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

Press Release April 13, 2016
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<p>Tony Newman 646-335-5384</p>

(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 unprecedented list of signatories includes a range of people from Senators Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and Bernie Sanders to businessmen Warren Buffett, George Soros, Richard Branson, Barry Diller, actors Michael Douglas and Woody Harrelson, Super Bowl champion Tom Brady, singers John Legend and Mary J. Blige, activists Reverend Jesse Jackson, Gloria Steinem and Michelle Alexander, as well as distinguished legislators, cabinet ministers, and former UN officials.

“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 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.”


Below represent just a few of the distinguished individuals around the world who signed the public letter to Ban Ki-moon. For a complete list go to:

*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.

African American Leaders

Michelle Alexander
Senator Cory Booker
Geoffrey Canada
Congressman John Conyers
Ron Daniels
Professor Angela Y. Davis
David Dinkins
Professor Troy Duster
Professor Michael Eric Dyson
Congresswoman Donna Edwards
Congressman Keith Ellison
James E. Ferguson II
Alicia Garza
Professor Carl Hart
Congressman Alcee Hastings
Alice Huffman
Congressman Hakeem Jeffries
Patrisse Khan-Cullors
Congresswoman Barbara Lee
Marc Morial
Svante Myrick
Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton
Congressman Bobby Scott
Kurt Schmoke
Bryan Stevenson
Opal Tometi

Former Presidents & Prime Ministers

Gordon Bajnai (Hungary)
Fernando Henrique Cardoso (Brazil)
Ruth Dreifuss (Switzerland)
Vicente Fox (Mexico)
César Gaviria Trujillo (Colombia)
Aleksander Kwasniewski (Poland)
Ricardo Lagos (Chile)
Olusegun Obasanjo (Nigeria)
George Papandreou (Greece)
Pedro Pires (Cape Verde)
Andries A. van Agt (Netherlands)
Ernesto Zedillo (Mexico)

U.S. Public Officials

Toney Anaya (Former Governor, New Mexico)
Cory Booker (U.S. Senator, New Jersey)     
Congressman John Conyers (U.S. Representative, Michigan)
Howard Dean (Former Governor, Vermont)                        
David Dinkins (Former Mayor, New York City)
Congresswoman Donna Edwards (U.S. Representative, Maryland)
Congressman Alcee Hastings (U.S. Representative, Florida)
Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (U.S. Representative, District of Colombia)
Congressman Hakeem Jeffries (U.S. Representative, New York)
Gary Johnson (Former Governor, New Mexico)
Bob Kerrey (Former Governor and Senator, Nebraska)
Congresswoman Barbara Lee (U.S. Representative, California)
Ed Markey (U.S. Senator, Massachusetts)                            
Jeff Merkley (U.S. Senator, Oregon)                       
Gavin Newsom (Lieutenant Governor, California)                             
Bill Richardson (Former Governor, New Mexico)               
Bernie Sanders (U.S. Senator, Vermont)                               
Kurt Schmoke (Former Mayor, Baltimore)      
Congressman Bobby Scott (U.S. Representative, Virginia)
Peter Shumlin (Governor, Vermont)
Elizabeth Warren (U.S. Senator, Massachusetts)

Current and Former Cabinet Ministers

Arni Pall Arnason (Former Minister of Social Affairs, Iceland)
Pedro Aspe (Former Minister of Finances, Mexico)  
Norman Baker (Minister of State at the Home Office, U.K.)
Marek Balicki (Former Minister of Health, Poland)  
Peter Baume (Former Minister for Health, Australia)  
Neal Blewett (Former Minister for Health, Australia)  
Michal Boni (Former Minister of Administration and Digitization, Poland)
Emma Bonino (Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Italy)
Frank Carlucci (Former U.S. Secretary of Defense; Former Deputy Director of the CIA, U.S.)
Fernando Carrera (Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Guatemala)
Nick Clegg (Former Deputy Prime Minister, U.K.)
Bernt Johan Collet (Former Minister of Defence, Denmark)
Hedy d’Ancona (Former Minister of Health, the Netherlands)
Bob Debus (Former Minister for Home Affairs, Australia)
Uffe Elbaek (Former Minister of Culture, Denmark, Denmark)
Baroness Lynne Featherstone (Minister of State at the Home, U.K.)
Diego Garcia-Sayan (Former Minister of Justice; Former Foreign Affairs Minister, Peru)
Alejandra Gaviria (Minister of Health, Colombia)   
Mark Golding (Former Minister of Justice, Jamaica)  
Anthony Hylton (Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jamaica)
Vasyl Knyazevytch (Former Minister of Health, Ukraine)  
Bernard Koucher (Former Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, France)
Sandro Kvitashvili (Minister of Health, Ukraine)   
Norman Lamb (Former Health Minister, United Kingdom)  
Cecilia M. Lopez (Former Minister of Agriculture, Colombia)
Maria Julia Munoz (Minister of Education and Culture, Uruguay)
Svatopluk Nemecek (Minister of Health, Czech Republic)  
George Papandreou (Former Prime Minister, Greece)   
Robert Reich (Former Secretary of Labor, U.S.)  
Yesid Reyes (Minister of Justice, Colombia)   
Miguel Samper (Former Deputy Minister of Justice, Colombia)
George Shultz (Former U.S. Secretary of State; Former US Secretary of Labor; Former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, U.S.)
Thorvald Stoltenberg (Former Minister of Foreign Affairs; Former Minister of Defence, Norway)
Umberto Veronesi (Former Minister of Health, Italy)


