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Various pieces about George Soros


The Movement to Legalize Drugs in the United States: Who's Behind It?
by Rachel Ehrenfeld
February 1995

Conspiracies involving traffickers in illegal drugs are covered extensively in the media. So are stories about individual drug users who would like to grow, obtain and use drugs legally. But very little has been written about the prominent individuals and nonprofit organizations that have made the legalization of drugs an issue in public policy. A worldwide network of people and groups is coalescing to work to end the criminal penalties attached to the sale and use of currently illegal drugs. Most Americans are not aware of how serious and determined these efforts are. But the public needs to realize that the availability of drugs, the extent of drug use, and even the corrupting effects of illegal drug trafficking are only part of the story. What has not been adequately discussed is the political influence of the pro-drug legalization movement and the economic, social, cultural and moral consequences of its activities.

Because most experts in law enforcement agree that the "war on drugs" launched by President Nixon in 1970 has not been won, much of the public has become skeptical of claims that authorities are committed to fighting drugs. Increasingly indifferent to the anti-drug rhetoric of politicians, many Americans are starting to listen more attentively to a growing, widespread, and well-targeted public relations campaign aimed at making them more accepting of public policies that would tolerate drug use.

Contributing to this are well-intentioned and well known individuals such as financier George Soros, Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke, and commentator William F. Buckley Jr., who have become convinced that legalization is the answer. They are among the most prominent public figures who have lent their voices -- and their respectability -- to calls for drug legalization.

Television "documentaries" are often supportive of legalization arguments. MTV's "Straight Dope" (April 1994), ABC's "America's War on Drugs: Searching for Solutions" (April 1995), and The Discovery Channel's "The Cronkite Report: The Drug Dilemma" (Fall 1995) were all sympathetic to legalization and calls for so-called "alternative" drug policies. PBS programs, including Firing Line and The Charlie Rose Show, have questioned the wisdom of the drug war and the prohibition of illegal drugs -- as have National Review, New York Magazine, The New York Times, and The Los Angeles Times. All use phrases like "harm reduction," "responsible use," "alternatives," and "decriminalization," which have become code words used to mask a pro-legalization agenda.

The cover story in the February 12, 1996 issue of William Buckley's magazine, National Review, was devoted to drug legalization, with a series of essays making the case for ending the legal prohibition. The journal that arguably established the intellectual foundations for the modern conservative movement is now providing a forum for these opinions. Most politicians, government officials, as well as the majority of the American people still dismiss pro-drug legalization arguments. But a broad array of well-funded nongovernmental organizations across the political spectrum is developing programs to legitimize drug legalization.

The financial backing and political and social support for legalization arguments comes from a variety of sources, including George Soros's Open Society Fund, the Soros Foundation and his own Lindesmith Center, the Drug Policy Foundation, and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). Together with such organizations as the American Civil Liberties Union, ACT-UP, and the New York chapter of the American Bar Association, they make up the pro-legalization chorus.

In addition, a number of other groups, including prominent foundations like the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Twentieth Century Fund, Carnegie Corporation, RAND Corporation, and the Ford Foundation, do not advocate legalization, but provide indirect support. They fund projects that not only criticize current law enforcement policies, but lend support to the argument that the drug war is a lost cause. Contending that the supply of drugs can never be halted, these groups call instead for more treatment facilities and programs for drug users and less law enforcement and interdiction against drugs. They insist that many drug offenders are non-violent and should not be imprisoned. Yet their arguments confuse the consequences of drug use with its cause. As Robert Peterson, the former Illinois drug czar, has said, "You cannot win the war by treating the wounded."

Political figures like Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) and former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders have spoken out, joining Hollywood notables like producer David Geffen and actor Richard Dreyfuss, and writers Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, John LeCarre, Jorge Castaneda, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, in seeking decriminalization of drugs.

