Canada can't legalize marijuana without breaking international drug laws. So for the sake of upholding other international agreements, two Canadian researchers are calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to renegotiate or withdraw from from three United Nations drug treaties.
The U.N. treaties in question are:
- The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961
- The Convention on Psychotropic Substances, 1971
- The United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, 1988
Each one requires nations to prohibit access to drugs like marijuana, which can only be legalized under the treaties for medical use or research purposes.
That didn't stop American states like Colorado from legalizing recreational marijuana use in 2012. Nor did it stop Uruguay from legalizing cannabis nationwide in 2014. So Canada could similarly disregard the U.N.'s marijuana laws. But flouting the treaties could have severe ramifications on attitudes toward other international agreements, warn Steven Hoffman and Roojin Habibi of the University of Ottawa's Global Strategy Lab.
These researchers do not support these treaties per se. In a recent article for the Canadian Medical Association Journal, they criticized these specific agreements as relics of a drug war "that we did not win, and, history seems to show, we're not going to win either." But they argue that disregarding some treaties could lead other countries to scoff at all treaties.
"Canadians may be less concerned with international laws when they are about drugs, but they probably do care when these laws govern genocide, nuclear disarmament or human rights," Hoffman and Habibi wrote. "Canada cannot pick and choose which international laws to follow without encouraging other countries to do the same."
For the sake of international law, they argue that Canada should try to negotiate with other countries to allow an exception for cannabis legalization in the international treaties. If that fails, they think Canada should begin formally withdrawing from the treaties.
"Formally withdrawing from outdated treaties like these is a country's sovereign right. It may also be a moral duty if the government believes the conventions' required policies are harmful."
Hoffman seems to favor the latter option. In an interview with the National Post, he said, "This is an issue that really dichotomizes the world into countries that have taken extremely mean, punitive measures - treating addicts as evil people - versus the other half of the world that is starting to treat addiction as a medical challenge."
Withdrawing from the treaties would break up that dichotomy by offering a third model for states to follow, which Hoffman suggests is needed "because there are no good models right now."
banner image: Flickr / BC Gov Photos