Cannabis Legalization Breaks UN Treaties

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With Canada whizzing toward a legal recreational cannabis market a lot of citizens don’t realize this one critical thing: in legalizing marijuana, Canada is breaking three United Nations drug control treaties.

To act so irresponsibly might seem un-Canadian but the treaties have enough leeway that Canada won’t have to suffer international sanctions if its reforms continue as scheduled.

Since the first drug control treaty was signed over 100 years ago, the world has continued using international law to control access to drugs.

 

That rules are summed up by three UN treaties:

  1. The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961

  2. The Convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1971

  3. The UN Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances of 1988

     

All three restrict cannabis to “medical and scientific” purposes. The issue of Canada’s infringement on these treaties arose during the House of Commons’ consideration of Bill C-45, but no moves were made at the time to exit from them.

Ideally, Canada should have already initiated the process of withdrawing from the treaties to avoid a violation of international law when marijuana becomes legal for recreational use. But other options allow Canada to stay in the good graces of the UN and even re-commit to the treaties. One option is to withdraw, and then to rejoin with reservations, just as Bolivia did with coca. Another is to modify certain treaty provisions with a special agreement from a group of like-minded countries.

Canada has some crucial decisions to make about ensuring cannabis reforms align with its international obligation. That, and other issues surrounding the protection of the country’s favorable reputation will undoubtedly be addressed now that the bill is in the hands of the Senate.

January 31, 2018

by Alana Armstrong

Profile photo of Alana Armstrong
Alana seeks to see cannabis from the perspective of politicians, advocates, entrepreneurs, and consumers. She got her start with a byline in the arts and culture section and crossed over into cannabis after using it medicinally. Current projects include investigations into cannabis and wellness; entrepreneurs of the Green Rush; cannabis for athletes; and the evolution of cannabis laws and culture in Canada.

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