Arguments that lend support to the pro-legalization movement are advancing on all fronts. They are adapted and modified to persuade different segments of the public. Thus, taxpayers are warned that drug prohibition wastes public resources and is not cost-effective. Law enforcement officers are reminded that an unsuccessful drug war breeds disrespect for all laws. Parents are counselled that kids are more likely to respect them and keep themselves safe if they aren't forced into back alleys in dangerous neighborhoods to buy their "recreational drugs." The health conscious are enlightened with data that purports to show that cocaine is a "unique source of vitamins and minerals" and that government needle bans promote unsafe and unnecessary needle exchanges that are responsible for HIV infection among those who inject their drugs. The arguments are unending to help Americans overcome the repressions of a "hypocritical" society.


An Evening At Soros's
February 1995

Editor's note: Ms. Ehrenfeld attended the event she describes below.

"Cocaine is as good a stimulant as coffee with less harmful effects on the body," said a drug legalization advocate in New York. A colleague from Duke University chimed in, "And, it fills a spiritual vacuum in the deep void left by our shallow, materialistic society."

Caricature? Not at all: These are some of the comments made by the respected guests of billionaire financier George Soros at a gathering at his opulent Upper East Side Manhattan duplex. Having spent hundreds of millions of dollars to foster the democratic values of an "open society," and claiming credit for bringing down Communist rule in Eastern Europe, Soros is now mobilizing some of his vast resources to fight against the "evils and misguided policy of the drug war." During last September's Gorbachev Foundation "The State of the World Forum" meeting in San Francisco, Ethan Nadelmann, director of Soros's Lindesmith Center, introduced those ideas as part of the New World Order while moderating the session on "creative approaches to the international drug crisis."

Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott has described Soros as "a national resource -- indeed, a national treasure." Yet the sixty-six-year-old, Hungarian-born Soros seems to be the treasury of the movement to legalize drugs. He is the godfather of the pro-legalization, decriminalization, harm reduction and "responsible use" movements, all of which are interconnected.

Since the early nineties, Soros has donated $6 million dollars to the Washington-based Drug Policy Foundation (DPF), and he apparently hosts DPF's New York office in his own offices on 7th Avenue. Soros also gave at least $4 million dollars to the Lindesmith Center, and $3 million dollars to Drug Strategies, which, according to its president, Mathea Falco, promotes "more effective approaches to the nation's drug problem."

In 1994 Soros, through his foundations, made grants totalling at least $13 million dollars to a variety of organizations involved in drug policy-related projects. In 1995, he "provided $450,000 to Human Rights Watch for their first ever project on the abuses of the war on drugs worldwide." Other non- American organizations that have benefitted indirectly from Soros's largesse include the Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy, which was formed in 1993; the International Anti-Prohibitionist League, which is based in Montreal and has offices in Europe; and the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation.

These and other Soros-funded groups organize and help to fund international conferences to promote marijuana and drug legalization policies, and "harm reduction," a term that refers to programs designed to reduce the ill effects of illegal drugs. They have played key roles in organizing and funding meetings in the U.S., Italy, the Netherlands, Australia and Canada. They also arrange for overseas legalization advocates to speak in public forums in the U.S. and elsewhere, by covering their expenses and providing honoraria.

Soros poses as being open-minded on the drug issue, and in public he calls for debate. Yet in press interviews his spokesman on drugs Ethan Nadelmann has recalled that Soros told him: "We are basically in agreement . . . [I] empower you to accomplish our common objectives." Nadelmann's objective is to "legalize the personal use of drugs by adult Americans. . . ." And Soros "is comfortable with that," says Nadelmann. He must be, because he is paying for it.

Other guests were equally unrestrained at this memorable evening at Soros's. New York district judge Robert Sweet, who favors decriminalization, remarked, "This [drugs] is a phony issue. People want to change their state of mind because they don't have jobs, they are deprived . . . And it is a lie that violence is caused by drug addicts ... The harm comes from the drug laws, not from drugs." "And let's not forget that drugs are fun," added a well-known pro-legalization jazz musician.

