Dream of a Worldwide Truce

On the eve of a United Nations special session on drugs, an international roster of luminaries signed a letter, penned by members of the Lindesmith Center, that lobbied for radical change. “We believe that the global war on drugs is now causing more harm than drug abuse itself,” read the June 1998 declaration. “Persisting in our current policies will only result in more drug abuse, more empowerment of drug markets and criminals, and more disease and suffering.”

Among the signatories were Willie Brown, Joycelyn Elders, several former members of Congress, two former U.S. attorneys general, a former assistant secretary of state, three federal judges, the San Jose mayor, a former police commissioner of New York City, a former secretary general of the UN, 28 Spanish judges, past presidents of Bolivia, Guatemala, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua, and current legislators from Australia, Britain, Canada, European Parliament, Mexico, and Peru.

Non-politicos who signed include Kweisi Mfume, Walter Cronkite, Stephen Jay Gould, Andrew Weil, Isabel Allende, Günter Grass, a slew of professors at top-notch universities, CEOs, various clergy, and Nobel laureates.

Several representatives on Capitol Hill are also bucking for new approaches. Reformers include California representative Tom Campbell, who has suggested “experiments in supplying drugs to addicts the way Zurich tried,” according to the Chicago Tribune. Massachusetts representative Barney Frank has repeatedly introduced a bill to change pot from a Schedule I drug to a Schedule II drug, thus allowing states to legalize it for medical purposes. In its current incarnation, the States’ Rights to Medical Marijuana Act is cosponsored by 14 representatives and is residing in a House subcommittee.

Many on the federal bench have also seen the light. During his tenure as chief judge of the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (1993-2000), Reagan appointee Richard Posner argued in favor of legalizing marijuana and psychedelics. District Judge Warren Eginton of Connecticut wants to see pot and cocaine legalized, while District Judge James C. Paine of Florida has condemned the war on drugs.

Other leaders who question prohibition are listed below. —R.K.

Gustavo de Greiff

former Attorney General of Colombia

“We should legalize drugs because we here are providing the dead, and the consumers are there in the U.S.”

source: El Diario-La Prensa, May 8, 1994

Peter Bourne

President Carter’s Drug Czar

“We did not view marijuana as a significant health problem—as it was not. . . . Nobody dies from marijuana. Marijuana smoking, in fact, if one wants to be honest, is a source of pleasure and amusement to countless millions of people in America, and it continues to be that way.”

source: PBS’s Frontline: “Drug Wars,” October 2000

Joseph D. McNamara

former police chief of San Jose and Kansas City

“We should immediately stop arresting people whose only crime is possessing small amounts of drugs for their own use. . . . Marijuana should be treated the same as alcohol and cigarettes.”

source: The Washington Post, May 19, 1996

Jaime Ruiz

senior adviser to the Colombian President

“From the Colombian point of view [legalization] is the easy solution. I mean, just legalize it and we won’t have any more problems. Probably in five years we wouldn’t even have guerrillas. No problems. We [would] have a great country with no problems.”

source: Ottawa Citizen, September 6, 2000

George Papandreou

Greek Foreign Minister

“I can officially state that my government and myself believe that all over Europe we need to open a debate on the ‘drug question’ in order to create more coherent and human policies with better perspectives. . . . The policy of criminalizing consumers has failed, creating many problems to our society.”

source: Transnational Radical Party’s Anti-Prohibitionist Days, Brussels, December 11, 1997

Edward Ellison

former head of Scotland Yard’s Antidrug Squad

“I say legalize drugs because I want to see less drug abuse, not more. And I say legalize drugs because I want to see the criminals put out of business.”

source: London’s Daily Mail, March 10, 1998

Ray Kendall

Secretary General of Interpol

“[I am] entirely supportive of the notion of removing the abuse of drugs from the penal realm in favor of other forms of regulation such as psycho, medical, social treatment.”

source: Report of Premier’s Advisory Council, 1996

Juan Torruella

chief judge of the First Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals

“There is a need for pilot tests of some types of limited decriminalization, probably commencing with marijuana, and obviously not including minors.”

source: Spotlight Lecture at Colby College, Waterville, Maine, April 25, 1996

John Curtin

U.S. district judge, New York

“Education, counseling, less use of criminal sanctions, partial legalization, and legalization are all alternatives. It is a hard road, but the present course has failed.”

source: The Buffalo News, March 2, 1997

Robert Sweet

U.S. district judge, New York

“Finally, the fundamental flaw, which will ultimately destroy this prohibition as it did the last one, is that criminal sanctions cannot, and should not attempt to, prohibit personal conduct which does no harm to others.”

source: National Review, February 12, 1996

House of Lords, Great Britain

“We consider it undesirable to prosecute genuine therapeutic users of cannabis who possess or grow cannabis for their own use. This unsatisfactory situation underlines the need to legalise cannabis preparations for therapeutic use.”

source: “Therapeutic Uses of Cannabis,” Select Committee on Science and Technology, March 14, 2001

Australian Parliament

“Over the past two decades in Australia we have devoted increased resources to drug law enforcement, we have increased the penalties for drug trafficking, and we have accepted increasing inroads on our civil liberties as part of the battle to curb the drug trade. All the evidence shows, however, not only that our law enforcement agencies have not succeeded in preventing the supply of illicit drugs to Australian markets, but that it is unrealistic to expect them to do so. If the present policy of prohibition is not working, then it is time to give serious consideration to the alternatives, however radical they may seem.”

source: Joint Committee on the National Crime Authority, 1988

Part I of this article: World Leaders on Dope

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