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Legalizing Cannabis Violates the UN Drug Control Treaties, But Progressive Countries Like Canada Have Options

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Abstract

There is growing concern that the international drug control regime’s outdated and restrictive drug control measures do not meet current human rights standards and public health needs. Provisions in three historically prohibitionist United Nations treaties – the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances, and the 1988 Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances – substantially limit Party latitude in legalizing and regulating schedule-listed substances, including cannabis. Against this backdrop, following through on a promise made during the 2015 national election, the Canadian government introduced Bill C-45 in April 2017 to legalize cannabis for non-medical uses by Summer 2018. This article analyzes and explains how legalizing cannabis violates the three United Nations drug control treaties. Anchored in the premise of respect for the rule of international law, the article identifies several ways forward for reconciling domestic cannabis legalization plans with international legal obligations under the United Nations drug control regime.
427
    d’une
façon ou d’une autre les droits et les liber-
tés de chaque individu, y compris lorsque
ceux-ci portent sur des substances comme
le cannabis. Les interdictions actuelles
sur le cannabis sont enracinées dans le
régime mondial de contrôle des drogues,
tel que défini par trois traités des Nations
Unies (ONU): laConvention unique sur
les stupéfiantsde 1961, laConvention sur
les substances psychotropesde 1971 et
laConvention contre le trafic illicite de stu-
péfiants et de substances psychotropesde
1988. Les traités relatifs au contrôle des
drogues de l’ONU, censés éliminer le
«problème mondial de la drogue», inter-
disent sans ambiguïté aux États parties de
légaliser et de réglementer le cannabis à
des fins récréatives. La mise en vigueur de
la Loi sur le cannabis en juin 2018 fait du
Canada le premier pays du G7 à contreve-
nir à cette interdiction, directement.
La procédure à suivre pour appor-
ter des changements aux traités est
claire; de telles mesures sont également
nécessaires si les gouvernements veulent
réellement une politique mondiale, rai-
sonnable, contre les drogues. Les pays
ne peuvent pas choisir de suivre uni-
quement les lois internationales qui leur
conviennent, sans que les autres pays
soient portés à faire de même. L’impératif
du respect des règles du droit internatio-
nal est d’autant plus important et urgent
alors que l’ordre mondial basé sur des
règles est de plus en plus menacé. Bien
que la violation du droit international
ne soit pas un bon point de départ, cet
Legalizing Cannabis Violates the UNDrug Control Treaties,
but Progressive Countries Like Canada Have Options
Roojin Habibi & Steven J. Hoffman
    and small, inter-
national law influences the rights and
freedoms of every individual, including
those related to substances like canna-
bis. Current prohibitionson cannabis
are anchored in the global drug control
regime defined by three United Nations
(UN) treaties: the 1961Single Convention
on Narcotic Drugs, the 1971Convention
on Psychotropic Substances, and the
1988Convention Against Illicit Traffic in
Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Sub-
stances. Purportedly aiming to eliminate
the “world drug problem, the UN drug
control treaties unambiguously pro-
hibit States Parties from legalizing and
regulating cannabis forrecreational use.
Enactment of theCannabis Actin June
2018 makes Canada the first G7 country
to directly contravene this prohibition.
The steps that must be taken to
modify treaty obligations are clear; such
steps are also necessary if governments
are serious about a sensible global drug
policy agenda. Countriescannot pick
and choose which international laws to
follow without encouraging others to
do the same. The imperative to respect
the rule of international law is all the
more important and urgent as threats
to a rules-based world order prolifer-
ate. While violating international law is
not a good starting point, this article
chartsthe paths that Canada can never-
theless pursue to have a pioneering,pro-
gressive, and legally consistent role in
the international drug control agenda.
428
article trace le trajet que le Canada peut
néanmoins suivre, afin de jouer un rôle
pionnier, progressiste et juridiquement
cohérent dans la politique internationale
contre les drogues.
429
CONTENTS
Legalizing Cannabis Violates the UNDrug Control Treaties, but Progressive
Countries Like Canada Have Options
Roojin Habibi & Steven J. Hoffman
Introduction 431
I. International Drug Control Regime: An Overview 435
A. The Treaties 435
B. The Institutions 438
II. Legalization of Cannabis Under International Law 439
A. Treaty Provisions Related to the Recreational Possession and Use of
Cannabis 439
B. Drug Control and the International Human Rights System 445
III. How to Reconcile International Treaty Obligations with National
Cannabis Legalization 449
A. Treaty Reform 450
B. Treaty Reservation 451
C. Treaty Denunciations 455
D. Rescheduling Cannabis 457
IV. Final Remarks 458
431
Legalizing Cannabis Violates the UNDrug
Control Treaties, but Progressive
Countries Like Canada Have Options
Roojin Habibi & Steven J. Hoffman
INTRODUCTION
In 2016, on the occasion of the 30th Special Session of the United Nations
General Assembly (UNGASS) on the World Drug Problem, the Executive
Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Yury
Fedotov, wrote of a “decisive moment” in which Parties of the international
drug control community reaffirmed their shared commitment to address-
ing persistent and evolving challenges under the existing international
regime.1 However, for a growing list of dissenting Parties, academics, and
civil society advocates consensus in the drug control regime is a politically
convenient facade2 concealing a longstanding “rift between countries
interested in drug policy reform and those with repressive drug control
regimes.”3
Narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances (collectively referred to
as “illicit drugs”) are governed by three United Nations (UN) treaties con-
stituting the international drug control regime: the 1961 Single Convention
on Narcotic Drugs (as amended by the 1972 Protocol) (Single Convention),4
1 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, World Drug Report 2016, preface by Yury Fedo-
tov (New York: United Nations Publications, 2016) at iii.
2 Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence Latin American Initiative, UNGASS 2016:
Prospects for Treaty Reform and UN System-Wide Coherence on Drug Policy, by Martin Jelsma
(Washington: Brookings Institution, 2015) at 10.
3 Jessica Glenza, “UN Backs Prohibitionist Drug Policies Despite Call for a More ‘Humane
Solution’”, The Guardian (20 April 2016), online: <www.guardian.co.uk>.
4 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961, as amended by the Protocol amending the Single
Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961, 8 August 1975, 976 UNTS 105, 23 UKTS 1 (entered into
force 8 August 1975) [Single Convention].