Interviewed by High Times, a magazine published by NORML, Nadelmann asserted: "It is important to see drugs as a human rights issue," said Nadelmann, because "it is typically the same sorts of people who mount major wars on Communists and major wars on drugs." He added that ". . . from a scientific perspective cocaine is not a dangerous drug for the large majority of the people who use it" -- and as for legalization, "take the chance and come out of the closet . . . the way homosexuals . . . came out. . . . When all of a sudden your cousin or your childhood friend or your daughter comes out, your whole view of it begins to get normalized."

He passionately added that "Millions of Americans have to lie to their kids because they think if their kids know they smoke pot they'll report them. . . . That's a tremendous travesty. The fear that children will put loyalty to the state ahead of loyalty to the family is a lot more like Stalinist Russia or Nazi Germany than traditional American values."

Comments of this kind aim to establish a new intellectual climate. Those who make such assertions see America's distrust of drugs as an expression of its hangups. They think people who oppose drugs are also opposed to sex, rock 'n roll, good times, freedom, and love. The counter-culture of the 1960s and 1970s lives on: But its most influential partisans are not on college campuses or in Greenwich Village coffee houses. They are meeting at receptions and conferences where the well-connected and well-to-do gather.

The president of a leading "harm reductionist" organization told the gathering at Soros's that the U.S. should emulate Colombia. In 1991, Colombia decriminalized drugs and made the corrupt profits legal. Of course the violence continues, and Colombia is to the international drug rackets world what Cicero was to Chicago in the days of Al Capone. In March, the United States finally decertified Colombia's eligibility for foreign aid because of its failure to combat drugs.

Yet despite Colombia's example, the pro-legalizers in the U.S. receive a respectful hearing. With former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elder's invitation to study legalization, Bill Buckley's endorsement of legalization, and Soros's munificent funding, it is not surprising that many well-intentioned people who began as firm opponents of drugs have mistakenly concluded that, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."


The Washington Post
February 2, 1997

The Drug War Debate; The Drug War 'Cannot Be Won'; It's Time to Just Say No To Self-Destructive Prohibition

by George Soros

Like many people, I was delighted this past November when voters in California and Arizona approved, by substantial margins, two ballot initiatives that represent a change in direction in our drug policies. The California initiative legalized the cultivation and use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. The Arizona initiative went further, allowing doctors to prescribe any drug for legitimate medical purposes and mandating treatment, not incarceration, for those arrested for illegal drug possession. It also stiffened penalties for violent crimes committed under the influence of drugs.

These results are significant both in terms of their immediate impact and because they suggest that Americans are beginning to recognize both the futility of the drug war and the need to think realistically and openly about alternatives.

Our drug warriors responded by pushing the panic button. The drug czar, Gen. Barry McCaffrey, claimed that "these propositions are not about compassion, they are about legalizing dangerous drugs." I was severely attacked for having supported the initiatives financially. Joseph Califano described me in The Post as the "Daddy Warbucks of drug legalization" and accused me of "bamboozling" the voters with misleading advertisements. I was denigrated in congressional hearings chaired by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), and in the New York Times, A.M. Rosenthal went so far as to imply that I represent a new kind of "drug money."

I must reject these accusations. I am not for legalizing hard drugs. I am for a saner drug policy. I am just as concerned about keeping drugs away from my children as any responsible parent. But I firmly believe that the war on drugs is doing more harm to our society than drug abuse itself. Let me explain my perspective.

I became involved in the drug issue because of my commitment to the concept of open society. The open society is based on the recognition that we act on the basis of imperfect understanding and our actions have unintended consequences. Our mental constructs, as well as our institutions, are all flawed in one way or another. Perfection is unattainable but that is no reason to despair. On the contrary, our fallibility leaves infinite scope for innovation, invention and improvement. An open society that recognizes fallibility is a superior form of social organization to a closed society that claims to have found all the answers.

