9 former leaders write open letter urging Obama to commute sentences of more low-level drug offenders

Original article by Jeremy Burke on Business Insider

A group of former heads of state penned an open letter to President Barack Obama urging him to commute the sentences of more low-level drug offenders in the final days of his presidency.

The letter was signed by nine former leaders — all members of the Swiss-based Global Commission on Drug Policy — including César Gaviria, the president of Colombia when the drug kingpin Pablo Escobar was assassinated; former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso; and former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo.

The ex-leaders acknowledged that Obama during his tenure commuted the sentences of more than 1,000 inmates serving sentences for nonviolent drug crimes. But they pushed the president to do more before President-elect Donald Trump takes office on January 20.

“There are still thousands more incarcerated in federal correctional facilities, serving long sentences for drug offenses that were nonviolent in nature,” the letter says.

“We hope, therefore, that in these final days of your presidency, you will use the power of your office to commute even more prison sentences of low-level drug offenders, and restore dignity and hope to their lives.”

The GCDP is a panel of leaders, including former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, that encourages state governments to reevaluate the punitive approach to drug regulation in favor of methods like decriminalization.

san quentin prison An inmate is escorted through San Quentin State Prison in California. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The letter calls the use and possession of drugs a “private decision” that should be “protected by the principle of individual rights.”

“The state should interfere in a private decision only if it puts society, public safety, and public health at risk,” the letter says.

The former leaders also wrote that they hope Obama’s record on commutations will inspire Trump to do the same. The president-elect’s pick for attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions, will likely oppose sentencing reform, however.

“We further acknowledge your respect for the laws passed by referendum in many states regarding the regulation of marijuana,” the former leaders wrote, addressing Obama directly, “and hope that the will of the people to reform drug policies will continue to be heard.”