Open Letter to President Obama

[Published in The Huffington Post, 9 January 2017]

Mr. President,

We wish to thank you for the great commitment you have shown to revisit the punitive approach to drug policy, particularly with regards to the pardon of low-level drug offenders.

These individuals have committed no violent act, yet they have been judged as criminals under strict drug sentencing laws and handed lengthy prison terms. What purpose does this serve except to create huge obstacles for them to ever lead productive lives?

Even people who use drugs or possess them for personal consumption risk tough sentences, when they 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.

Those whose consumption has caused physical or mental distress require support and access to health services. In no event should their consumption be criminalized.

As our Global Commission on Drug Policy colleague Kofi Annan has said:

Drugs have destroyed many lives, but wrong government policies have destroyed many more. A criminal record for a young person for a minor drug offence can be a far greater threat to their wellbeing than occasional drug use.

We therefore hail the fact that you have commuted the sentences of more than 1,000 inmates during your presidency. However, there are still thousands more incarcerated in federal correctional facilities, serving long sentences for drug offenses that were non-violent in nature. 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. May your example inspire not only your successor, but also governors across the country.

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


Fernando Henrique Cardoso,
Former President of Brazil

Ruth Dreifuss
Former President of Switzerland

César Gaviria
Former President of Colombia

Alexander Kwasniewski
Former President of Poland

Ricardo Lagos
Former President of Chile

Olusegun Obasanjo
Former President of Nigeria

George Papandreou
Former Prime Minister of Greece

Jorge Sampaio
Former President of Portugal

Ernesto Zedillo
Former President of Mexico