I have devoted much of my energies and resources over the past two decades to promoting the concept of open society in formerly communist countries. I have started to pay more attention to my adopted country, the United States, because I feel that the relatively open society we enjoy here is in danger. (There is nothing new about this peril; it is a characteristic of open societies that they are always endangered.)

Our drug policies offer a prime example of adverse, unintended consequences. There is perhaps no other field where our public policies have produced an outcome so profoundly at odds with what was intended. But those who are waging a "war on drugs" refuse to recognize this fact. They consider all criticism subversive. To suggest the possibility that the war on drugs may be self-defeating is tantamount to treason in their eyes. This was confirmed by their reaction to the approval of the drug policy ballot initiatives in California and Arizona.

I should like to set the record straight regarding my role in the ballot initiatives. I personally contributed approximately $ 1 million, which represents 25 to 30 percent of overall contributions. I was not involved in the planning and execution of either campaign or in the drafting of the initiatives. Those who are upset about the role money played in these campaigns might better focus their attentions on the substantial sums of taxpayer dollars spent by government officials who actively opposed the initiatives.

I can well understand, however, why the drug warriors would be upset by my involvement. I have no use for drugs. I tried marijuana and enjoyed it but it did not become a habit and I have not tasted it in many years. I have had my share of anxieties concerning my children using drugs, but fortunately it was not a serious problem. My sole concern is that the war on drugs is doing untold damage to the fabric of our society.

I believe that a drug-free America is a utopian dream. Some form of drug addiction or substance abuse is endemic in most societies. Insisting on the total eradication of drug use can only lead to failure and disappointment. The war on drugs cannot be won; but, like the Vietnam War, it has polarized our society.

And its adverse effects over time may be even more devastating. Criminalizing drug abuse does more harm than good, blocking effective treatment and incarcerating far too many people. Our prison and jail population -- now more than a million and a half -- has doubled over the past decade and more than tripled since 1980. The number of drug law violators behind bars has increased eightfold since 1980, to about 400,000 people.

Our drug policies are especially harsh on African Americans. Among young African American men, the war on drugs has contributed strongly to a rate of incarceration so high that it disrupts family structures in our cities and increases the number of single-parent families. One out of every seven black men has been disenfranchised, permanently or temporarily, by felony convictions. Among black adults between the ages of 25 and 44, AIDS is now the leading cause of death, with half of those cases resulting from drug injections.

At the same time, proper treatment of drug addicts is inhibited by the fact that they are regarded as criminals. Tens of thousands sit behind bars -- at substantial cost to themselves, their families and taxpayers -- rather than in less costly, more effective drug treatment programs. Even methadone treatment and needle exchange programs are discouraged.

There are indications that our prohibitionist policies have increased drug- related disease and death, and had a much-documented impact on the crime rate. Restrictions on access to sterile syringes facilitate the spread of HIV and other diseases. Drug addicts overdose from street drugs of unknown purity and potency, injuring or killing themselves and placing strains on the health care system.

Focusing resources in a lopsided manner on the interdiction of supplies ignores basic economic principles. As long as demand and profits are high, there is no way to cut off supply. There will always be large numbers of people willing to risk incarceration for the chance of making so much money.

It is, of course, easier to identify what is wrong with present policies than to design better ones. I do not pretend to know what the right drug policy is; but I do know that the present policy is wrong. A more reasonable approach would try to reduce both supply and demand and aim at minimizing the harmful effects of drug abuse and drug control. I am aware of at least some of the steps we should be taking now: making methadone and sterile syringes readily available to addicts; removing criminal prohibitions and other sanctions on the ability of doctors and patients to treat pain and nausea with whatever medications work; saving our jail and prison cells for violent criminals and predatory drug dealers, not nonviolent drug addicts who are willing to undergo treatment; and exploring new means of reducing the harms done by drug use and our prohibitionist policies.