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432
the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances (Psychotropics Convention),5
and the 1988 Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psycho-
tropic Substances (Trafficking Convention).6 At their core, these treaties aim
to curtail drug use by requiring Parties to criminalize the possession, cul-
tivation, production, importation, sale, and distribution of illicit drugs for
non-medical and non-scientific purposes.7
As of July 2018, there are 186 Parties to the Single Convention, 184 to
the Psychotropics Convention, and 190 to the Trafficking Convention. Despite
near-universal participation, the regime is often criticized as the product of
a bygone era and out-of-step with contemporary norms and public health
research.8 By explicitly allowing Parties to adopt strict or severe poli-
cies that go beyond codified provisions,9 such as the imposition of death
penalty for drug-related offences, the treaties have also been accused of
catalyzing or facilitating systematic abuses of universal and treaty-based
human rights.10
In reaction to these shortcomings, an increasing number of Parties
have pursued legal and policy avenues that circumvent restrictive treaty
provisions. The case of cannabis possession for non-medical and non-sci-
entific (e.g., recreational) use is a manifestation of this trend. Parties have
deviated from criminalizing simple drug possession along a continuum
from subtle defections, such as Portugal’s diversion of offenders to
non-criminal channels,11 or the non-enforcement of laws criminalizing the
possession of cannabis in the Netherlands,12 to the de jure legalization of
5 Convention on Psychotropic Substances, 1971, 21 February 1971, 1019 UNTS 175, 10 ILM 261
(entered into force 16 August 1976) [Psychotropics Convention].
6 United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances,
1988, 20 December 1988, 1582 UNTS 95, 28 ILM 493 (entered into force 11 November 1990)
[Trafficking Convention].
7 Transnational Institute, The UN Drug Control Conventions: The Limits of Latitude, Series
on Legislative Reform of Drug Policies no 18, by David Bewley-Taylor & Martin Jelsma
(Amsterdam: Transnational Institute, 2012) at 4.
8 Joanne Csete et al, “Public Health and International Drug Policy” (2016) 387 The Lancet 1427.
9 Single Convention, supra note 4, art 39; Psychotropic Convention, supra note 5, art 23; Trafficking
Convention, supra note 6, art 24.
10 Dainius Pūras & Julie Hannah, “Reasons for Drug Policy Reform: Prohibition Enables Sys-
temic Human Rights Abuses and Undermines Public Health” (2017) 356 Brit Med J 1.
11 Serviço de Intervenção nos Comportamentos Aditivos e nas Dependências, “A Public
Health Approach as a Base for Drugs Policy: the Portuguese Case” by João Goulão (Pre-
sentation delivered at UNGASS 2016 on World Drug Problem Side Event, 20 April 2016),
online: <www.unodc.org>.
12 Justus Uitermark, “The Origins and Future of the Dutch Approach Towards Drugs” (2004)
34:3 J Drug Issues 511.
Legalizing Cannabis 433
a regulated market for cannabis in several states within the United States
(US)13 and nationally in Uruguay.14
Canada is now the newest addition to this continuum. In the coun-
try’s 2015 national election, the Liberal Party of Canada ran and won
on a campaign that included a pledge to “legalize, regulate and restrict
access” to cannabis.15 The new government’s plans were announced to the
international community at UNGASS 2016, where Health Minister Jane
Philpott stated that Canada would soon “introduce legislation . . . [to] keep
marijuana out of the hands of children and profits out of the hands of
criminals.”16 Bill C-45, entitled An Act respecting cannabis and to amend the
Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Criminal Code and other Acts, was
introduced in the House of Commons on April 13, 2017.17 Among the stated
objectives, the Bill aimed to:
Protect the health of young persons by restricting their access to canna-
bis; protect young persons and others from inducements to use cannabis;
provide for the licit production of cannabis to reduce illicit activities in
relation to cannabis; deter illicit activities in relation to cannabis through
appropriate sanctions; [and] reduce the burden on the criminal justice
system in relation to cannabis.18
Bill C-45 received Royal Assent on June 21, 2018. The recreational use of
cannabis was legalized on October 17th, 2018.19
Although the legal status of cannabis has been debated on Parliament Hill
for as long as international conventions have prohibited the substance,20 the
13 Center for Effective Public Management, Marijuana Legalization is an Opportunity to Modernize
International Drug Treaties, by Wells Bennet & John Walsh (Washington: Brookings Institution,
2014).
14 Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence Latin America Initiative, Uruguay’s Drug
Policy: Major Innovations, Mafjor Challenges, by John Walsh & Geoff Ramsey (Washington:
Brookings Institution, 2016).
15 Government of Canada, “Making Real Change Happen”, by His Excellency the Right Hon-
ourable David Johnson (Speech from the Throne to open the first session of the forty-sec-
ond Parliament of Canada delivered in Ottawa, 4 December 2015), online: <www.speech.gc.ca>.
16 Health Canada, “Plenary Statement for the Honourable Jane Philpott Minister of Health –
UNGASS on the World Drug Problem” (20 April 2016), online: <www.canada.ca>.
17 Bill C-45, An Act respecting cannabis and to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the
Criminal Code and other Acts, 1st Sess, 42nd Parl, 2017 (as passed by the House of Commons
27 November 2017).
18 Ibid, s 7.
19 John Paul Tasker, “Trudeau Says Pot Will be Legal as of Oct. 17, 2018” CBC News (20 June
2018), online: <www.cbc.ca>.
20 Elaine Hyshka, “The Saga Continues: Canadian Legislative Attempts to Reform Cannabis
Law in the Twenty-First Century” (2009) 51:1 Can J Corr 73.
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434
current resolve for a legal and regulated market for cannabis is unpreced-
ented.21 There is, however, an elephant in the room. Canada’s respect for
international treaty law, as Party to all three UN drug control conventions,
stands on shaky grounds. Recent debates on Parliament Hill have shed
little light on how the government plans to reconcile international treaty
obligations with the creation of a legal and regulated market for canna-
bis.22 The 2016 Task Force commissioned by the government to advise on
the regulation of cannabis was not mandated to provide guidance on this
matter either.23
Previous public inquiries have concluded that a regulated cannabis
market without further diplomatic action would definitively contravene
and exceed the latitude offered by the international drug control regime.24
The same conclusion was reached by the Senate Standing Committee on
Foreign Affairs and International Trade, which recommended in its report
on Bill C-45 that “the Government of Canada take....action that mitigates
Canada’s violation of the three drug control treaties” and communicate
such action clearly and transparently to Canadians, the Parliament of Can-
ada and the international community.25 It would also undermine the inter-
national law of treaties, which depends on a good faith interpretation of
treaty provisions by all Parties in light of the “object and purpose”26 of the
treaties and the doctrine of pacta sunt servanda, encapsulating the impera-
tive to perform agreed-upon international obligations in good faith.27
The 2016 UNGASS meeting revealed a fractured global consensus on
drug prohibition. With Parties increasingly deviating from restrictive
treaty provisions, and a review of the regime’s Political Declaration and Plan
21 H Archibald Kaiser, “A Partial Ceasefire in Canada’s War on Drugs? Reflections on the
Impending Legalization of Marijuana” (2016) 63 Crim LQ 368.
