After more than half a century of global drug prohibition, the evidence is very clear: the war on drugs has failed. Far from keeping our communities safe and healthy, it has been used to wage a war on the poor, on people of color, and, increasingly, on immigrants.

Please join us for a one-hour conversation livestreamed on Global Exchange’s Facebook this Thursday from 5 – 6pm PT. Meet a group of experts who have hands-on experience in transforming failed drug war policies with innovative, evidence-based public health and social justice-centered alternatives.

The past decade has seen encouraging developments, particularly at the state and local level. Recreational marijuana is now legal and regulated in nine states. Thirty states plus the District of Columbia allow for its medicinal use. Cities including Oakland, San Francisco, Sacramento and L.A. are implementing programs to increase racial equity in the marijuana industry. Twenty-two states have decriminalized or removed the threat of jail time for simple possession of small amounts of marijuana. And there is spreading bipartisan support for legalizing syringe access; rapid expansion of programs to reduce overdose fatalities; and growing law enforcement interest in harm reduction approaches to policing drug users and markets.

We must continue to turn the tide. More Americans remain behind bars for drug offenses than the number of all Americans incarcerated in the 1980s. Black and Latino people continue to make up a massively disproportionate number of this population, despite using and selling drugs at similar rates as white people. Accidental and preventable drug overdoses continue to kill tens of thousands of Americans — more people than are killed by firearms. And, in the face of a deadly opioid crisis, the Trump administration proposes more of the tried-and-failed same: tough-on-drugs law enforcement that scapegoats immigrants and a just-say-no drug prevention approach, both of which prevent access to life-saving services.

Please join:

Emily Harris from Ella Baker Center for Human Rights on how punitive drug policies have fed the horror of mass incarceration, and the path to reform the criminal justice system.

Armando Gudino from Drug Policy Alliance on how drug policy has been used as a tool to criminalize the poor and communities of color, and on the link between drug war mass detentions and the war on immigrants.

Patt Denning from Harm Reduction Therapy Center on the public health consequences of the “just-say-no” approach to drug use, and how shifting to a harm reduction model is an indispensable part of reducing the harms drugs can cause to individuals and to society.

Chris Wakefield & Kaine Cherry from The Hood Incubator on new efforts to address historic racial inequities that resurfaced in the legal marijuana industry.


On Thursday June 26th, people will take to the streets, the internet, the airwaves, and public plazas in more than 80 cities around the world to protest harmful drug laws at the root of violence and mass incarceration.

The Support. Don’t Punish: Global Day of Action seeks to promote a more effective and humane approach to drugs that is based on public health and human rights.

The campaign was organized by a coalition of NGOs calling on governments to put an end to the expensive and counter-productive war on drugs. According to estimates, the drug war costs in excess of $100 billion annually to enforce and has failed to diminish drug markets or reduce use.

These events are a counterpunch to the United Nation’s International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. The United Nation’s anti-drug day gives rise to violent crackdowns and to promote harsh punishment in many countries, like China, which has recently announced the execution of 20 drug offenders.

steeda_debugIn the Bay Area, Global Exchange has partnered with Silicon Valley De-Bug to produce the video above that shows the Drug War’s damaging impact on one American family.

The Support. Don’t Punish: Global Day of Action is the first step in building a major civil society mobilization to end the Drug War aimed to impact policy makers from around the world during the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Narcotic Drugs in 2016.

Help make a difference today and urge your U.S. Senator to reform federal drug laws by urging them to support the Smarter Sentencing Act. 


The Voices of Victims tour (#VoicesofVictims13) led by Mexican drug war victims ended last week after headlining events in 11 U.S. and Canadian cities spotlighting the human costs of violent prohibition and mass incarceration strategies — and the urgent need for sensible alternatives.

Frank dialogue was a hallmark of this tour throughout. In Washington, DC, poet and Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity (MPJD) founder, Javier Sicilia spoke bluntly in a White House meeting, telling Ricardo Zuñiga, Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs, and Juan S. Gonzales, Special Advisor to the Vice President on the Western Hemisphere that we must fundamentally change U.S. backed policies of militarized prohibition that are driving a human rights disaster throughout the region.

Candor was again in evidence at another Washington DC meeting, this one hosted by the Organization of American States (OAS). The OAS meeting was convened by civil society organizations, MPJD, Global Exchange and the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda who requested that José Miguel Insulza, OAS Secretary General and Emilio Álvarez Icaza Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights present and discuss the OAS findings in the report on “Scenarios for the Drug Problem in the Americas 2013-2015,” published earlier this year.


Notably, Secretary General Insulza embraced the idea that it is time to decriminalize and regulate marijuana and possibly other recreational drugs. Nevertheless, Javier Sicilia admonished the OAS, and the governments it serves, to act quickly, accelerating what he sees as “timid” steps toward change. Watch B-roll of the event.

On Capitol Hill, Voices tour spokespeople for the MPJD joined allies from the Mesoamerican Working Group (MAWG) to speak at a well-attended briefing hosted by New Mexico Congresswoman, Michelle Lujan Grisham.

Participants spoke about the gruesomely negative impact of the drug war on human security, human rights, and democracy in Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico. Javier Sicilia focused on the ongoing national emergency in Mexico that he says is being downplayed and underreported in the media due to government pressure. The Hill briefing attracted members of Congress, State Department Aides, and congressional staffers from more than two-dozen offices.

Congressman, Beto O’Rourke from El Paso, TX spoke out strongly for an end to prohibition-as-we-know-it, making a spontaneous presentation that reflected his experience living in and representing a district that borders Mexico’s most violent city, Ciudad Juarez. O’Rourke has supported the MPJD and the call for deep reforms on both sides of the border since he was a member of the El Paso City Council.

The aim of the tour was to build on the connections forged between broad coalitions of Mexican and U.S. peacemakers who worked together building the 2012 Caravan for Peace. That Caravan brought together a drug policy reform movement embraced by church and community leaders; leading African-American and Latino organizations; gun-safety advocates, a few good politicians, law enforcement professionals, human and immigrant rights advocates, and many others across the United States who gave support, uplift, solace, and a heartfelt push toward justice for those who grieve loved ones lost to decades of drug war folly.


The final event of the Voices tour at the 7th Annual Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance (MIRA) Unity Conference brought many elements together. It featured a conversation about how to build a cross border movement to end the drug war between Javier Sicilia, the bereaved-Mexican father whose actions sparked a movement for peace and Michelle Alexander, the author of The New Jim Crow, the bestselling book that demystifies the iron links between the drug war, mass incarceration, and the American caste system it helps perpetuate.

Michelle Alexander and Javier Sicilia agreed that the damage done by the drug war in various countries has a common source in our deeply militarized and misguided prohibition policies. Both Michelle and Javier are models of courage and determination to speak unpopular truths. They agreed to work together to build the international movement and consensus on the urgent need to rethink and build a movement to undo the militarization of the of the drug war.

They agreed that it was critical to assure that the voice of victims be represented at policy discussions and that those impacted by the war on drugs are vital by sharing their stories and their policy recommendations.

While the tour is over, the organizing continues. Please help us continue to support these courageous advocates of drug policy and gun safety reforms on both sides of the border.


Thanks to all the people and organizations for their support for the past month and we look forward to collaborating in the future.

For the past few months, we have been working hard with our partners in Mexico to bring the message of Mexico’s peace movement north of the border to the United States.

Mexico’s Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity (MPJD) has now made the call for a major international peace caravan in the USA this summer.

The caravan, led by Javier Sicilia, the Mexican poet whose son was murdered just one year ago and is the founder of the MPJD, will begin in August and run from San Diego to Washington, DC. Victims of violence from both south and north of the border will join the caravan and aim to reframe the debate by calling for an end to the “drug war” and its tragic consequences at a pivotal moment between Mexican and U.S. presidential elections.

In the lead-up to the caravan, Javier Sicilia will be in the U.S. to speak in cities across the U.S. about why we need to build an international movement to end the war for prohibition, stop southbound gun smuggling, and reverse the alarming militarization of North America.

Javier’s first speaking event will be on April 4th in San Francisco, and will end in New York City May 10th. Cities to be visited include San Francisco, Stockton, San Jose, Los Angeles, Tucson, El Paso, Chicago, and New York. For a full listing of his speaking dates, please refer to our website.

Please spread the word about the speaking tour. Global Exchange is coordinating closely with the MPJD and will advise in future emails about how you can contribute to, join, or otherwise support the caravan.

If you would like us to contact you directly about how you can help, please send a message and/or question to with the subject line, “Help with Caravan.”

Mexico’s Peace with Justice and Dignity Movement looks north of the border

After months of marches and caravans covering thousand of kilometers of Mexico’s highways and back roads, Javier Sicilia, other family members of murder victims, along with a small support team, traveled to Washington, DC and Los Angeles, CA at the invitation of Global Exchange.

They came with the goal of making the movement more visible in the U.S. and to talk about three things:

  1. breaking the Pentagon’s co-dependency with Calderon’s failed and duplicitous war strategy;
  2. challenging lax U.S. regulation of assault weapons that allows thousands of guns to be smuggled into Mexico and criminal hands every week (please sign the petition);
  3. ending drug prohibition policies that have led to 40 years of a foolish, counter-productive, and ever more bloody “war” on drugs.

The decision to more deeply engage the public and officials in the United States is based on a recognition by the movement that any real and lasting solutions to the crisis of violence and impunity that has exploded during Mexico’s drug war will require deep changes on both sides of the border.

In Washington, they gave testimony to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission and the head of Human Rights Watch (which just delivered a scathing report on torture by Mexico’s military including the elite marine units favored by President Calderón). In events organized by our partner, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), they also met with Obama Administration officials, key Senate offices and addressed the public at a forum hosted (and videotaped) by the Woodrow Wilson Institute.

Ted Lewis and Javier Sicilia at #OccupyLA

In Los Angeles, Sicilia was a headliner at the International Conference of the Drug Policy Alliance attended by over 1,000 advocates and organizers from around the world. During his brief visit Sicilia visited the Occupy Los Angeles, met with reporters and editorial board members, spoke at a large open air rally against the drug war in MacArthur Park, and gave TV interviews broadcast nationally on Univision and Telemundo.

At the Drug Policy Conference, Sicilia took part took part in a roundtable conversation I facilitated on “Mexico’s Crisis and the Bi-national Movement Against the Drug War”. The wide ranging discussion also featured: Brisa Maya, Director of Mexico’s National Center for Social Communication (CENCOS); John Gibler, Journalist and Author of To Die In Mexico; Zulma Mendez, Director of the Pacto por la Cultura in Ciudad Juarez; Diego Osorno, Journalist and Author, El Cartel de Sinaloa; Victor Quintana, social leader and Former Congressman from Chihuahua; and Susie Byrd, a City Council Representative from El Paso, Texas.

The conversation probed the causes of Mexico’s anguish and the terrible forces tearing and testing the fabric of the nation. For the United States, Mexico’s emergency tests our national character and ability to learn as people and neighbors.

The Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity has plans to do more in the U.S. during 2012 as both Mexico and the U.S. face presidential elections. Mexico’s crisis and the urgent need to address it need to be put front and center whenever and wherever possible.

While in the U.S., Javier Sicilia gave voice to the idea that the same impulse to seek deep structural reforms that inspires the movement in Mexico is reflected in the Occupy Wall Street and other surging movements that aspire to break the death grip of money and power over our democracies. We are all in this together.

Our friends from Mexico will be back up north soon and will be looking for your help to take the struggle for peace to the next level. Stay tuned and refer your friends to our e-mail list.

The following piece was written by Laura Carlsen, director of the Americas Program of the Center for International Policy in Mexico City at

The presidential meeting this week between Mexico’s Felipe Calderon and Barack Obama looked from the outside like a hastily arranged exercise in damage control. But while most analysts emphasized the tensions between the neighboring nations going into the meeting, the real crisis behind the visit was the failure of what the two leaders most strongly agree on: the war on drugs south of the border.

Following a lengthy closed meeting, the presidents stood before the cameras to reaffirm their mutal commitment to a war that has cost 35,000 Mexican lives since 2007, with the death toll rising by often 50 homicides a day. Obama affirmed the U.S. strategy of increased engagement in the Mexican drug war, stating “We are very mindful that the battle President Calderon is fighting inside of Mexico is not just his battle, it’s also ours.” He promised to deliver $900 million this year of funds appropriated under the Merida Initiative, a security agreement launched in 2007 by the George W. Bush adminstration and extended indefinitely under Obama.

The binational relationship suffered some serious blows in the weeks preceding Calderon’s Washington visit. The release of thousands of Wikileaks cables between the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City and the State Department revealed U.S. officials’ deep concerns regarding the Mexican government’s capacity to carry out its high-risk war on drug cartels and wavering public opinion. Cable 10MEXICO83, for example, states that “the GOM’s (Government of Mexico’s) inability to halt the escalating numbers of narco-related homicides in places like Ciudad Juarez and elsewhere… has become one of Calderon’s principal political liabilities as the general public has grown more concerned about citizen security.” The cable cites “official corruption”, inter-agency rivalries, “dismal” prosecution rates and a “slow and risk averse” Mexican army.

In an interview with El Universal, Calderon responded angrily, calling the statements exaggerated, the ambassador “ignorant” and citing a lack of inter-agency coordination within the United States. Continued releases of the cables by the Mexican daily La Jornada promise more embarassments for both governments in attempting to portray a confident and united front in the drug war.

Tensions also followed the assassination of Jaime Zapata, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent in San Luis Potosí on Feb. 15. Although the Mexican government has arrested the alleged attackers–members of the Zetas drug cartel–the incident highlighted the risks of the drug war cooperation and the power of the cartels. The Mexican government’s contradictory statements on what happened and the army’s absurd hypothesis that the assassins did not know they were attacking U.S. agents (the agents’ car bore US diplomatic plates) only deepened perceptions of a lack of transparency. Within Mexico, the incident heightened fears that the U.S. government would demand more direct involvement, in particular a lifting of the ban on foreign agents bearing arms within Mexican territory.

A recent spate of comments from high-ranking U.S. officials served to fan the flame of distrust of the U.S. government. Sec. of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano’s speculated out loud of possible links between Mexican drug cartels and Al Qaeda, and Undersecretary of the Army Joseph Westphal characterized organized crime in Mexico as an “insurgency”, while openly raising the specter of US troops being sent in. Mexican columnists and anti-miliarization activists have intensified criticism of U.S. growing involvement in the country’s national security.

These tensions arise from the commitment of both governments to deepen and reinforce a military alliance based on a drug war that is rapidly losing the support of their populations and proving itself counterproductive. The central concern of the presidential summit wasn’t the relatively superficial frictions between the countries, but the desire to bolster the beleaguered drug war.

Despite talk of a deteriorating relationship, in fact the Calderon and Obama administrations are overseeing the birth of historically unprecedented cooperation between the two nations.

The problem is that nearly all of that cooperation centers on the severely flawed approach to confront transnational drug-trafficking. The Mexico City US Embassy has expanded into a massive web of Washington-led programs and infrastructure. The controversial Merida Initiative, up for another round of funding in Congress, has allocated more than $1.5 billion to help fight Mexico’s drug war with devastatingly negative effects. In addition to the rise in violence, the binational relationship, which should be multi-faceted and focused on peaceful co-existence, has been hijacked by proponents of a war model to reduce illicit drug flows to the U.S. market and confront organized crime where it is most powerful—in brutal battle. The Pentagon is thrilled with its open access to the Mexican security apparatus and the Calderon government—entering election mode—needs the political and economic support for its flagship war policy.

But the new relationship forged in war rooms is bad news for the Mexican people. Polls now show that the majority of the population does not believe its government is winning the war on drugs and feels the social costs are too high. A new movement called No More Blood has taken hold throughout the country and regions like Ciudad Juarez, where militarization has been heaviest and not coincidentally violence has taken the highest toll, have seen the rise of grassroots movements to defend human rights, call for an end to militarization and put forward alternative strategies. Among their demands is to rechannel scarce resources away from the attack on cartels to address social needs, restore the armed forces to their constitutional mandate of national defense, and end impunity for crime by fixing the judicial and public security systems and attacking government corruption.

It’s also bad news for the U.S. public. Opening up a war front in Mexico has not only destabilized our closest neighbor, but also drains resources needed in U.S. communities. The government-funded contracts granted Blackwater and Blackhawk to fight Mexico’s war could be used for schools in crisis. With an on-going econimc crisis and two wars across the ocean, the prospect of long-term involvement south of the border hurts all but the flourishing war economy.

Presidents Obama and Calderon could have used this meeting to rethink the strategy. Both have at times indicated a need to defuse the drug war by turning more to health-oriented approaches to drug consumption and backing off the cops and robbers persecutions by adopting more sophisticated methods of dismantling financial structures and carrying out more focused intelligence operations.

A wide range of alternative policies exist to supplant the endless drug war. Human rights concerns, along with longterm effectiveness, should dominate in considering which of these to adopt. Mexico’s drug war has generated death, an erosion of rule of law, increased gender-based violence and has significantly altered daily life in many parts of the county. This crisis should have elicited a modicum of self-criticism and willingness to consider reforms from the leaders who developed the strategy.

Instead, the presidential summit made a show of putting the binational relationship back on track—in precisely the wrong direction.

Despite nearly 30,000 drug-related homicides, a huge increase in human rights violations by the armed forces and growing citizen opposition to the bloody “war on drugs,” the U.S. Congress is once again considering the allocation of U.S. public funds to Mexico to support the failed counter-narcotics policy. Please consider adding your name to a petition calling on the Obama Administration and the US Congress to suspend United States support for Mexico’s military.

US support, channeled to the Mexican military through the Merida Initiative, enables a reckless strategy that has led to massive bloodshed in Mexico and failed to achieve goals to reduce illicit drug flows, assure public safety or significantly weaken cartels. With 45,000 troops in the streets as the core feature of this militarization strategy, the Mexican armed forces have been implicated in murders, rapes and violations of human rights—the vast majority of which have never been prosecuted.

This petition began circulating October 27th on the 4th anniversary of the killing of independent journalist Brad Will by paramilitary forces in 2006 while he was documenting the teacher’s strike in Oaxaca. Brad Will’s murder –- like that of so many thousands of Mexicans slain in the four years since his death – remains unpunished by a legal system which rewards incompetence and routinely confers impunity to criminals with connections to money and power.

Global Exchange joins the initial signers of the petition who include Kathy and Hardy Will (parents of Brad Will), the Centro de Derechos Humanos de la Montaña “Tlachinollan”, General José Francisco Gallardo, and Reporters Without Borders, and the Center for International Policy.

Please consider signing on as an organization or individual.