On the opening day of the 2016 United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on the World Drug Problem, the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) gathered more than 60 performers dressed in costumes from the era of U.S. alcohol prohibition to greet attendees at the entrance to the United Nations and hand them copies of the “Post-Prohibition Times,” a newspaper printout of a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urging him to set the stage “for real reform of global drug control policy.”
UN Security was apparently ordered to confiscate the letter, and attendees were ordered to hand over their copies upon entering the building. According to a number of participants in the UN Special Session, they were told that the document was not allowed in the building. “As we were walking into the metal detectors right at the entrance, the security were confiscating it from people,” said Natalie Lyla Ginsberg, Policy and Advocacy Manager for Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). Ms. Ginsberg continued, “I went back to ask the security guard why, and he said he got he’d gotten orders from the UN to specifically take the newspapers. He said he was just following orders.”
“That’s an extraordinary and deeply disturbing response by UN officials,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “The pamphlet obviously presented no threat to security. All it threatened was the status quo of the global drug war.”
The unprecedented list of signatories includes a range of people from Senators Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton to businessmen Warren Buffett, George Soros, Richard Branson, Barry Diller, actors Michael Douglas and Jane Fonda, Super Bowl champion Tom Brady, singers John Legend and Mary J. Blige, activists Reverend Jesse Jackson, Gloria Steinem and Michelle Alexander, as well as distinguished legislators, cabinet ministers, and former UN officials.
“It’s alarming that the United Nations would have so little regard for freedom of speech, and opted to disrupt this important message from getting to its intended audience, which is the delegates participating in this historic discussion,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “People across the globe have had their lives destroyed by the horrors of the drug war. The world is watching and it is a shame for the UN to stifle an urgent intervention in the debate.”
The UN Special Session, which takes 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.” The public letter to him was prompted in part by the obstacles to such debate within the confines of the United Nations.
“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… Humankind cannot afford a 21st century drug policy as ineffective and counter-productive as the last century’s.”
[Links below to photos from today’s action]
ABOUT THE DRUG POLICY ALLIANCE: The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) is the nation’s leading organization of people who believe the war on drugs is doing more harm than good. DPA fights for drug policies grounded in science, compassion, health and human right