By Andrew Duffy
Former Supreme Court Justice Louise Arbour is among a host of international jurists, politicians, celebrities and sports stars to sign a letter that denounces the “disastrous” war on drugs and urges the United Nations to lead the world toward a more enlightened drug policy.
“Humankind cannot afford a 21st century drug policy as ineffective and counter-productive as the last century’s,” reads the letter, delivered to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in advance of next week’s UN special session on drugs.
“A new global response to drugs is needed, grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights,” the letter says in arguing that drug use is primarily a health issue, not a matter for criminal justice.
The letter was signed by more than 1,000 world leaders, including U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, former Colombian president César Trujillo, former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz, and former Mexican presidents Vicente Fox and Ernesto Zedillo.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, actors Michael Douglas and Jane Fonda, and singers Carly Simon, Annie Lennox and John Legend endorsed the letter. Business leaders Warren Buffett, Richard Branson, George Soros and Canadian Ryan Holmes, founder of Hootsuite, also signed it.
Other Canadian signatories included Nobel Prize winner John Polanyi, former B.C. Supreme Court Justice Ross Lander and former UN special envoy Stephen Lewis.
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson also signed the letter, along with predecessors Sam Sullivan, Larry Campbell and Philip Owen, who was instrumental in bringing a supervised injection site to that city’s drug-plagued Downtown Eastside.
A U.S.-based advocacy group, the Drug Policy Alliance, collected the signatures. “Never before have so many respected voices joined together in calling for fundamental reform of drug control policies,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the alliance.
The UN special session on drug policy, which begins Tuesday, was proposed by the Mexican government with strong support from other Latin American countries. It is the first of its kind in two decades.
The conventional war on drugs, which has focused on penalizing drug users, has created vast criminal organizations and corrupted governments while diverting public resources, the letter to the UN secretary general contends.
“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,” it reads. “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.”