction and other effective health policies.

“Humankind cannot afford a 21st century drug policy as ineffective and counter-productive as the last century’s.” 

The top Canadian leaders who signed this letter include:    

Stephen Lewis, Co-director, AIDS-Free World and Commissioner, Global Commission on HIV and the Law

M.E. Evans. Professor Emeritus, Physics Department, University of Alberta

Geoff Plant, Former Attorney General, Province of British Columbia, Canada

Julio Montaner, Director of the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS

Sam Sullivan, Former Mayor, Vancouver

Philip Owen, Former Mayor, Vancouver

Dr. Perry Kendall, Provincial Health Officer, Province of British Columbia

Dr. Gabor Mate, Physician specializing in addiction, Vancouver

Libby Davies, Former Member of Parliament and Deputy Leader, New Democratic Party of Canada

“The influence and diversity of the leaders who signed this letter is unprecedented,” said Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance, which orchestrated the initiative in collaboration with dozens of allied organizations and individuals around the world.  “Never before have so many respected voices joined together in calling for fundamental reform of drug control policies – in particular limiting ‘the role of criminalization and criminal justice… to the extent truly required to protect health and safety’." 

The UN Special Session, which will take place April 19-21, is the first of its kind since 1998, when the UN’s illusory but official slogan was “A drug-free world – we can do it!”  The upcoming UNGASS was proposed in late 2012 by the Mexican government, with strong support from other Latin American governments.  Last year UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon issued a strong call-to-action, urging governments “to conduct a wide-ranging and open debate that considers all options.”  Today’s public letter to him was prompted in part by the obstacles to such debate within the confines of the United Nations.

“This letter was drafted and all the signatures secured in just the past few weeks,” noted Nadelmann.  “The signatories represent a tiny fraction of the distinguished leaders in politics and public policy, academia, law and law enforcement, health and medicine, culture and entertainment, business, and religion who would agree with the sentiments expressed in this letter.” 

“We’ve come a long way since 1998,” said Nadelmann, “with a growing number of countries rejecting drug war rhetoric and policies.  But the progress achieved to date pales beside the reforms still required.”  As the letter says: “A new global response to drugs is needed, grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights.” 

Signatories* include:

  • Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Former President of Brazil
  • Ernesto Zedillo, Former President of Mexico
  • Vicente Fox, Former President of Mexico
  • Olusegun Obasanjo, Former President of Nigeria, Chair of West Africa Commission on Drugs
  • César Gaviria Trujillo, Former President of Colombia
  • Ricardo Lagos, Former President of Chile
  • Pedro Pires, Former President of Cape Verde
  • George Papandreou, Former Prime Minister of Greece
  • Ruth Dreifuss, Former President of Switzerland
  • Aleksander Kwaśniewski, Former President of Poland
  • George Shultz, Former US Secretary of State; Former US Secretary of Treasury; Former US Secretary of Labor
  • Paul Volcker, Former Chairman of the US Federal Reserve and of the Economic Recovery Board
  • Warren Buffett, Businessman; Philanthropist
  • Bernard Kouchner Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Government of France
  • Sir Richard Branson, Founder of the Virgin Group
  • Senator Bernie Sanders
  • Bob Kerrey, Former U.S. Senator
  • Shashi Tharoor, Former Under-Secretary General, United Nations; Member of Parliament, India
  • Mo Ibrahim, Businessman
  • Sting, Musician
  • Peter Gabriel, Musician
  • John Legend, Singer
  • Michael Douglas, Actor
  • Gael Garcia Bernal, Actor; Director
  • Jane Fonda, Actor
  • Carly Simon, Singer

 *Institutional affiliations and titles are included solely for identification purposes and should not be understood as indicating the respective organization’s agreement with the content of this letter.


The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) is the nation's leading organization of people who believe the war on drugs is doing more harm than good. DPA fights for drug policies grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights.