Monday, April 17, 2017

Globe: Please, please think of the treaties!

The collateral damage of legalizing marijuana - The Globe and Mail - Steven Hoffman:

April 17, 2017 - "For decades, the world has collectively criminalized and controlled access to [cannabis] through three international treaties.... Article 4(c) of the Single Convention limits drugs’ use 'exclusively to medical and scientific purposes,' and Article 36(1)(a) requires state punishment for their possession, production, sale and delivery. Article 3(2) of the Trafficking Convention specifically criminalizes drugs’ possession, even if just for personal consumption.

Of course, countries do have some flexibility in implementing these treaties.... Yet the treaties’ flexibilities are rather limited. Unless we change our constitution, Canada cannot legally legalize cannabis without either renegotiating the UN treaties, obtaining special exceptions, finding creative workarounds, or withdrawing from them.

"Negotiations, exceptions and creative lawyering will only get Canada so far. In a report published last week, my University of Ottawa law students explained ... there is only one promising legal workaround – one that utilizes the treaties’ 'scientific purposes' exemption. This would involve claiming that cannabis legalization was necessary to conduct a big natural experiment on the inter-generational effects of legal cannabis and likely require enrolling every cannabis purchaser into a long-term cohort study....

"But if the government deems this workaround infeasible, then withdrawing from the treaties is the only other option. Yet this requires giving at least one year’s notice. If Canada wants to legalize cannabis on July 1, 2018, it needs to trigger its withdrawal by this July 1. That leaves only a couple of months for diplomats to try negotiating changes or special exceptions before just unilaterally withdrawing from the treaties....

"The consequences of undermining international law are severe.... This week, we saw Syria again use chemical weapons and there are rumours of a forthcoming North Korean nuclear test.... Canadians may not care about international law when it’s just about [cannabis], but they probably do care when these laws help fight chemical weapons, nuclear proliferation, and human rights abuses....

"While there may be significant health and social benefits from legalizing cannabis, we must not allow international law to become collateral damage in the pursuit of other objectives.... The alternative – undermining international law – is unacceptable, unfair and unjust to all."

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