Article by Kyle Duggan, iPolitics
The Trudeau government is running out of time to withdraw from a handful of treaties affecting cannabis consumption and sale — a key step on the road to legalizing recreational marijuana use without breaching international law and putting this country at odds with the United Nations.
The government wants to have marijuana legalized for non-medical use by Canada Day next year. But doing so would put Canada in violation of three international treaties if it doesn’t first withdraw from them first — and the government seems to be running down the clock on a key deadline to do so.
According to Steven Hoffman, an associate professor at the Centre for Health Law at University of Ottawa, the government has only a small window of time – until July this year – to meet the deadline.
“If we don’t withdraw from the treaties … we would be violating international law July 1, 2018,” Hoffman said.
“The challenge that Canada now faces is that it’s a political priority … but that runs up against our international legal obligations. Canada can’t just declare it wants to withdraw on the spot.”
Canada is a signatory to three UN drug control treaties:
- 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs
- 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances
- 1988 Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances
To meet the government’s target of making marijuana legal as of July 1, 2018, Canada would need to signal its withdrawal from the conventions to the UN Secretary General by July 1 of this year. If it misses that deadline, Hoffman said the earliest Canada could possibly legalize without breaking its international obligations would January, 2019 – just before the next election, and half a year behind its proposed timeline.
The government has given no sign of what it plans to do. A spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said only that the government is “examining” its international commitments along with a range of other issues, adding that other countries party to the same treaties have legalized cannabis anyway.
“Eight American states have already legalized recreational marijuana,” Alex Lawrence said. “Uruguay has legalized marijuana, and it is among the countries that have international treaties with Canada. We are committed to working with our global partners to best promote public health and combat illicit drug trafficking.”
But other jurisdictions that have legalized marijuana — including Uruguay — either did so in ways that violated those conventions or found work-arounds. Bolivia, for example, amended its constitution to make consuming coca leaves — the raw ingredient in cocaine — a personal right so that indigenous people there could continue a cultural tradition of chewing the leaves.
“We can’t pick and choose which international treaties to follow without encouraging other countries to do the same,” Hoffman said.
That could prove to become a political problem for a government which has taken a strong stance on upholding international law and supporting the UN – something the Liberals even outlined in their 2015 election platform.
Conservative foreign affairs critic Peter Kent told iPolitics that the government should withdraw, even if it’s just “temporarily, until the dust settles,” rather than violate the treaties.
“Based on what we know so far, it would be wisest for the government to actually withdraw from those conventions until the legislation is in place and the justifying conditions of it are acceptable to the other treaty signatories.”
Kent said the lack of clear direction suggests it’s another “on-the-fly election campaign promise” which the Liberals “still haven’t thought through clearly.”