How Canada Might Deal With its International Drug Treaty Obligations

Article by Harrison Jordan, Lift

How Canada might deal with its international drug treaty obligations Three potential ways for Canada to deal with its international obligations while legalizing cannabis

With the Canadian federal government set to imminently launch a legislative framework for the legalization of recreational cannabis, it will have to deal with some pesky little thorns in its side: two major United Nations drug treaties that dictate that cannabis use and trafficking must be penalized.

Together, the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and the 1988 Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances require signatory countries—practically the entire world—to criminalize the trafficking of marijuana.

That’s a requirement that will run counter to Canada’s domestic legalization, and there’s a couple of routes Canada could take in maneuvering the waters of international drug treaties.

Do nothing

One approach is to do as Uruguay has done. The country legalized marijuana on a recreational basis domestically back in 2013, with pharmacies just now beginning to sell the drug to consumers.

When it came to the two UN drug treaties, of which it had been a full signatory from the start, Uruguay opted not to alter its relationship with them, despite appearing to contradict their requirements domestically. It remains a full signatory to both UN treaties, and its move to legalize the plant while seemingly ignoring its treaty obligations has ruffled some feathers in the international drug community.

When the country tabled legalization legislation back in August 2013, the International Narcotics Control Board strongly condemned the move. “Such a law,” a statement from the INCB read, “would be in complete contravention to the provisions of the international drug control treaties.” In December of that year, when the legislation passed in the Uruguayan Parliament, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime disapproved. Ultimately, little action was taken, and Uruguay has continued to argue that its only mandate to the drug treaties is to prohibit the illicit trafficking of cannabis, which it says it is combating through the enabling of legal sales channels.

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