Dallas Austin      
Mary J. Blige
Tom Brady
Michael Douglas               
Eve Ensler           
Jane Fonda         
Peter Gabriel     
Adrian Grenier  
Herbie Hancock
Woody Harrelson   
Natalie Imbruglia          
DJ Khaled    
Billie Jean King
Norman Lear
John Legend      
Annie Lennox    
Rita Marley
Rita Ora        
Busta Rhymes   
Carly Simon        
Gloria Steinem  
Alexander Wang

Business & Philanthropic Leaders

Paul Beirne (U.S.)                            
Chris Blackwell (Jamaica)                              
Richard Branson (U.K.)                  
Eli Broad (U.S.)                  
Susie Buell (U.S.)                              
Warren Buffett (U.S.)                     
Jannie Chan (Singapore)                               
Mark Cuban (U.S.)
Barry Diller (U.S.)                             
Christopher Forbes (U.S.)                            
Tom Freston (U.S.)                                         
David Geffen (U.S.)                        
Ryan Holmes (Canada)                  
Mo Ibrahim (Sudan)                       
Alexander Rinnooy Kan (Netherlands)   
Dustin Moskovitz (U.S.)                
Zbigniew Niemczycki (Poland)                                      
Salvador Paiz (Guatemala)                           
Antonio del Valle Perochena (Mexico)
Alex Ramirez (Mexico)                  
Stuart Resnick (U.S.)                       
Eugenio Clariond Reyes Retana (Mexico)
João Roberto Marinho (Brazil)                    
Ricardo Salinas (Mexico)                               
George Soros (U.S.)                        
Lord Rumi Verjee (U.K.)                                          
J. Arturo Zapata (Mexico)

Law and Justice

Louise Arbour, Former Justice, Supreme Court of Canada; Former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (Canada)
Mark Bennett, US District Court Judge, Northern District of Iowa (U.S.)
Ernesto Pazmiño Granizo, Public Defender General  (Ecuador)
Webb Hubbell, Former Associate Attorney General of the United States; Former Chief Justice, Arkansas Supreme Court; Former Mayor, Little Rock, Arkansas (U.S.)
Ketil Lund, Former Supreme Court Justice (Norway)
Lord Jonathan Marks, Barrister; Peer, House of Lords (UK)
Cruz Reynoso, Former Justice, California Supreme Court (U.S.)
Hal Sperling, Former Judge, Supreme Court of New South Wales (Australia)   
Jón Steinar, Gunnlaugsson, Former Supreme Court Judge (Iceland)
Robert Sweet, US Federal Judge, UD District Court, Southern District of NY (U.S.)
Patricia Wald, Former Chief Judge, US Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit; Former Judge, International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (U.S.)
Vaughn Walker, Former District Judge, US District Court, Northern District of California (U.S.)
Raul Eugenio Zafaronni, Judge, Inter American Human Rights Court; Former member, Argentinean Supreme Court of Justice (Argentina)

Law Enforcement

Sette Câmara, Former Police Commissioner, Federal Police (Brazil)           
Gustavo de Greiff, Former Attorney General (Colombia)                                              
TJ Donovan, State's Attorney, Burlington, Vermont (U.S.)                                             
Kim Foxx, Cook County State’s Attorney, Illinois (U.S.)   
Pete Holmes, City Attorney, Seattle (U.S.)
George Gascón, District Attorney, San Francisco (U.S.)
Jim Manfre, Sheriff, Flagler County, Florida (U.S.)                             
Mick Palmer, Former Commissioner Australian Federal Police (Australia)               
Karl Racine, Attorney General, District of Columbia (U.S.)              
Ellen Rosenblum, Attorney General, Oregon (U.S.)                                                          
Graham Seaby, Former Detective Superintendent, New Scotland Yard (U.K.)
David Soares, District Attorney, Albany, New York (U.S.)               
Hubert Wimber, Police Chief, Muenster (Germany)

