It seems the United Nations International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) is feeling left out in the world’s lurch towards legal recreational marijuana. In its 2017 annual report, INCB claimed that countries which have legalized cannabis are in clear violation of the U.N.’s 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs accords which govern global drug control.
The purpose of international drug control treaties is to mitigate the proliferation of dangerous recreational drugs, such as heroin and cocaine. But cannabis is covered explicitly under some treaties.
North America Be Warned
North American member states were explicitly called out in the report.
So far in the United States, nine states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational cannabis. And Canada is on track to launch legal recreational marijuana sometime this summer.
“Governments and jurisdictions in North America have continued to pursue policies with respect to the legalization of the use of cannabis for non-medical purposes, in violation of the 1961 Convention as amended,” the report reads.
Another passage criticizes Canada, specifically saying, “As the Board has repeatedly stated, if passed into law, provisions of Bill C-45, which permits the non-medical and non-scientific use of cannabis would be incompatible with the obligations assumed by Canada under the 1961 Convention as amended.”
Outside the U.S. and Canada, Uruguay, which legalized cannabis nationally in 2013, and Jamaica, which legalized marijuana for religious use three years ago, are “acting in clear violation” of drug treaties, claims the report.
It goes on to say, “The limitation of the use of controlled substances to medicinal and scientific purposes is a fundamental principle to which no derogation is permitted under the 1961 Convention as amended.”
The Board also reminded the Government of Jamaica that “only the medical and scientific use of cannabis is authorized, and that use for any other purposes, including religious, is not permitted.”
What’s Canada’s Story?
According to a report on CBC.ca, Canada has signed three U.N. conventions which prohibit the production, possession, and consumption of drugs. All the accords include cannabis.
“Despite numerous warnings,” says the CBC report, “the Trudeau government has not revealed how it plans to stay in compliance with the conventions.”
According to the story, Bruno Gélinas-Faucher, a doctoral candidate in international law at the University of Cambridge, said, “Right now, we have a total lack of strategy.”
He goes on to implore Canada to quickly clarify its intentions “to avoid harming its image and its credibility on the international stage.” He also warns that the legalization could jeopardize Canada’s seat on the United Nations Security Council.
Another point of contention in the report is the allowance for homegrown cannabis. International conventions prohibit the cultivation of the plant for personal use. The bylaws of those conventions require member states establish a national cannabis agency to “control, supervise, and license its cultivation.”
“Such agencies,” the report reads, “must designate the areas in which the cultivation of cannabis is permitted, ensure the licensing of producers; purchase and take physical possession of stocks, and maintain a monopoly on wholesale trading and maintaining stocks.”
It continues, “States must take measures to prohibit the unauthorized cultivation of cannabis plants, to seize and destroy illicit crops, and to prevent the misuse of and trafficking in cannabis. Similarly, the Board wishes to draw the attention of all Governments to its previously stated position that personal cultivation of cannabis for medical purposes is inconsistent with the 1961 Convention as amended because, inter alia, it heightens the risk of diversion.”
Big Pharma Influence?
In a report in Leafly, Sara Brittany Somerset, former U.N. Bureau Chief for High Times, points out that to protect the board from political interests, it is made up of individuals rather than U.N. member states. It must also include individuals with medical, pharmacological, or pharmaceutical experience.
“That means,” writes Somerset, that “Big Pharma is well represented, while advocates for cannabis legalization—whether medical or adult-use—have no seat at the table.”
What Happens Next?
Like several other U.N. “governing bodies,” says Somerset in her Leafly report, “the INCB does not have the staffing or authority to enforce their directives. They function in a mostly advisory, quasi-judicial capacity.”
“Technically, there is the possibility of another country bringing Canada or Uruguay before the International Court of Justice,” she says, also adding that “legalization could theoretically impede either country’s opportunity for a seat on the United Nations Security Council—although either scenario is unlikely.”