If public opinion were ready for it, I would advocate "hollowing out" the black market for drugs by making heroin and certain other illicit drugs available on prescription to registered drug addicts while discouraging non- addicts with social opprobrium, the dissemination of reasonable and persuasive information on the harms caused by drugs, and, to the extent necessary, by legal sanctions. If the Swiss and the Dutch and the British and increasingly other countries as well can experiment with new approaches, so can the United States.

Not all the experiments have been successful. Zurich's unsuccessful attempt to regulate an open-air drug market in the early 1990s became known as "Needle Park" and gave the city a bad name. But recent initiatives in Switzerland have been more successful and generated widespread public support. The national heroin prescription experiment has proven remarkably effective in reducing illicit drug use, disease and crime, and helped many addicts to improve their lives. Swiss voters approved this initiative in local referendums.

Our first priority should be to discourage children from using drugs. Even marijuana can be harmful to the mental and emotional development of youngsters. But demonizing drugs can increase their appeal to adolescents, for whom rebellion is often an important rite of passage to adulthood. And we must be particularly careful not to exaggerate the harmful effects of marijuana because it may undermine the credibility of our warnings about harder drugs.

Generally speaking, de-emphasizing the criminal aspect of drug use should be accompanied by more, rather than less, social opprobrium for the drug culture. Education and social disapproval of cigarette smoking have been much more successful than the war on drugs. America is a world leader in cutting down on cigarette smoking, and, simultaneously, one of the world's losers in dealing with drug abuse.

Unfortunately the present climate is inimical to a well-balanced drug policy. Crusading advocates of prohibition and deterrence -- Rosenthal, Califano, McCaffrey and others -- stand in the way of reasoned discussion. They insist that there is only one solution to the drug problem, namely, the "war on drugs" and that those who are critical of present policies are enemies of society. Few elected officials dare to incur their wrath. Hysteria has replaced debate in the public discourse.

It was left to the voters of California and Arizona to introduce a note of sanity into our drug policy. Califano asserts that they were bamboozled but, in doing so, he reveals a totalitarian mind-set. When he claims that the voters of Arizona and California did not know what they were voting for when they supported the two initiatives, he reminds me of the way Serbia's President Slobodan Milosevic reacted to recent election results in that country. Defenders of failed policies often claim that they know better than the voters themselves what is best for the voters.

The voters in Arizona and California have demonstrated that it is possible to support more sensible and compassionate drug policies while still being tough on drugs. I hope that other states will follow suit. I shall be happy to support (with after-tax dollars) some of these efforts, and I look forward to the day when the nation's drug control policies better reflect the ideals of an open society.

George Soros is a financier and philanthropist. He supports the Lindemith Center, a drug policy research organization in New York City.

Copyright 1997 The Washington Post


6 Feb 1997
Soros bankrolling medicinal cannabis

WASHINGTON (Reuter) - In a major challenge to current U.S. drug policy, billionaire financier George Soros offered Sunday (2-2-97) to bankroll new grassroots efforts that could lead to wider legalization of marijuana use for medicinal needs.

Soros, a noted philanthropist, said he was prepared to help finance ballot initiatives like those approved in November by voters in California and Arizona.

"The voters in Arizona and California have demonstrated that it is possible to support sensible and compassionate drug polices while still being tough on drugs," Soros wrote in a lengthy guest column in the Washington Post Outlook section.

"I hope that other states will follow suit," he said. "I shall be happy to support (with after-tax dollars) some of these efforts."

He disclosed he had personally contributed about $1 million to help fund the California and Arizona initiatives.

The Hungarian-born Soros amassed most his estimated $2 billion net worth taking huge risks in currency and other financial markets. He is chairman of the Open Society Institute, a grant-making foundation he set up in 1993 to promote the development of open, democratic societies around the world.

