Press Release  | 09/08/2014

New Report: World Leaders Call For Ending Criminalization of Drug Use and Possession and Responsible Legal Regulation of Psychoactive Substances

Former Presidents of Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Poland, Portugal and Switzerland Join With Kofi Annan, Richard Branson, George Shultz, Paul Volcker And Others To Make Bold, New Recommendations for Major Paradigm Shift in Global Drug Policy on the Road to UN Special Session on Drugs in 2016

Live-Stream of Press Conference: Tuesday, 9:45am NY time (1:45pm GMT) at

Today, the Global Commission on Drug Policy will release Taking Control: Pathways to Drug Policies that Work, a new, groundbreaking report at a press conference in New York City. The event will be live-streamed and speakers include former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, former Colombian President César Gaviria, former Swiss President Ruth Dreifuss, Richard Branson and others.

The Commissioners will then meet with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and UN Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson in the afternoon following the press conference.

The report reflects the evolution in the thinking of the Commissioners, who reiterate their demands for decriminalization, alternatives to incarceration, and greater emphasis on public health approaches and now also call for permitting the legal regulation of psychoactive substances. The Commission is the most distinguished group of high-level leaders to ever call for such far-reaching changes.

In 2011, the Commission’s initial report broke new ground in both advancing and globalizing the debate over drug prohibition and its alternatives. Saying the time had come to “break the taboo”, it condemned the drug war as a failure and recommended major reforms of the global drug prohibition regime.

The Commission’s work has helped to create conditions for not just former presidents but current presidents to speak out as well. The Commission’s calls for reform were joined by current Presidents Juan Manuel Santos in Colombia, Otto Perez Molina in Guatemala, and José Mujica in Uruguay, as well as then-President Felipe Calderón in Mexico. At the Summit of the Americas in April 2012, drug policy reform was a major topic of debate for the first time in the Summit’s history. In May 2013, the Organization of American States produced a report, commissioned by heads of state of the region, which included legalization as a likely policy alternative. Last December, Uruguay then took the discussion another step further by becoming the first country in the world to approve the legal regulation of the production, distribution and sale of marijuana.

These developments instigated the process that resulted in the upcoming UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs in 2016, which will present the opportunity to lay the foundation of a new drug control regime for the 21stcentury. Whereas the previous UNGASS meeting in 1998 was dominated by rhetorical calls for a “drug-free world” and concluded with unrealistic goals regarding illicit drug production, the Global Commission hopes that the forthcoming meeting in 2016 will consider its recommendations and be used as a space for reshaping drug policy along the principles of human rights, public health and scientific evidence, and allowing member States to take control.

“The facts speak for themselves. It is time to change course,” said Kofi Annan, Chair of the Kofi Annan Foundation and convenor of the West Africa Commission on Drugs (chaired by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, of Nigeria), which presented wide-ranging recommendations for drug policy reform earlier this year. “We need drug policies informed by evidence of what actually works, rather than policies that criminalize  drug use while failing to provide access to effective prevention or treatment. This has led not only to overcrowded jails but also to severe health and social problems.”

“Ultimately, the global drug control regime must be reformed to permit legal regulation,” said former president of Brazil Fernando Henrique Cardoso.  “Let’s start by treating drug addiction as a health issue – rather than as a crime – and by reducing drug demand through proven educational initiatives. But let’s also allow and encourage countries to carefully test models of responsible legal regulation as a means to undermine the power of organized crime, which thrives on illicit drug trafficking.”

“As several European countries became aware of the harms caused by repressive drug policies, they adopted harm reduction and innovative treatment strategies like needle exchange, substitution therapies, heroin prescription and safe consumption rooms, as well as the the decriminalization of drug consumption and possession for personal use”, said former Swiss president Ruth Dreifuss. “Such lifesaving and safety enhancing measures represent only half of the way to dealing responsibly with drugs in our societies. Regulating the whole chain, from the production to the retail of drugs, allows to rollback criminal organizations, secure quality standards and protect people’s life, health and safety.”

“Health-based approaches to drug policy routinely prove much less expensive and more effective than criminalization and incarceration,” said former President of Mexico Ernesto Zedillo. "Decriminalization of drug consumption is certainly crucial but not sufficient. Significant legal and institutional reforms, both at the national and international levels, are needed to allow governments and societies to put in place policies to regulate the supply of drugs with rigorous medical criteria, if the engines of organized crime profitting from drug traffic are to be truly dismantled."

“We can’t go on pretending the war on drugs is working,” said Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group. “We need our leaders to look at alternative, fact-based approaches. Much can be learned from successes and failures in regulating alcohol, tobacco or pharmaceutical drugs. The risks associated with drug use increase, sometimes dramatically, when they are produced, sold and consumed in an unregulated criminal environment. The most effective way to advance the goals of public health and safety is to get drugs under control through responsible legal regulation.”

Taking Control makes seven major recommendations, which can be summarized as follows:

  • Put health and community safety first through a fundamental reorientation of policy priorities and resources, from failed punitive enforcement to proven health and social interventions.
  • Ensure equitable access to essential medicines, in particular opiate-based medications for pain.
  • Stop criminalizing people for drug use and possession – and stop imposing “compulsory treatment” on people whose only offense is drug use or possession.
  • Rely on alternatives to incarceration for non-violent, low-level participants in illicit drug markets such as farmers, couriers and others involved in the production, transport and sale of illicit drugs.
  • Focus on reducing the power of criminal organizations as well as the violence and insecurity that result from their competition with both one another and the state.
  • Allow and encourage diverse experiments in legally regulating markets in currently illicit drugs, beginning with but not limited to cannabis, coca leaf and certain novel psychoactive substances.
  • Take advantage of the opportunity presented by the upcoming UNGASS in 2016 to reform the global drug policy regime.

Commission Members
(those speaking at the September 9 press conference are underlined):

  • Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations and chair of the Kofi Annan Foundation, Ghana
  • Louise Arbour, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Canada
  • Pavel Bém, former Mayor of Prague, Czech Republic
  • Richard Branson, entrepreneur, advocate for social causes, founder of the Virgin Group, cofounder of The Elders, United Kingdom
  • Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former President of Brazil (chair)
  • Maria Cattaui, Petroplus Holdings Board member, former Secretary-General of the International Chamber of Commerce, Switzerland
  • Ruth Dreifuss, former President of Switzerland and Minister of Home Affairs
  • César Gaviria, former President of Colombia
  • Asma Jahangir, human rights activist, former UN Special Rapporteur on Arbitrary, Extrajudicial and Summary Executions, Pakistan
  • Michel Kazatchkine, UN Secretary General Special Envoy on HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and former executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, France
  • Aleksander Kwasniewski, former President of Poland
  • Ricardo Lagos, former President of Chile
  • George Papandreou, former Prime Minister of Greece
  • Jorge Sampaio, former President of Portugal
  • George P. Shultz, former Secretary of State, United States (honorary chair)
  • Javier Solana, former European Union High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy , Spain
  • Thorvald Stoltenberg, former Minister of Foreign Affairs and UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Norway
  • Mario Vargas Llosa, writer and public intellectual, Peru
  • Paul Volcker, former Chairman of the United States Federal Reserve and of the Economic Recovery Board
  • John Whitehead, former Deputy Secretary of State, former Co-Chairman Goldman Sachs & Co. and founding Chairman, 9/11 Memorial & Museum
  • Ernesto Zedillo, former President of Mexico

Contact: Tony Newman (646) 335-5384