22 Debates of the Senate, 42nd Parl, 1st Sess, Vol 150, No 164 (30 November 2017) at 1510 (Hon
Tony Dean).
23 Canada, A Framework for the Legalization and Regulation of Cannabis in Canada: The Final
Report of the Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation (Ottawa: Health Canada,
2016) at 10 [Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation].
24 Canada, Final Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Non-Medical Use of Drugs, by
Gerald Le Dain et al (Ottawa: Information Canada, 1973); Senate, Special Committee on
Illegal Drugs, Cannabis: Our Position for a Canadian Public Policy, Report of the Senate Special
Committee on Illegal Drugs (September 2002) at 467 (Chair: Pierre Claude Nolin).
25 Senate, Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, The Subject Matter
of Bill C-45: An Act Respecting Cannabis and to Amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act,
Insofar As It Relates To Canada’s International Obligations (May 2018) at 22.
26 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, 23 May 1969, 1155 UNTS 331, 8 ILM 679, art 31(1)
(entered into force 27 January 1980) [Vienna Convention].
27 Ibid, art 26.
Legalizing Cannabis 435
of Action on the horizon in 2019,28 the world is reaching a turning point
in the development of international drug policy. As the first G7 country to
legalize cannabis, Canada is at the forefront of this movement. In keeping
with the Liberal government’s focus on restoring Canada’s constructive
global leadership and the “deeply held Canadian desire to make a real
and valuable contribution” to the world,29 legislators could view this as an
opportunity to adopt a pioneering role on the global stage.
In this article, we present and assess four general pathways that would
allow the Canadian government to legalize cannabis while respecting inter-
national law: 1) treaty reform; 2) treaty reservation; 3) treaty withdrawal
or denunciation; and, 4) rescheduling the listing of cannabis within the
treaties. To present the merits and pitfalls of each approach, we first out-
line the key features of the international drug control regime (Section I)
and discuss the latitude for cannabis legalization under the treaties (Sec-
tion II). Guided by the premise that all countries must respect the rule of
international law and the Canadian government’s commitment to multi-
lateralism, we then turn our attention to the pathways for reconciling
cannabis legalization with international legal obligations (Section III). We
ultimately conclude that Canada should withdraw from the three UN drug
control treaties in the short-term so that its cannabis legalization effort
does not turn international law into collateral damage; but that over the
long-term, the country should leverage its global standing, G7 status, and
growing global appetite for treaty reform to champion changes that would
benefit all Parties to the treaties and those affected by drugs (Section IV).
I. INTERNATIONAL DRUG CONTROL REGIME: AN OVERVIEW
A. The Treaties
Predating the League of Nations, efforts to counter drug use and traffick-
ing trace back to the 1909 Shanghai Conference convened by European
colonial powers to address opium use in China. The 1912 International
Opium Convention, subsequent to the Shanghai Conference, became the
launch pad for a series of agreements on drug control that formed the
28 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, High-Level Segment Commission on Nar-
cotic Drugs, Political Declaration and Plan of Action on International Cooperation Towards
an Integrated and Balanced Strategy to Counter the World Drug Problem (New York: United
Nations, 2009) at 14.
29 Canada, Office of the Prime Minister, “Minister of Foreign Affairs Mandate Letter (Febru-
ary 1, 2017)” by Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, online: <www.pm.gc.ca>.
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436
foundation of the contemporary international drug control regime. By the
time the final draft of the Single Convention was agreed upon in 1961, it
consolidated several decades of drug control agreements into a single set
of rules administered by the UN.
The Single Convention requires Parties to implement baseline legisla-
tive and regulatory measures to prohibit the production, use and trade
of narcotic drugs. In the Preamble, the treaty invokes a concern for the
“health and welfare of mankind” and describes addiction as a “serious evil
for the individual” that is “fraught with social and economic danger.”30
Using vocabulary resembling a call to arms, the Preamble imposes a “duty
to prevent and combat this evil.”31
Although there is no explicit definition of the term “narcotic drug,”
Article 1(j) of the treaty defines “drug” as any natural or synthetic sub-
stance within Schedules I and II annexed to the Single Convention.32 Sched-
ules classify substances according to their perceived therapeutic value
and potential for abuse. Substances in Schedule I are subjected to all the
Single Convention’s restrictive provisions. Substances in Schedule II and
III are exempt from an assortment of provisions, while the small number
of substances in Schedule IV, in addition to being subjected to all pro-
visions, are flagged for additional provisions within the treaty. Cannabis
extracts, including cannabis, hashish, and cannabis oil are doubly listed
within Schedules I and IV.
At the time of drafting, drugs forbidden by the Single Convention were
mainly sourced through diversion from the legal market. In an effort to
maintain control over the illicit drug market, the Single Convention con-
tains provisions for a system of estimates and quotas required for narcotic
drugs.33 Parties must furnish annual information regarding the quantity of
drugs required for legal use to the International Narcotics Control Board
(INCB), the regime’s independent monitoring body. The total of these
estimates is tallied against the total legal production of drugs. Yearly sta-
tistics on the production or manufacture of drugs, use of drugs for the
manufacture of other drugs and specified substances, consumption, and
stock of drugs must also be provided.34
30 Single Convention, supra note 4, Preamble.
31 Ibid.
32 Ibid, art 1( j).
33 Ibid, art 19.
34 Ibid, art 20.
Legalizing Cannabis 437
Owing to a US government-led initiative, the Single Convention was
amended in 1972 by the Protocol Amending the Single Convention on Narcotic
Drugs, 1961 (1972 Protocol).35 The main effect of the changes was to
enhance the INCB’s mandate to prevent the illicit cultivation, production
and manufacture of, illicit trafficking in, and use of drugs.36 Provisions on
the prevention of drug use were also amended to include “treatment, edu-
cation, after-care, rehabilitation and social reintegration” as an alterna-
tive to or in lieu of conviction,37 borrowing from a similar provision that
appeared one year earlier in the Psychotropics Convention.38
The Psychotropics Convention came as a reaction to the emergence of
synthetic drugs, such as amphetamines, barbiturates, and benzodiazepines.
Given that these substances were not previously scheduled in the Single
Convention, several provisions were reiterated for psychotropic substan-
ces, including the listing of psychotropic substances in four schedules
within the Psychotropics Convention. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main
active ingredient in cannabis, is listed within Schedule II.