In his piece, Soros said that he himself had no use for drugs. He said he had tried marijuana, enjoyed it "but it did not become a habit and I have not tasted it in many years."

My sole concern is that the war on drugs is doing untold damage to the fabric of our society," he wrote. "I believe that a drug-free America is a utopian dream. The war on drugs cannot be won; but, like the Vietnam War, it has polarized our society."

If public opinion were ready for it, Soros said, he would advocate "hollowing out" the black market for drugs by making heroin and certain other drugs available on prescription to registered drug addicts.

At the same time, he said he would discourage non-addicts with "social opprobrium," the spreading of persuasive information on the harm caused by drugs and where necessary legal sanctions.

"We must be particularly careful not to exaggerate the harmful effects of marijuana because it may undermine the credibility of our warnings about harder drugs," Soros added.


Mr. George Soros was recently interviewed by TIME magazine, issue, April 21, 1997. He stated the following:

"I firmly believe the war on drugs is doing more harm to our society than drug abuse itself."

Donations include $1.0 million to help pass initiatives in California and Arizona last year that legalized the medicinal use of marijuana.


Soros gives $1 million for needles for addicts
Reuters, 17 Aug 1997

NEW YORK (Reuter) - A New York philanthropist plans to spend $1 million on sterile syringes to be given to drug addicts at risk of contracting AIDS and other diseases, a newspaper reported Sunday.

Financier George Soros told the New York Times in an interview published Sunday that he believes his contribution will ``save the most lives'' of all his philanthropic donations.

``Probably of all the money that we spend on various projects, this is the one that is actually going to save the most lives,'' said the Hungarian-born Soros who immigrated to the United States over 40 years ago.

The article said Soros has spent close to $20 million in an attempt to change how Americans look at illegal drugs.

In 1996 Soros contributed $1 million in California and Arizona to finance voter approval of marijuana for medicinal use, the Times said.

The newspaper said Soros does not support making drugs legal but believes banning their use is impossible. Soros said it is more realistic to reduce the harm that drug users cause themselves.

Soros also told the Times he has experimented with marijuana and has misgivings about making it legal because marijuana impairs motivation and performance of children in school.

``I don't have an answer to the drug problem. I think we need to explore different ways of dealing with it, and I think that which we are doing now is doing more harm than good,'' Soros said.

The $1 million needle exchange gift is being made through the Tides Foundation in San Francisco, the paper said. The Foundation matches philanthropic donors with requests for financial support in the field of social change.


The Associated Press, 24 Aug 1997

NEW YORK (AP) - Philanthropist George Soros says he's using his wealth to fight America's drug policies because politicians lack the courage to do it themselves. ``Our drug policy is insane,'' he said in an interview in this week's Time magazine. ``And no politician can stand up and say what I'm saying, because it's the third rail - instant electrocution.'' The billionaire is giving $15 million over the next five years to groups opposing America's war on drugs. He says the ``unintended consequences'' of the war, including the criminalization of a vast class of drug users, far outweigh the limited and costly success of interdiction. ``I do want to weaken the drug laws. I think they are unnecessarily severe.'' The currency trader who supplied his native Hungary with photocopiers to fight censorship says he has turned his attention to the United States to stir debate on the role of its government. In the issue that hits newsstands Monday, Soros says he has spent more than $90 million in recent years to promote less severe drug laws, needle exchange programs for addicts and research to reduce the number of people in jail. Soros worries the U.S. government is relying too heavily on prisons and has abdicated its responsibility to help new immigrants get on their feet, treat drug addicts and help people die with dignity. ``You must understand he thinks he's been anointed by God to solve insoluble problems,'' his friend Byron Wien, head U.S. strategist at the investment house Morgan Stanley, told Time. His work has provoked the ire of critics like Joseph Califano, former Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare. Califano has called him the ``Daddy Warbucks of drug legalization.'' Not all of his programs are controversial, however. He is funding the Algebra Project to improve students' math skills and giving $25 million to revitalize Baltimore. AP-NY-08-24-97 1925EDT


Independent on Sunday, UK
7 December 1997

Cannabis Campaign - Soros adds weight to the cause

Now's the time to decriminalise, says the legendary financier.
By Graham Ball

GEORGE SOROS, the multi-billionaire financier and philanthropist, is supporting the Independent on Sunday's campaign to decriminalise cannabis.

