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Cannabis Reform Set for Debate at UN

United Nations
Photo by Jay Reed via Cannabis Now


Cannabis Reform Set for Debate at UN

With the United Nations General Assembly Special Session scheduled to meet later this year in New York City to discuss the state of global drug policies for the first time in almost two decades, some believe the focus of this inevitably controversial debate will focus on amending international drug treaties to allow countries to legalize of marijuana.

By the end of 2015, it was made known that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had already put the machine in motion in hopes of completely ending marijuana prohibition across the northern nation. It was later announced that the Mexico Congress was also interested in entertaining nationwide reform, scheduling a number of public hearings intended to discuss the possibility of legalization in an effort to control cartel violence and other problems stemming from their current policy.

In the meantime, the United States government said of the discussions in Canada and Mexico, “it’s up to the people… to decide which drug policies are most appropriate for their country within the framework of international law.” However, John Kirby, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of the State, made sure to clarify that United States citizens were not about to get the same respect because the federal government is “firmly committed to the three UN drug conventions.”

The international drug treaties that have deterred the U.S. from national reform are the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961; The Convention of Psychotropic Substances of 1971; and the United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances of 1988. Essentially, the scope of these treaties specifies that the cultivation and sale of marijuana for non-medicinal purposes is a violation of worldly law.

Despite some arguments that suggest the treaties are not binding in the United States, international law experts say they actually have more influence than people realize.

“The United States is actually very limited in what it can legally do vis–à–vis its international treaty obligations, regardless of what policy changes make sense for its own citizens,” according to a special subcommittee of the New York Bar Association specializing in international drug laws.

The United Nations recently flexed a bit of muscle by sending out a briefing to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, advising the Liberal government to explain to world leaders how they plan to legalize, regulate and restrict access to marijuana without violating international drug treaties.

“As part of examining legalization of cannabis possession and production, Canada will need to explore how to inform the international community and will have to take the steps needed to adjust its obligations under these conventions,” the briefing reads.

Several other countries are believed to have received a similar warning. The UN’s memo indicates that a number of nations have expressed interest in reforming their policies on marijuana and other drugs, and will be forced to plead their case during the UNGASS gathering in April.

“At the meeting, several South American countries as well as Mexico wish to discuss what they perceive as more effective policy approaches to respond to the current realities of the drug problem, which could include decriminalization/legalization of illicit drugs, harm reduction, and/or a call to renegotiate the international drug control conventions.”

Many argue that the United Nations does not have any real authority over the issue of marijuana legalization; otherwise Uruguay would have created an international incident when it became the first country in the world to establish a legal framework for weed. But Uruguay was actually forced to answer to the same harassment tactics as Canada and Mexico – only leadership stood up to the UN by refusing to pull back on their plan in the interest of public health.

Last summer, Juan Andrés Roballo, the president of Uruguay’s National Drug Board submitted a report to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights defending the country’s decision to legalize marijuana despite the argument that the country’s plan was “incompatible with what is stipulated in the 1961 Convention.” Although the UN claims it is keeping a watchful eye on Uruguay, even on the United States, nothing has been done to avert legalization.

A number of world leaders are expected to demand various levels of drug reform when UNGLASS meets in the spring. However, some policy experts warn the outcome of the session “is unlikely to be the game changer in global drug policy that some are seeking.”

Do you think there will be a meaningful change in international drug policy when the UN meets this year?

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