Beyond reiterating concern for the health and welfare of humankind,
the Preamble to the Psychotropics Convention acknowledges the “public
health and social problems resulting from the abuse of certain psycho-
tropic substances” while recognizing that their use could still be indis-
pensable for “medical and scientific purposes.”39 It also brings into focus
the imperative to treat, educate and rehabilitate victims of drug use.40
While the previous treaties emphasized control over the supply of
illicit drugs, the Trafficking Convention directly addresses the illicit pro-
duction, trafficking, and demand for drugs, which appeared in the 1970s
and 1980s. The treaty seeks to eliminate the “root causes of the problem
of abuse of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances”41 by providing
for comprehensive measures to combat drug trafficking, such as the con-
fiscation of assets,42 and mandating additional law enforcement mechan-
isms, such as extradition,43 which depend on international collaboration
35 Protocol Amending the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961, 25 March 1972, 976 UNTS 3,
Can TS 1976 No 48 (entered into force 8 August 1975) [1972 Protocol].
36 Single Convention, supra note 4, art 2.
37 Ibid, art 38.
38 Psychotropics Convention, supra note 5, art 20.
39 Ibid, Preamble.
40 Ibid, art 20(1).
41 Trafficking Convention, supra note 6, Preamble.
42 Ibid, art 5.
43 Ibid, art 6.
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to achieve these objectives. The treaty also establishes a system of control
over precursor chemicals used in the production and manufacture of nar-
cotic drugs and psychotropic substances.44 These substances are listed in
Tables I and II of the treaty.
B. The Institutions
The international drug control regime is administered jointly by the UN Eco-
nomic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the Commission on Narcotic Drugs
(CND), and the INCB. ECOSOC is a permanent organ of the UNGASS hold-
ing under its purview the CND and INCB.
The CND is the UN’s central drug policymaking body. Meeting annually,
the CND adopts resolutions on drug policy and coordinates preparatory work
for the UNGASS. Its treaty-mandated functions include amending the listing
of substances within the Schedules and Tables of the treaties,45 calling to the
attention of the INCB any relevant matters,46 and making recommendations
for the implementation of the aims and provisions of the treaties.47 The CND
also oversees the strategic goals of the UN Drug Control Programme housed
within the UNODC. The UNODC is part of the UN Secretariat responsible
for promoting international cooperation, building capacity, and providing
legal and technical support to governments and agencies.
Headquartered in Vienna, the INCB is an independent and quasi-judi-
cial monitoring body established by the Single Convention to oversee the
implementation of the drug control treaties.48 It is composed of thirteen
expert members elected by ECOSOC, serving a term of five years each.49
The body administers the system of estimates reported by Parties for their
legal use of drugs,50 as well as the system of statistical returns,51 and issues
an Annual Report detailing the estimates and statistical information
received. It also reviews the status of global drug control efforts.52
44 Ibid, art 12.
45 Single Convention, supra note 4, art 3; Psychotropic Convention, supra note 5, art 2; Trafficking
Convention, supra note 6, art 12.
46 Single Convention, supra note 4, art 3; Psychotropic Convention, supra note 5, art 2; Trafficking
Convention, supra note 6, at s 21.
47 Psychotropics Convention, supra note 5, arts 2, 17.
48 Single Convention, supra note 4, art 5.
49 Ibid, art 9.
50 Ibid, art 12; Psychotropics Convention, supra note 5, art 16.
51 Single Convention, supra note 4, art 13.
52 Ibid, art 15.
Legalizing Cannabis 439
Beyond these technical duties, the INCB is also engaged in enforcing
compliance with treaty obligations. Frequently, the body uses its Annual
Report or press releases to comment on the non-compliance of a specific
Party.53 When in doubt, it may dispatch missions to a specific Party and
begin confidential consultations, request explanations, and propose
remedial measures to bring errant Parties within the boundaries of treaty
provisions.54 If unsatisfied with these measures, it can bring the matter to
the attention of the Parties, ECOSOC, and the CND. Ultimately, the INCB
may recommend to ECOSOC that Parties halt the import and export of
drugs to or from the country concerned until it is satisfied that the situ-
ation has been rectified, though this recourse has not been activated to
date.55 Although the views of the INCB are not legally binding, they are
considered authoritative and reflective of international consensus and, as
such, should be given serious consideration by Parties.56
II. LEGALIZATION OF CANNABIS UNDER INTERNATIONAL LAW
A. Treaty Provisions Related to the Recreational Possession and
Use of Cannabis
In Canada, international treaties are generally negotiated, ratified, and
signed by the executive branch of the Canadian government, as per Brit-
ish tradition. As a “dualist” country, international treaty obligations only
integrate into Canada’s domestic legal system upon implementation of
domestic legislation to this effect.57 With respect to drug control, Canada
incorporated provisions of the Single Convention in 1961 with the adoption
of the Narcotic Control Act.58 The statute has since been replaced by the
Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, which regulates drugs listed within
four schedules of the legislation, including cannabis and its derivatives.59
Across all three drug control treaties, Canada has only made a reservation
53 Saul Takahashi, Human Rights and Drug Control: The False Dichotomy (Oxford: Bloomsbury,
2016) at 32.
54 Single Convention, supra note 4, art 14(1)(a)–(b); Psychotropics Convention, supra note 5, art
19(1)(a)–(c).
55 Single Convention, supra note 4, art 14(2); Psychotropics Convention, supra note 5, art 19(2).
56 Takahashi, supra note 53 at 17.
57 Library of Parliament, “Canada’s Approach to the Treaty Making Process”, by Laura Bar-
nett, Publication No 2008-45-E (Ottawa: Library of Parliament, 2008) at 3.
58 Narcotic Control Act, RSC 1985, c N-1, as repealed by Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, SC
1996, c 19.
59 Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, SC 1996, c 19.
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with respect to the use of peyote by “small, clearly determined groups”
under the Psychotropics Convention.60
The 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (Vienna Convention),
to which Canada is a Party, guides states to interpret their treaty obliga-
tions in “good faith,” according to the “ordinary meaning” given to terms
in the treaty context, and in light of the “object and purpose” of the treaty.61
While experts have described the provisions of the drug control treaties as
being “saturated with textual ambiguity,”62 the Vienna Convention directs
Parties to several sources that may help clarify the “object and purpose”
of the drug control regime. Beyond the text of the treaties themselves,
including its preamble and annexes, Parties may look to the content of
subsequent agreements63 and any practice in the application of the treaty
that establishes the agreement of the Parties regarding its interpretation.64
Where ambiguities still exist, attention may also be given to the prepara-
tory work of the treaty, the circumstances of its conclusion, customary
international law, and treaty commentary in order to fill any interpret-
ive voids.65 Below, we draw on each of these sources to outline the lati-
tude afforded by international law to craft a national legal framework on
cannabis.
