Superstar Coalition to President Obama: End the War on Drugs

Superstar Coalition to President Obama: End the War on Drugs

Powerful Group Urges New Approaches to Failed Drug War, Move from Criminal Justice Toward Public Health Approach

NEW  YORK, NY — A coalition of over 175 artists, actors, athletes, elected officials and advocates, brought together by hip-hop pioneer Russell Simmons and Dr. Boyce Watkins, presented an open letter to President Obama Tuesday, urging him to double down on his efforts to change the United States’ criminal justice policy from that of a punitive, suppression-based model to one that favors evidence-based prevention and rehabilitation.

According to Department of Justice data, the U.S. leads the world in the incarceration of its own citizens, both on a per capita basis and in terms of total prison population. More than 500,000 of the 2.3 million people behind bars in the U.S. are incarcerated for nothing more than a nonviolent drug offense.

“It is critical that we change both the way we think about drug laws in this country and how we generate positive solutions that leave a lasting impact on rebuilding our communities,” said Russell Simmons. “We need to break the school to prison pipeline, support and educate our younger generations and provide them with a path that doesn’t leave them disenfranchised with limited options.”

A coalition of more than 175 concerned activists, humanitarians and celebrities have endorsed the letter, including: Russell Simmons, Dr. Boyce Watkins, Sir Richard Branson, Will Smith, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Scarlett Johansson, Ron Howard, Jennifer Hudson, Demi Moore, Eva Longoria, Michael Moore, Mark Wahlberg, Harry Belafonte, Jada Pinkett Smith, Cameron Diaz, Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, Chris Rock, Russell Brand, John Legend, DJ Pauly D, Mike Tyson, Rick Ross, Jon Hamm, Natalie Maines, Ludacris,  to name a few.  The coalition suggests that the President continue to take a number of reformative actions, including extending the Fair Sentencing Act to all inmates who were sentenced under the 100-to-1 crack/powder disparity, supporting the principles of the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013 (which allows judges to set aside mandatory minimum sentences when they deem appropriate), and supporting the Youth PROMISE Act.

Dr. Boyce Watkins added: “The letter is intended to be a respectful appeal to the Obama Administration asking that we develop productive pathways to supporting families that have been harmed by the War on Drugs.  Countless numbers of children have been waiting decades for their parents to come home, and America is made safer if we break the cycle of mass incarceration.  Time is of the essence, for with each passing year that we allow injustice to prevail, our nation loses another piece of its soul.  We must carefully examine the impact of the War on Drugs and the millions of living, breathing Americans who’ve been affected.  It is, quite simply, the right thing to do.”

Misguided drug laws and draconian sentencing requirements have produced profoundly unequal outcomes for communities of color. Although rates of drug use and selling are comparable across racial and ethnic lines, blacks and Latinos are far more likely to be criminalized for drug law violations than whites. 2.7 million children are growing up in U.S. households in which one or more parents are incarcerated. Two-thirds of these parents are incarcerated for nonviolent offenses.  One in nine black children has an incarcerated parent, compared to one in 28 Latino children and one in 57 white children.

“So called ‘tough on crime’ policies have failed our nation and its families, while ‘smart on crime’ policies work,” said NAACP President & CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous. “When we know that drug treatment is seven times more effective than incarceration for drug addicts, basic human decency demands our nation makes the switch. The fate of hundreds of people and the children who need them home and sober hang in the balance. Great progress is being made in states from New York to Georgia with strong bipartisan support.   The time has come for all of us to do all that we can.  The future of our families, states, and nation demand it.”

The coalition hopes their letter will not only spark more meaningful conversations about the War on Drugs in the White House, but also encourage the public to be more actively engaged on these pressing issues.

To read the full letter to President Obama and to view the complete list of supporters, please visit

  • dag800

    Ron Paul spoke with CNN railing
    against the U.S. war on drugs.

    “This war on drugs has been a detriment to personal liberty and it’s
    been a real abuse of liberty,” Paul said. “Our prisons are full with
    people who have used drugs who should be treated as patients — and they’re
    non-violent. Someday we’re gonna awake and find out that the prohibition we are
    following right now with drugs is no more successful, maybe a lot less
    successful, than the prohibition of alcohol was in the ’20s.”

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  • Mike

    It’s important that we recognize the moment for what it is. A broad spectrum of groups across the political spectrum, from the right clear across to the left, have reached a consensus on the “drug war” — WAR IS OVER.

    It failed. Now we need to replace it with something other than drugwarlite.

    When are the politicians going to listen? It better be now, because there surely is another election coming soon and when the dust settles you’re either on the side of real change on this issue or you’re just eating dust.

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  • Robert Proctor

    “[C]hange the United States’ criminal justice policy from that of a
    punitive, suppression-based model to one that favors evidence-based
    prevention and rehabilitation.”
    The current policy wouldn’t pass school. The FDA takes decades to respond to challenges on marijuana. This is not government even accountable to the people – the majority of whom support legalization – much less government of the people. This is exactly the abuse to which the founder, Benjamin Franklin, was referring when asked what kind of government is established in the US. His reply, “A republic, if you can keep it.”
    Keep the pressure on your representatives, and demand accountability for the drug war. It’s your money. It’s your government that is spending it.

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