U.S. Latino Leaders

Toney Anaya
Jacob Candelaria
Juan Cartagena
Oscar Chacon
Tannia Esparza
Christian Estevez
George Gascón
Congressman Ruben Gallego
Antonio González
Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham
Ian Haney-López
Steven Lucero
Angela Pacheco
Gerald Ortiz y Pino
María Poblet
Cruz Reynoso
Bill Richardson
Duke Rodriguez
Congresswoman Linda T. Sánchez
Sergio Sanchez
Antonio Vasquez

Faith/Religious Leaders

Father Xavier Albó
Reverend Dr. William Barber II
Reverend Janet Cooper-Nelson
Reverend Dr. Yvonne Delk
Reverend Martin Ignacio Diaz Velasquez
Reverend Dr. John C. Dorhauer
Reverend Dr. Leah Gaskin Fitchue
Reverend James A. Forbes
Reverend Wendell Griffin
Reverend Héctor  Gutiérrez
Reverend Frederick Haynes III
Reverend Miguel A. Hernandez
Reverend M. William Howard
Reverend Jesse L. Jackson
Rabbi Rick Jacobs
Reverend Peter Morales
Reverend Dr. Otis Moss III
Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid
Rabbi Jonah Pesner
Reverend Dr. Bernice Powell-Jackson
Reverend Barbara Ripple
Reverend Edwin Sanders
Reverend Dr. Jeremiah Wright


Chris Beyrer, President, International AIDS Society; Desmond Tutu Professor in Public Health and Human Rights, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore (U.S.)
Jo Ivey Boufford, President, New York Academy of Medicine (U.S.)
Pedro Cahn, Former President, International AIDS Society (Argentina)
Grant Colfax, M.D.; Former Director, White House Office of National AIDS Policy (U.S.)
Jeffrey S. Crowley, Program Director of the National HIV/AIDS Initiative, O'Neill Institute, Georgetown University Law Centre; Former Director White House Office of National AIDS Policy (U.S.)
Eric P. Goosby, UN Secretary General's Special Envoy on TB; Professor of Medicine; Director, Global Health Delivery and Diplomacy, Global Health Sciences, University of California San Francisco (U.S.)
Anand Grover, Former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health (India)
Paul Hunt, Former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health (U.K.)
Stephen Lewis, Former UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa (Canada)
Marina Mahathir, UN Person of the Year (2010) for Achievements in Gender, Women’s Empowerment, and HIV/AIDs; Human Rights Activist (Malaysia)         
Julio Montaner, Director, British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (Canada)
David Nutt, Director, Neuropsychopharmacology Unit, Imperial College London; Former Chair, Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (U.K.)
Peter Piot, Director, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine; Former Executive Director, UNAIDS; Discoverer of the Ebola virus (Belgium)
Steve Safyer, President and CEO, Montefiore Health System, Albert Einstein College of Medicine (U.S.)
David Vlahov, Dean & Professor, University of California, San Francisco School of Nursing (U.S.)
Andrew Weil, Director, Center for Integrative Medicine, College of Medicine, University of Arizona (U.S.)

Other Leaders

Lord Paddy Ashdown, Former leader, Liberal Democrats; Former High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina; Former Member of Parliament (U.K.)
Robert Curl, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1996; University Professor Emeritus, Rice University (U.S.)
Asma Jahangir, Former UN Special Rapporteur on Arbitrary, Extrajudicial and Summary Executions (Pakistan)
Mario Vargas Llosa, Nobel Prize in Literature, 2010 (Peru)
Lou McGrath, Nobel Peace Prize, 1997; Founder, Mines Action Group (U.K.)
Manfred Nowak, Former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture (Austria)
John Polanyi, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1986 (Canada)
Lionel Rosenblatt, President Emeritus, Refugees International (U.S.)
Javier Sicilia, Founder, Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity in Mexico; Poet; Journalist (Mexico)
Vernon Smith, Nobel Prize in Economics, 2002; Professor of Economics; Founder and President, International Foundation for Research in Experimental Economics (U.S.)
Shashi Tharoor, Former Under-Secretary General, United Nations; Member of Parliament (India)
Mabel van Oranje (The Netherlands)
Federico Mayor Zaragoza, Former Director-General of UNESCO; Chairman, Foundation for a Culture of Peace (Spain)


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.

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