Mr Soros, one of the world's richest men, is backing our drive to change the laws on the personal possession of cannabis for recreational and medical purposes through his New York-based research foundation, the Lindesmith Centre.

In 1995 Mr Soros earnt the highest personal income reported by any private citizen in the world, some $600m, but he also gave $300m away. Most of his charitable donations go to educational and direct-aid projects in the former Eastern bloc countries of the old Soviet empire.

His philanthropic plan is to create the philospher Sir Karl Popper's concept of an "open society" based on tolerance for minorities, intellectual freedom and social self-restraint.

Mr Soros was hardly known outside financial circles in Britain until October 1992 when he spearheaded a wave of speculative selling that eventually drove sterling out of the ERM (Exchange Rate Mechanism).

He started life in a humble Jewish home in Hungary and was 14 when the Nazis took over. After the Russians came in he escaped to England, went to the London School of Economics and studied under Professor Popper. He then became one of Wall Street's most brilliant fund managers and was worth $4m by 1969. Eleven years later, having become one of the world's most powerful financial speculators, he began to establish his "Open Society" foundations.

Last month he announced that he was prepared to spend up to half a billion dollars in Russia on philanthropic projects which will include funds to fight the spread of tuberculosis, improve mother and child medical care and retrain personnel leaving the armed services.

Nearer home, he has this year donated $15m to fund the fight to reform the US's draconian drug laws. In a personal statement, Mr Soros wrote: "I wanted to congratulate the Independent on Sunday's campaign to broaden the debate about cannabis policy. This is an important and courageous initiative. I hope others in the UK, the USA and elsewhere will follow your lead.

"I am also pleased to see your newspaper make use of Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts, a book published by The Lindesmith Centre. The book has been strongly endorsed by the principal authors of the last two independent US commissions on marijuana.

"While I do not favour the outright legalisation of cannabis, I do favour its legalisation for medicinal purposes as well as broader decriminalisation, provided adequate safeguards are taken to minimise misuse among young people. I am delighted to find out that I am not alone. In a recent poll of British Members of Parliament, 70 per cent of those surveyed believe there is a good case for legalising cannabis for medicinal purposes.

"In the US, I was proud to support voter initiatives to legalise the medicinal use of marijuana and I will continue to support such initiatives in the future. It is a shame that the American War on Drugs continues to block these efforts to remove sanctions on doctors and patients to treat pain and nausea with whatever medications work.

"Even more tragic is the fact that marijuana arrests in the US have more than doubled since 1991 . an absurd waste of our criminal justice resources.

"The Cannabis Conference is a timely step in developing a more rational drug policy in the UK and I believe it will influence the drug policy debate in the US and beyond. For too long the debate has been one-sided - dominated by those against the free exchange of ideas.With experts and leaders from such a wide range of disciplines, I am confident your conference will provide a model for future debates on drug policy.Very best wishes for your campaign and I look forward to seeing many others join this debate."

Members of the Lindesmith Centre will attend our discussion at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre on Thursday. They will be joined by 15 MPs including Brian Iddon, Gordon Prentice and Dr Phyllis Starkey.

The conference is being supported by Richard Branson and the Virgin group, and Anita Roddick and Body Shop. A spokesman for Body Shop said:"All the arguments need to be put before the public and judicary and since Lord Chief Justice Bingham called for debate, the Independent on Sunday kicked it off, and interest has gathered, the time for that debate is now."