Marijuana is now legal for adult use in Colorado and Washington and will be joined by Alaska and Oregon, in addition to Washington, D.C. — but it turns out that the four states and nation’s capital are all breaking international law.
According to the executive director of the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, Yury Fedotov:
“I don’t see how (the new laws) can be compatible with existing convention.”
Apparently, he has a point; by allowing legal marijuana sales within its borders, the U.S. is technically in violation of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. The major UN convention, which was signed by the U.S., prohibits countries from creating regulated markets for the cultivation, sale, purchase, distribution, and possession of marijuana.
Historically, the U.S. has pressured other countries in the convention to adopt measures that enforced American-style prohibition, which has led some to criticize the federal government for being hypocritical by allowing implementation of state marijuana regulations to proceed.
According to Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project:
“The United States has largely dictated international drug laws for decades, and now that it’s becoming clear that Americans will no longer stand with these failed drug policies, we see other countries moving ahead as well.”
“Fedotov’s statements may make it awkward for the federal government, but they won’t stop the momentum toward ending marijuana prohibition.”
Uruguay and its President, Jose Mujica, have been making headlines recently for legislation to regulate the marijuana market. President Mujica has been determined to pass the law, supporting the movement throughout the legislative process and defending the policy to opponents both in his own country and abroad. Now that the law has passed, Uruguay is facing pressure from the U.N., which accuses the legislature of violating an international convention.
The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961 essentially bans countries from allowing the consumption or production of specific drugs, except for medical or research purposes. The United Nations Information Service has released a document explaining how Uruguay is violating the convention.
According to the President, “the decision of the Uruguayan legislature fails to consider its negative impacts on health since scientific studies confirm that cannabis is an addictive substance with serious consequences for people’s health. In particular, the use and abuse of cannabis by young people can seriously affect their development.”
Cannabis is not only addictive but may also affect some fundamental brain functions, IQ potential, and academic and job performance and impair driving skills. Smoking cannabis is more carcinogenic than smoking tobacco.
The health claims of the U.N.I.S. are without merit. Studies into marijuana’s effect on the body show that it is safer than alcohol and has fewer long-term effects than tobacco. Furthermore, contrary to what Mr. Yans states, marijuana is not linked with cancer, unlike tobacco, which causes more than five million deaths per year.
The current U.N. drug policy and the 1961 Convention are not compatible with an evidence-based approach to drug policy. Luckily, Uruguay is not the only country looking to reform the world’s approach to marijuana. Recently, there has been evidence that the U.N. is losing support for the war on drugs. Hopefully, international policy can be adapted to reflect current knowledge surrounding marijuana and the consequences of prohibition. Until then, Uruguay and other countries looking to regulate marijuana may find an enemy in the U.N.
Another study pointing to the failures of the war on drugs was published yesterday by a group of U.S. and Canadian researchers. The study was funded by the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy and examined the relative price and potency of cocaine, heroin, and marijuana from 1990 to 2010. Through analysis of existing data from various UN and governmental databases, the study found that, despite an estimated $1 trillion spent by the U.S. alone, the war on drugs has failed. Lead researcher Dr. Evan Wood commented on the results:
These findings add to the growing body of evidence that the war on drugs has failed. We should look to implement policies that place community health and safety at the forefront of our efforts.
The study showed that although marijuana seizures by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration increased by 465% between 1990 and 2010, the misguided efforts are ineffective. Since 1990, the price of marijuana has decreased by 86%, and its availability remains high.
It is clear that marijuana prohibition is not an effective means to control marijuana use. Instead, it is time to focus on policies that are best for the community and the individual, instead of wasting resources on arrest.
The Uruguayan House of Representatives voted yesterday to approve a bill that would tax and regulate marijuana for adults. The measure will now move to the Senate where, if it passes as expected, will make Uruguay the first country in the world to create a fully legal and regulated marijuana market.
All 50 members of the ruling Broad Front coalition approved the measure yesterday after more than 13 hours of passionate debate. Lawmakers in the Senate have stated that they have achieved a comfortable majority in favor of the bill.
“Uruguay appears poised, in the weeks ahead, to become the first nation in modern times to create a legal, regulated framework for marijuana,” said John Walsh, a drug policy expert at the Washington Office on Latin America. “In doing so, Uruguay will be bravely taking a leading role in establishing and testing a compelling alternative to the prohibitionist paradigm.”
Legalizing marijuana has been a popular anti-drug trafficking strategy for some of Uruguay’s most prominent political figures. President José Mújica has been a staunch, long-time advocate for replacing marijuana prohibition with taxation and regulation.
If the bill passes, Uruguayans over the age of 18 would be allowed to buy a limited amount of marijuana per month from state-sanctioned distributors.
Predictably, the International Narcotics Control Board, which oversees United Nations drug policy, is not amused.