The primary general obligation of the Single Convention is found in
Article 4(c), which stipulates that Parties must “take such legislative and
administrative measures as may be necessary . . . [s]ubject to the provisions
of the [Single Convention], to limit exclusively to medical and scientific
purposes the production, manufacture, export, import, distribution of,
trade in, use and possession of drugs.”66 Taken singularly, the provision
does not require the criminalization of the listed activities. It also does
not specify whether the limitation applies to the possession of drugs for
non-medical or recreational use. While the term “medical and scientific
purposes” is not defined anywhere in the treaties, it is reasonable to con-
clude that the recreational possession and consumption of cannabis as a
60 United Nations, Convention on Psychotropics Substances Concluded at Vienna on 21 February
1971: Accession by Canada, UN Doc CN 191.1987. TREATIES-2 (Depositary Notification) (18
June 1987).
61 Vienna Convention, supra note 26, art 31(1).
62 Neil Boister, Penal Aspects of the UN Drug Control Conventions (The Hague: Kluwer Law
International, 2001) at 22.
63 Vienna Convention, supra note 26, art 31(3)(a).
64 Ibid, art 31(2).
65 Ibid, art 32.
66 Single Convention, supra note 4, art 4(c).
Legalizing Cannabis 441
mind-altering substance on social occasions or for personal leisure would
not fall within the purview of this caveat.
The requirement to impose sanctions comes into clearer focus with the
penal provisions of each treaty on the topic of possession of illicit drugs.
Article 33 of the Single Convention states that Parties must not “permit the
possession of drugs except under legal authority.”67 Article 36(1)(a) of the
Single Convention requires the possession and production of narcotic drugs
to be “punishable offences” subject to the constitutional limitations of the
Party.68 Within the Psychotropics Convention, Article 22(1)(a) requires Par-
ties to treat “any action contrary to a law or regulation adopted in pursu-
ance of its obligation under [the Psychotropics Convention]” as a punishable
offence, again subject to the constitutional limitations of each Party, and
ensure that serious offences “be liable to adequate punishment, particu-
larly by imprisonment or other penalty of deprivation of liberty.”69 Unlike
the Single Convention, Article 22 of the Psychotropics Convention does not
list the specific conducts that are to be subjected to punishment, which
has been interpreted as providing Parties greater flexibility to fashion the
laws and regulations they deem adequate to fulfill their treaty obligations.70
Importantly, the word “use” is omitted from the penal provisions of both
treaties, as is the requirement to administer criminal sanctions.
Article 3(2) of the Trafficking Convention also provides for similar penal
provisions as Article 36 of the Single Convention and Article 22 of the
Psychotropics Convention, but the language used is seemingly more punitive
than its predecessors. The provision requires Parties to:
[E]stablish as a criminal offence under its domestic law, when committed
intentionally, the possession, purchase or cultivation of narcotic drugs or
psychotropic substances for personal consumption contrary to the provi-
sions of the 1961 Convention, the 1961 Convention as amended or the 1971
[Psychotropics] Convention.71
Despite requiring the establishment of criminal offences, a distinction is
made between serious offences listed in Article 3(1), such as drug traffick-
ing,72 and the possession, purchase, or cultivation of illicit drugs for personal
67 Ibid, art 33.
68 Ibid, art 36(1)(a).
69 Psychotropics Convention, supra note 5, art 22(1)(a).
70 Le Dain, supra note 24 at 70–71.
71 Trafficking Convention, supra note 6, art 3(2).
72 Ibid, art 3(1).
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consumption listed in Article 3(2). In the latter case, the provision is sub-
ject to the “constitutional principles or basic concepts of [each Party’s]
legal system.”73 In the 1988 Commentary on the Trafficking Convention, it
was clarified that “as with the 1961 [Single] and 1971 [Psychotropics]
Conventions, Paragraph 2 does not require drug consumption as such to
be established as a punishable offence”74 and suggested that an offence
deriving from personal consumption could be distinguished from more
serious offences through “threshold requirements in terms, for example,
of weight.”75 UN treaty commentaries, while not the equivalent of the
agreement itself, can be used as a guide in treaty interpretation where the
ordinary meaning of terms are unclear.
The legal obligations concerning cannabis are more complex owing
to additional provisions that address the substance directly. In particular,
Article 28(3) of the Single Convention requires parties to “adopt such meas-
ures as may be necessary to prevent the misuse of, and illicit traffic in, the
leaves of the cannabis plant.”76 Further, the 1961 Commentary on the Single
Convention reinforced that “production of cannabis and cannabis resin
must not be undertaken for other than medical and scientific purposes.”77
Article 5 of the Psychotropics Convention calls for Parties to “limit by such
measures as it considers appropriate . . . the use and possession of, substan-
ces in Schedule II . . . to medical and scientific purposes” and goes on to
state that “it is desirable that the Parties do not permit the possession of
substances in Schedules II, III and IV except under legal authority.”78
The prohibitionist approach to drug possession and consumption
across the treaties is softened by certain caveats. First, all penal provisions
pertinent to drug consumption are “[s]ubject to the constitutional limita-
tions of [each] Party”79 and, in the Trafficking Convention, “subject to basic
concepts of [each Party’s] legal system.”80 Parties are therefore afforded a
degree of latitude in fashioning legal and policy responses to drug control
73 Ibid, art 3(2).
74 UNESC, Commentary on the United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic
Drugs and Psychotropic Substances 1988, UN Doc E/CN.7/590, December 1988 at 82.
75 Ibid at 83.
76 Single Convention, supra note 4, art 28(3).
77 Secretary-General, Commentary on the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961 (New York:
United Nations, 1973) at 314.
78 Psychotropics Convention, supra note 5, art 5.
79 Single Convention, supra note 4, art 36(1)(a); Psychotropics Convention, supra note 5, art 22(1)
(a); Trafficking Convention, supra note 6, art 3(1).
80 Trafficking Convention, supra note 6, art 3(2).
Legalizing Cannabis 443
adapted to their unique domestic context. This provision, often referred to
as the “safeguard clause,” was famously used by Bolivia (further discussed
below) when it enshrined the chewing of coca leaf as a constitutionally-
protected activity before re-acceding to the drug control treaties in 2013.
While ultimately successful, Bolivia’s initiative to withdraw and re-accede
to the treaties with reservations on constitutional grounds was met with
international criticism. Objecting Parties pointed out that the procedure
was contrary to the principle of good faith in treaty relations81 and against
established customary law prohibiting late reservations.82 The application
of the safeguard clause is therefore not without its limits.
Whether the totality of treaty provisions on drug possession have the
effect of prohibiting the possession of cannabis for recreational use is also
a debated question. In an earlier draft of the Single Convention, Article 45,
corresponding to the current Article 36(1), was part of a chapter address-
ing trafficking offences, leading some to argue that the provision was
intended for this limited scope.83 The UN Secretariat provided credence
to this view, commenting that although the draft’s division into chapters
was not adopted into the Single Convention, “Article 36 is still in that part
of the Single Convention which deals with illicit traffic.”84 Nevertheless,
the UN Secretariat went on to conclude that “the possession of drugs for
other than medical and scientific purposes” should be prevented “by all
the administrative measures which [Parties] are bound to adopt under the
terms of the Single Convention, whatever may be their view on their obli-
gation to resort to penal sanctions or on the kind of punishment which
they should impose.”85
Taken together, the general obligations and penal provisions across the
three treaties, the treaty regime’s deference to national constitutional and
basic legal principles, as well as the accompanying treaty Commentaries
81 United Nations, Objection by Italy to Bolivia’s Reservation, UN Doc CN 750.2012.TREATIES-
VI.18 (Depositary Notification) (28 December 2012) [Objection by Italy].
