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Leading New Zealanders join global letter calling for end to 'drug war'

14 Apr 2016
This article was published 8 years ago. Content may no longer be relevant.

Aotearoa New Zealand Leaders Join Over 1,000 Worldwide Calling for End to "Disastrous" Drug War Ahead of UN Special Session

Former Presidents of Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, Chile, Nigeria, Cape Verde, Switzerland & Poland; Former Prime Ministers of Greece, Hungary & The Netherlands Join With Distinguished Scholars, Jurists, Clergy, Business Leaders, Elected Officials, Celebrities and Others in Calling for Alternatives to Prohibitionist Drug Control Policies

"Humankind cannot afford a 21st century drug policy as ineffective and counter-productive as the last century's," Letter Says

(Wellington NZ, New York, USA) – 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 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 Aotearoa New Zealand leaders who signed this letter include: Dr Lance O'Sullivan, GP, New Zealander Of The Year; Hon Deborah Morris-Travers, Child Rights Advocate; Professor Max Abbott CNZM, Auckland University of Technology; Dr Tom Flewett, Capital and Coast District Health Board; Metiria Turei MP, Green Party; and broadcaster Alison Mau.

"There is good reason these prominent New Zealanders co-signed this letter: it's obvious that taking a punitive approach to drugs has caused more harm than good," says Ross Bell, NZ Drug Foundation Executive Director.

"It's time to replace New Zealand's aged drug law. The law has passed its use-by-date. Instead we need to follow the evidence, which puts health and human rights ahead of jail time."

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 Ethan Nadelman Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance (USA), who organised the letter.

"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."

New Zealand signatories[*] include:

  • Dr Lance O'Sullivan, GP, New Zealander Of The Year
  • Hon Deborah Morris-Travers, Child Rights Advocate
  • Professor Max Abbott CNZM, Pro Vice-Chancellor and Dean, Faculty of Health and Environmental Sciences, Auckland University of Technology
  • Professor Andrew Geddis, Faculty of Law, Otago University
  • Tuari Potiki, Chairperson, New Zealand Drug Foundation
  • Associate Professor Colin Gavaghan, Director of the New Zealand Law Foundation Centre for Law and Policy in Emerging Technologies, Otago Law Faculty
  • Professor John McMillan, Director of the Biothics Centre, University of Otago
  • Dr Tom Flewett, Clinical Lead Addictions, Capital and Coast District Health Board
  • Metiria Turei MP, Coleader Green Party Aotearoa New Zealand
  • Derek Handley, Entrepreneur
  • Jacinda Ardern MP, Justice Spokesperson, New Zealand Labout Party
  • Duncan Garner, Broadcaster/journalist
  • Dr Oliver Hartwich, Executive Director, The New Zealand Initiative
  • Alison Mau, Broadcaster/journalist

International signatories* include:

  • Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Former President of Brazil
  • Ernesto Zedillo, Former President of Mexico
  • Vicente Fox, Former President of Mexico
  • César Gaviria Trujillo, Former President of Colombia
  • Ricardo Lagos, Former President of Chile
  • George Papandreou, Former Prime Minister of Greece
  • Ruth Dreifuss, Former President of Switzerland
  • Aleksander Kwaśniewski, Former President of Poland
  • George Shultz, Former US Secretary of State; Former US Secretary of Treasury; Former US Secretary of Labor
  • Warren Buffett, Businessman; Philanthropist
  • Sir Richard Branson, Founder of the Virgin Group
  • Shashi Tharoor, Former Under-Secretary General, United Nations; Member of Parliament, India
  • Sting, Musician
  • Michael Douglas, Actor
  • Jane Fonda, Actor
  • Carly Simon, Singer

Newsworthy groups of signatories are listed on the Drug Policy Alliance website, with the complete list on the letter itself.


Get in touch with the Drug Foundation office if you're seeking comment.


[*] 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.


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