UN Drug Treaties Impact On Canada’s Legalization


The July 1 deadline for Canada to withdraw from the UN drug treaty governing marijuana has come and gone. Some are claiming that the failure to withdraw will hinder the legalization set to proceed next year, as it would place Canada in violation of international law. The failure to act on the part of Canada can be interpreted in a handful of ways, however, with preparations for legalization still in full effect, one would have to conclude that the government simply sees the treaty as a non-issue.

The UN treaty sparking the controversy is called the Single Convention On Narcotic Drugs. It was signed into law on August 8, 1961 and promoted under the guise of protecting public health and safety. Fast forward more than fifty years, with what we now know about the history of drug prohibition, it can easily be said that public health and safety had little to do with it. The treaty heavily emphasizes the need for medicinal use controlled substances that could be manufactured by pharmaceutical companies. In effect, the 1961 treaty and the entire drug war, is not about keeping drugs off the street. It is about controlling the supply, as every illicit drug has a pharmaceutical equivalent – except marijuana.

At this point, there are no valid health or safety concerns whatsoever when it comes to marijuana. All opposition to its legalization is due to either an outdated belief system or lobbying by specific corporate interests. The UN treaty is also written in such a manner that is open to interpretation at best. US states who have chosen to legalize recreational sales hold the position that the treaty does not specifically outlaw personal possession. The reality behind the treaty is that it is not worth the paper it is printed on. It has been interpreted, reinterpreted, and ultimately there is no clarity on the issue. What we do know is that every country that chooses to allow personal possession of marijuana provides their own unique interpretation that justifies their actions. Canada is just taking it a step further and ignoring the treaty altogether.

The criticism that Canada will persist in violation of international law is also a non-issue. There are at least half dozen nations that exist in permanent states of violation, the US being the largest. Considering that international law is selectively enforced, it again shows that Canada’s decision to legalize marijuana will hardly incite the wrath of the global community. International law violations are simply used as leverage in future political negotiations and rarely, if ever, see any enforcement. The reality is that the amount of money that will be generated around the world from Canada’s marijuana production will almost certainly keep criticism at bay.

Missing the July 1st deadline is a much bigger problem on paper than it is in reality. Drug prohibition stemmed from a need to control the market and eliminate competition. The one nation behind the push to outlaw marijuana and other narcotics has always been the US. The rest of the world has moved forward into the 21st century, and have come to see marijuana in a much different light than what was purported fifty years ago. Canada’s ignoring the July 1st deadline sends a message that it fully intends to continue its progress in building its future and embracing the green economy and that a treaty from 1961 bears no relevance to the realities of today.

August 11, 2017

by Cory Hughes

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Cory Hughes is a former police officer turned cannabis cultivator and writer. After years of being on the wrong side of the law, Cory decided to hang up his badge and gun and move into an industry that truly has the potential of bringing people together. He has been an active part of the Colorado cannabis culture and has worked as a horticulturist in dozens of licensed grow operations. Cory now looks to share his knowledge of cultivation and horticulture with the world.


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