82 United Nations, Objection by Finland to Bolivia’s Reservation, UN Doc CN 95.2013.TREATIES-
VI.18 (Depositary Notification) (8 January 2013) [Objection by Finland]; United Nations,
Objection by the Netherlands to Bolivia’s Reservation, UN Doc CN 102.2013.TREATIES-VI.18
(Depositary Notification) (8 January 2013) [Objection by the Netherlands]; United Nations,
Objection by Ireland to Bolivia’s Reservation, UN Doc CN 101.2013.TREATIES-VI.18 (Deposi-
tary Notification) (9 January 2013) [Objection by Ireland].
83 Canada, Special Committee on Illegal Drugs, Canada’s International Obligations Under
the Leading International Conventions on the Control of Narcotic Drugs, by Daniel Dupras
(Ottawa: Library of Parliament,1998).
84 Secretary-General, supra note 77 at 112.
85 Ibid at 113.
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offer Parties a degree of latitude in formulating drug law and policy on can-
nabis possession and use. Parties have especially departed from convention-
ally restrictive interpretations of treaty provisions concerning cannabis over
the past ten years.86 These policy derivatives have mainly involved either
“depenalization” — the reduction in the severity of criminal or civil penalties
imposed on the offender — or “decriminalization,” where the status of an
offence is changed from a criminal to a non-criminal or civil activity while
maintaining a normative stance against the prohibited activity.87
While such deviations have not always been met with the approval
of the INCB, the organization has also demonstrated willingness to shift
views. For instance, in 2001, Portugal adopted a harm reduction policy that
diverted individuals found in possession of small quantities of cannabis
to an administrative body issuing civil penalties such as the suspension of
individual rights, treatment, and fines.88 The INCB denounced the draft law
in its 1999 Annual Report, stating that the treaties “require that drug use
be limited to medical and scientific purposes and that States parties make
drug possession a criminal offence.”89 It has since moderated its stance,
commenting in 2005 that “exempting small quantities of drugs from crim-
inal prosecution is consistent with international drug control treaties.”90
Under depenalization and decriminalization, the possession of can-
nabis for recreational use remains statutorily prohibited. However, under
de jure legalization — characterized by the explicit allowance for the cul-
ture, production, marketing, sale, and use of cannabis — recreational use
of cannabis cannot benefit from the same latitude as the former meas-
ures.91 As noted in the INCB’s 2016 Annual Report, a regulated market for
cannabis, such as the one the one now legalized in Canada, unequivocally
86 Robin Room et al, The Global Cannabis Commission Report: Cannabis Policy: Moving Beyond
Stalemate (Oxford: Beckley Foundation & Oxford University Press, 2008) at 95–97.
87 Rosalie Liccardo Pacula et al, “What Does It Mean to Decriminalize Marijuana? A Cross-
National Empirical Examination” (Paper delivered at the 24th Arne Ryde Symposium,
Lund, Sweden, 13–14 August 2004), (2005) 16 Advances in Health Economics & Health
Services Research 347.
88 Ibid at 10–11.
89 International Narcotics Control Board, Report of the International Narcotics Control Board
for 1999 (Vienna: United Nations, 2000) at 56.
90 International Narcotics Control Board, Report of the International Narcotics Control Board
for 2004 (Vienna: United Nations, 2005) at 80.
91 Werner Sipp, “Statement by Mr. Werner Sipp, President of the International Narcotics
Control Board (INCB)” (Statement delivered at the Fifty-Ninth Session of the Commis-
sion on Narcotic Drugs, 14 March 2016), online: <www.incb.org> at 3.
Legalizing Cannabis 445
contravenes Canada’s international legal obligations under the three UN
drug control treaties. Directly addressing the Canadian government’s can-
nabis legalization initiative, the INCB noted:
The limitation of the use of drugs to medical and scientific purposes is
a fundamental principle that lies at the heart of the international drug
control framework, to which no exception is possible and which gives
no room for flexibility. The Board urges the [Canadian]Government to
pursue its stated objectives —  namely the promotion of health, the pro-
tection of young people and the decriminalization of minor, non-violent
offences — within the existing drug control system of the Conventions.92
B. Drug Control and the International Human Rights System
Beyond the confines of the drug control treaties, some human rights experts
posit that Parties can justify non-compliance with punitive-prohibitionist
provisions through their competing obligations under the international
human rights system. Human rights constitute one of the three pillars of
the UN, alongside peace and security, and development. All UN member
states must abide by the Charter of the United Nations (UN Charter), which
enshrines “universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and
fundamental freedoms for all . . . ”93 as well as the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights,94 the rights therein now considered as inalienable custom-
ary law. As the legal instrument governing all members, Article 103 of the
UN Charter maintains that its obligations must prevail over obligations
under any other international agreement.95
Until recently, the international drug control regime operated largely
in isolation from the international human rights system.96 Spurred by
inflammatory language that describes drug addiction as a “serious evil,”97
92 International Narcotics Control Board, Report of the International Narcotics Control Board
for 2016 (Vienna: United Nations, 2017) at 31.
93 Charter of the United Nations, 26 June 1945, Can TS 1945 No 7, art 55(c) (entered into force
24 October 1945) [UN Charter].
94 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, GA Res 217A (III), UNGAOR, 3rd Sess, Supp No 13,
UN Doc A/810 (1948).
95 UN Charter, supra note 93, art 103.
96 Damon Barrett & Manfred Nowak, “The United Nations and Drug Policy: Towards a Human
Rights-Based Approach” in Aristotle Constantinides and Nikos Zaikos, eds, The Diversity of
International Law: Essays in Honour of Professor Kalliopi K Koufa (Leiden: Martinus Nijhoff,
2009) at 455.
