9 former presidents write open letter urging Obama to commute sentences of more low-level drug offenders

A group of former heads-of-state penned an open letter to President Obama urging him to commute the sentences of more low-level drug offenders during the final days of his presidency.

The letter was signed by 9 former leaders — all members of the Swiss-based Global Commission on Drug Policy — including César Gaviria, the president of Colombia during the assassination of drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, former Brazilian president Fernando Henrique Cardoso, and former Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo.

The ex-presidents acknowledged the fact that Obama commuted the sentences of more than 1,000 inmates serving sentences for “non-violent” drug crimes during his tenure. But they pushed the president to do more before President-elect Donald Trump takes office on January 20.

“There are still thousands more incarcerated in federal correctional facilities, serving long sentences for drug offenses that were non-violent in nature,” the letter says.

“We hope, therefore, that in these final days of your presidency, you will use the power of your office to commute even more prison sentences of low-level drug offenders, and restore dignity and hope to their lives.”

The GCDP is a panel of leaders, including former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, that encourages state governments to re-evaluate the punitive approach to drug regulation in favour of decriminalization and “public health” methods.

San quentin prisonJustin Sullivan/Getty ImagesAn inmate is escorted through San Quentin State Prison in California.

The letter calls the use and possession of drugs a “private decision,” that should be “protected by the principle of individual rights.”

“The State should interfere in a private decision only if it puts society, public safety and public health at risk,” the letter says.

The former leaders also wrote that they hope Obama’s record on commutations will “inspire” Trump to do the same. The president-elect’s pick for attorney-general, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), will likely be an opponent of sentencing reform, however.

“We further acknowledge your respect for the laws passed by referendum in many states regarding the regulation of marijuana,” the former presidents wrote, addressing Obama directly. “And hope that the will of the people to reform drug policies will continue to be heard.”

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