International and Local Drug Policy Experts Launch Weeklong U.S. Tour to Discuss Growing Movement to End Global Drug War

March 18, 2016

Contact: gabriel sayegh (646) 335-2264
Lorenzo Jones (860) 712-1246

International and Local Drug Policy Experts Launch Weeklong U.S. Tour to Discuss Growing Movement to End Global Drug War 

Five-City Tour Comes Weeks Before World Leaders Gather at United Nations to Debate International Drug Policies 

U.S. Tour Will Connect International Debate to Local Drug Policy Issues in Atlanta, Denver, Seattle, Chicago, New York City

NEW YORK: Next week, March 20 – March 25, advocates and experts from North and South America will embark on a weeklong tour of the U.S. to meet with local leaders and discuss the growing worldwide movement to end the failed war on drugs – at home and around the world. The tour comes just weeks before the first official gathering on global drug policies in nearly 20 years: the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on the World Drug Problem, which takes place in New York City from April 19 –21. 

Tour participants include the former Colombian director of drug policy (drug czar); an internationally recognized human rights advocate from Bogotá; and a leading drug policy and criminal justice expert and law professor from Mexico. With stops in Atlanta, Denver, Seattle, Chicago, and New York City, the delegation will bring attention to how the 2016 UNGASS has implications for local and national efforts to fix America’s broken drug policies.

The last UN Special Session on drug policy was held in 1998. Shaped dramatically by the U.S. and its failed war on drugs, the 1998 gathering focused on expanding the drug war for total elimination of drugs from the world within ten years. The 2016 UNGASS represents a unique opportunity for nations to advance more effective drug policies based in science, health, and human rights. 

The 2016 UNGASS was called in the midst of growing momentum around the world to end the ineffective and dangerous drug war. In Africa and Latin America, political leaders are calling for substantive new solutions to reduce drug war related crime and violence. In the U.S., bipartisan support for drug policy reform is growing: from efforts and changes in criminal justice policies at the federal level, to the legalization of marijuana in four states, to municipal efforts to advance new approaches to drug policy to improve health and safety.  

Earlier this month, the Global Commission on Drug Policy – which includes leaders like former U.S. Secretary of State George Schultz, former U.S Treasure Secretary Paul Volker, and former UN Director Kofi Annan – issued a statement urging nations to take drastic steps to end the failed war on drugs and reform global drug policies at UNGASS 2016. And last week, three former presidents -- from Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico -- published an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times calling for an end to the drug war and for decriminalization of drug possession and use.

The International UNGASS Delegation Tour will make connections between local manifestations of the war on drugs and the global treaties and conventions shaping drug policy around the world. Local advocates will amplify the international call for President Barack Obama to attend the UNGASS and say on the international stage the same thing he’s said at home: that the war on drugs has failed, and it’s time for a new approach.

TOUR INFORMATION:

Dates: March 20 – 25, 2016

Locations: Atlanta (Sunday, March 20); Denver (Monday, March 21); Seattle (Tuesday, March 22); Chicago (Wednesday and Thursday March 23 - 24); and New York City (Friday, March 25). 

 International Participants:

  • Julián Wilches (Colombia): Political scientist, Former Director of Drug Policy at Colombia’s Ministry of Justice and Law and former Adviser to the Presidential Program Against Illicit Crops in Colombia.
  • Marcela Tovar (Colombia): Human rights activist, philosopher, and coordinator for the drug policy program at the Think Tank for Action and Transition in Colombia.
  • Alejandro Madrazno Lajous (Mexico): Director of the Program Right to Health of the Division of Legal Studies of the Center for Economic Research and Teaching (CIDE) in Mexico.

Domestic Participants: At each city, local leaders will meet with international delegates, including:

  • Atlanta: Project South, The Ordinary Peoples Society, Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition, Southern Movement Assembly
  • Denver: Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition
  • Seattle: Public Defender Association, VOCAL Washington
  • Chicago: Illinois Consortium for Drug Policy at Roosevelt University, Trinity United Church of Christ, Workers Center for Racial Justice
  • New York City: VOCAL-NY, Open Society Foundations, Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice

Statements by Host Organizations:

Lorenzo Jones, co-founder and co-director of the Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice in Hartford, CT, said: “Because the war on drugs in communities in the U.S. is connected to the war on drugs in communities around the world, this Delegation presents an opportunity to build connections across geographies and cultures, cultivate solidarity, and strengthen the global movement to end this failed drug war. We hope to amplify the work being done locally to end the war on drugs and mass incarceration, while also amplifying the work within the UN and in Washington D.C. to adopt a new approach based in health, equity, and justice.”

Christie Donner, Executive Director of the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition in Denver, CO said: “The Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition is honored to host the Katal Center as they tour the United States with leading international drug policy reform advocates from Latin America.  Since Colorado has been a state pioneer in drug policy reform it is essential that we not limit our concern and activism to our state or even national borders.  The devastating impact of the failed drug war is global and the solutions must also be addressed at the international level.”

Pastor Kenneth Glasgow of The Ordinary People’s Society in Dothan, AL, said: “The war on drugs has harmed communities throughout the world, especially here in the U.S. South. We look forward to bringing together formerly incarcerated people and our families, with families whom have lost their children to police violence, to meet with this international delegation of experts and advocates. Together, we can strategize and build powerful campaigns for human rights. Whether it’s the state legislature, Congress, or the United Nations, directly impacted people must be at the table to devise the solutions our communities need to achieve justice." 

Daryle Brown of The Next Movement and Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, IL said: “We have been dealing with the family and community pain, disruption and dissolution that has resulted from our nation’s disastrous War on Drugs for nearly forty years, and often failing to realize that America’s leadership in this war has resulted in treaties and laws that delivered that same pain and misery around the world. While our fight to end this war appears local and national, victory can provide relief in every corner of the world.” 

Kathie Kane-Willis, Director of Roosevelt University’s Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy in Chicago, IL said: “The war on drugs has failed, miserably and dramatically and nowhere is this more apparent than in Illinois. Cook County has some of the worst racial disparities in the nation for arresting and convicting people of color for drug possession violations. At the same time our state funded treatment capacity has fallen to the 3rd worst in the nation. It’s time for a health based approach to drug use.” 

Emery Wright, Co-Director of Project South in Atlanta, GA, said: “When the USA declares War, people die. This outcome has been consistent throughout the War on Drugs. From policies that militarize the police to zero tolerance policies that criminalize communities, the US-led War on Drugs has caused great harm from the US South to the Global South. As grassroots activists and international policy shapers, we need to work across borders for shared solutions to end this harmful War on Drugs.” 

Marilyn Reyes-Scales, a member of VOCAL New York in Brooklyn, NY said: “New York is in the middle of a major debate about drug policy. There's growing support for harm reduction and criminal justice reform, and at the same time many still cling to the worst impulses of the Rockefeller drug law era. We have a lot to learn from our Latin American colleagues, who are charting a course to end drug war violence and promote human rights.”

Dr. Mojgan Zare of the Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition, Inc. in Atlanta, GA said: “We need to understand that addiction is a symptom and unless we attempt at treating the underlying cause, we will never address the real problems. We need to learn to love, to care, and to be compassionate to our fellow humans and we need to learn and really learn to treat all with the dignity and the respect that we all deserve.” 

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