97 Single Convention, supra note 4, Preamble.
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the global drug control community’s political vision of a drug-free world
habitually promoted a fear-based response to drugs and an approach that
some civil society advocates have described as “overwhelmingly prohibi-
tionist.”98 As Anand Grover, former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right
to Health, noted: “The current international system of drug control has
focused on creating a drug free world, almost exclusively through use of
law enforcement policies and criminal sanctions . . . [resulting] in count-
less human rights violations.”99
In an open letter in 2015, the current UN Special Rapporteur on the
Right to Health, Dainius Pūras, described the impact of drug control on
the right to health as “a cross-cutting theme across the entire market
chain, arising from an often violent illicit drug market, and highly punitive
and repressive State responses.”100 In that same year, the UN High Com-
missioner for Human Rights submitted a report to the UN Human Rights
Council outlining right-to-health violations. The report highlighted that
these violations arise due to a lack of access to treatment for drug users,
either due to direct denial to services or because of the deterring effects of
fearing prosecution and stigmatization. Apprehension of harm reduction
interventions, such as drug consumption sites, in states with heavily puni-
tive regimes also contribute to this problem.101
Beyond the overarching concern for the health and welfare of human-
kind cited in the preambles of the Single Convention and the Psychotropics
Convention, the Trafficking Convention contains the only reference to
respecting “fundamental human rights” in the process of carrying out
treaty obligations.102 Such vague references to human rights have been
repeatedly criticized by UN bodies and officials outside of the drug control
98 Damon Barrett et al, Recalibrating the Regime: The Need for a Human Rights-Based Approach
to International Drug Policy, vol 13 (Oxford: Beckley Foundation, 2008) at 3.
99 Report submitted by Anand Grover, Special Rapporteur on the Right of Everyone to the
Enjoyment of the Highest Attainable Standard of Physical and Mental Health, UNGAOR, 65th
Sess, UN Doc A/65/255 (2010) at 2.
100 Open Letter from Dainius Pūrasto Yury Fedotov entitled “Open Letter by the Special Rap-
porteur on the Right of Everyone to the Highest Attainable Standard of Mental and Physi-
cal Health, Dainius Pūras, in the Context of the Preparations for the UN General Assembly
Special Session on the Drug Problem (UNGASS), Which Will Take Place in New York in
April 2016” at 2, online: <www.unodc.org/documents/ungass2016/Contributions/UN/Rap-
porteurMentalHealth/SR_health_letter_UNGASS_7.12.15.pdf> [Pūras, “Open Letter”].
101 Human Rights Council, Study on the Impact of the World Drug Problem on the Enjoyment of
Human Rights: Report of the United Nations Human Rights High Commissioner for Human
Rights, UNHRC, 30th Sess, UN Doc A/HRC/30/65 (2015) 1 at 6.
102 Trafficking Convention, supra note 6, art 14(2).
Legalizing Cannabis 447
regime, including Dainius Pūras who noted in his open letter that “such
language . . . becomes meaningless unless underpinned by clear and explicit
human rights standards and principles.”103 By explicitly allowing Parties to
adopt more strict or severe measures of drug control, the treaties have also
had the effect of facilitating human rights abuses ranging from excessive
use of force in law enforcement to the denial of harm reduction initiatives
in the name of a “drug-free world.”104 As the US delegate to the UNGASS
2016 acknowledged, the rhetoric on the war on drugs “unintentionally
became a war on people who use drugs.”105
In some cases, non-compliance with the UN drug control treaties has
been justified by asserting that the drug control regime has an indirect,
but influential link, to human rights abuses.106 At UNGASS 2016, Uruguay
stated that cannabis legalization became a national priority after the coun-
try led a “critical and realistic reflection on the negative impacts on human
rights brought about by . . . drug policies agreed at the international level in
the last 50 years.”107 Some have suggested that Canada should similarly
concede its inability to reconcile adherence to a prohibitive drug control
regime with its superseding international human rights obligations as the
basis of its legalization plans.108 The stated goals of the Cannabis Act to
protect the health and safety of the public, and in particular the young,
as well as the recommendations in the Final Report of the Task Force on
103 Pūras, “Open Letter”, supra note 100 at 1.
104 Barrett et al, supra note 98 at 21; Navi Pillay, “High Level Review of the Political Declara-
tion and Plan of Action on International Cooperation towards an Integrated and Balanced
Strategy to Counter the World Drug Problem” (Statement delivered at the Special Session
of the United Nations General Assembly on the World Drug Problem, 13 March 2014),
online: <www.unodc.org/documents/ungass2016//Contributions/UN/OHCHR/31_OHCHR_
140314_pm.pdf>.
105 Jamie Bridge, The United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on the World
Drug Problem: Report of Proceedings (London: International Drug Policy Consortium, 2016)
at 6.
106 Neil Boister, “Waltzing on the Vienna Consensus on Drug Control? Tensions in the Inter-
national System for the Control of Drugs” (2016) 29:2 Leiden J Intl L 389 at 395.
107 Junta Nacional de Drogas [National Drug Board], Impact of the World Drug Problem in the
Exercise of Human Rights: Uruguayan Contribution to the Implementation of the Resolution
“Contribution of the Human Rights Council to the Special Session of the UN General Assembly
the World Drug Problem of 2016, report submitted to the Office of the High Commissioner
on Human Rights of the United Nations (Montevideo, Uruguay: Junta Nacional de Drogas,
2015) at 3.
108 Damon Barrett & Rick Lines (25 May 2016), online: <www.cmaj.ca>, comment on Steven
Hoffman & Roojin Habibi, “International Legal Barriers to Canada’s Marijuana Plans”
online: (2016) 188:10 CMAJ <www.cmaj.ca>.
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Cannabis Legalization and Regulation to anchor legislation in the protection
of vulnerable citizens,109 give weight to such justification.
There are some limitations, however, to citing human rights as a justi-
fication for treaty non-compliance. First, as outlined by the International
Law Commission’s Study Group on the Fragmentation of International
Law, it is generally expected that when two or more norms bear on a single
issue, utmost effort be made to interpret provisions such that they give
rise to a single set of compatible obligations.110 Harmonization becomes
especially important where the conflict of obligations is difficult to clearly
define. As international legal scholars Currie et al. explain, the language of
the UN Charter has a “promotional quality” that does not “define, much
less impose, a series of binding human rights obligations on states par-
ties.”111 Caution should be exercised when citing a concern for human
rights, for it is susceptible to being used as a “catch all” solution for the
reform of provisions that have had an indirect effect on human rights.
On a political level, the UNGASS has repeatedly noted that efforts to
counter the “world drug problem” should be reconciled with concerns
for human rights. In its 2015 annual resolution entitled International
Cooperation Against the World Drug Problem, the UNGASS reaffirmed that
drug control efforts should be “carried out in full conformity with the pur-
poses and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and other pro-
visions of international law . . . and for all human rights and fundamental
freedoms” while simultaneously urging Parties to “implement as a matter
of priority, all the provisions”112 of the drug control regime.
This is also the position adopted by Parties to the regime itself, who
reaffirmed in the final outcome document emerging from the 2016
UNGASS an “unwavering commitment to ensuring that all aspects of
demand reduction . . . and supply reduction . . . are addressed in full conform-
ity with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations,
109 Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation, supra note 23 at 14.
110 International Law Commission, “Report of the Commission to the General Assembly on
the work of its fifty-eighth session” in Yearbook of the International Law Commission 2006,
vol 2, part 2 (New York: United Nations, 2013) at 178 (UN Doc A/CN.4/SER.A/2006/Add.1)
[International Law Commission].
111 John H Currie et al, International Law: Doctrine, Practice, and Theory, 2nd ed (Toronto:
Irwin Law, 2014) at 600.
112 International Cooperation Against the World Drug Problem, GA Res 70/82, UNGAOR, 70th
Sess, UN Doc A/RES/70/182 (2015).
Legalizing Cannabis 449
international law and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”113
Complementing the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health’s con-
clusion that drug use and possession be decriminalized and depenalized,114
the INCB recently stated that Parties “should be guided by the principle
of proportionality in the determination of penalties” and that there is
enough “flexibility provided for by the conventions to offer alternatives
to conviction or punishment for drug-related crimes of a minor nature.”115
III. HOW TO RECONCILE INTERNATIONAL TREATY OBLIGATIONS
WITH NATIONAL CANNABIS LEGALIZATION
As the situation currently stands, Canada is an active contributor to the
global war on drugs. Unlike other police-reported crimes, drug offences
have increased over the past decade, with the rate of reported cannabis
possession offences increasing by 28 percent and representing more than
two-thirds of offences under Canada’s Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
in 2013.116 An estimated 500,000 Canadians carry a criminal record from
the simple possession of cannabis and must contend with its negative
consequences, including the diminution of employment opportunities,
impacts on child custody and visitation rights, and difficulties while trav-
elling abroad.117 Had the Supreme Court of Canada found that criminaliza-
tion of the simple possession of cannabis breached rights enshrined in the
Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Canada’s legalization scheme may
have been justified under treaty escape clauses deferring to the constitu-
tional or basic principles of the Party’s legal system.118 The Canadian juris-
prudence on this matter, however, provides no such pretext.119 To respect
the rule of international law and strengthen the Canadian government’s
113 Our Joint Commitment to Effectively Addressing and Countering the World Drug Problem,
UNGAOR, 30th Spec Sess, Annex, UN Doc A/Res/S-30/1 (2016) at 2/21.
114 Pūras & Hannah, supra note 10 at 2.
115 International Narcotics Control Board, Press Release, UNIS/NAR/1301, “INCB Concludes
117th Session: Board Finalizes 2016 Reports, Reiterates Importance of the Principle of Pro-
portionality” (18 November 2016), online: <www.incg.org>.
116 Statistics Canada, Police-Reported Crime Statistics in Canada, 2013, by Jillian Boyce et al, Cat-
alogue No 85-002-X (Ottawa: Statistics Canada, 2014) at 20.
117 Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, “Cannabis Policy Framework: October 2014”, by
Jean-François Crépault (Toronto: CAMH, 2014) at 6.
118 Single Convention, supra note 4, arts 4(c), 36(1)(a); Psychotropics Convention, supra note 5,
art 22(1)(a); Trafficking Convention, supra note 6, art 3(2).
119 CED 4th (online), Narcotic Control, “Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms: Life, Lib-
erty and Security” (VI.11.(d)) at § 219.
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commitment to multilateralism, there are only a few legal pathways to be
considered.
A. Treaty Reform
As the 2016 UNGASS proceedings revealed, Parties continue to sidestep
discussions around the adequacy of the treaties, especially in relation to
the legal status of cannabis possession and use.120 Yet these discussions
have already taken place at national and sub-national levels, including in
Uruguay and at least ten US states.
There has never been a more appropriate time to trigger reform on
the status of cannabis in the UN drug control treaties. Under the treaties,
any Party may propose an amendment to a treaty provision, along with
reasons supporting these changes, in writing to the UN Secretary-General.
The Secretary-General must then convey the proposed changes to all Par-
ties and ECOSOC. At the discretion of ECOSOC, a Conference of Parties
(COP) may be convened to consider the amendment, or the amendment
can be referred to all Parties for review. Parties have a period of 18 months
to lodge their rejection of the amendment proposal to the Single Convention
or Psychotropics Convention,121 or a period of 24 months for changes pro-
posed to the Trafficking Convention.122 Under the Single Convention and the
Psychotropics Convention, the amendment takes effect immediately if it is
not faced with any objections. Amendments to the Trafficking Convention
are deemed to be applicable only to Parties that explicitly notify their wish
to be bound. In the case where an objection has been lodged, the amend-
ment may still be approved by ECOSOC, barring its application to the
objecting Parties, or it may reject the amendment entirely. A COP may
also be convened to further consider the amendment.
While most modern treaties explicitly provide for a COP mechanism
subjecting them to periodic review, this procedure is lacking from the
drug control treaties that predate the UN. In the case of the international
drug control system, treaty amendment finds precedent in the 1972
Protocol amending the Single Convention for which a COP was convened.123
In support of the changes proposed, the US government emphasized the
importance of building on the foundation of the Single Convention, “since a
120 Bridge, supra note 105 at 2.
121 Single Convention, supra note 4, art 47(2); Psychotropics Convention, supra note 5, art 30(2).
122 Trafficking Convention, supra note 6, art 31(1).
123 1972 Protocol, supra note 35.
Legalizing Cannabis 451
decade [had] given a better perspective of its strengths and weaknesses.”124
This position is relevant once again today.
The treaty reform process merits a discussion beyond the scope of this
paper. Broadly speaking, however, since the last COP, Bolivia has been the
only Party to attempt treaty reform with a view to removing the obligation
to prohibit coca leaf chewing under the Single Convention. In 2009, the
attempt was blocked by 18 Parties, whose objections cited preoccupations
with creating a political precedent that might weaken the international
drug control regime and send the wrong signal.125 Party hesitations to
opening the floodgates to regime amendment may therefore loom large
over the treaty reform process.
One approach for Canada may be to trigger wholesale reform by mer-
ging all three treaties into a new “combined convention,” featuring a per-
iodic review mechanism and a series of provisions that embody a more
tolerant, evidence-based, and legally consistent approach to drug posses-
sion and use.126 The negotiation of a new Combined Convention may also
afford Parties the opportunity to reconcile the contradictions inherent to
the UN’s current drug control system and ground it more firmly in human
rights.127 Alternatively, to minimize consensus-destabilizing variables, the
amendment may be pursued especially as it pertains to the provisions
impacting cannabis legalization. In this regard, a singular focus on amend-
ing Article 3(2) of the Trafficking Convention may be sufficient to remove
the burden on Parties to criminalize or otherwise prohibit cannabis pos-
session and consumption for recreational use. Regardless of the type of
amendment pursued, the most reassuring path would be to ally with like-
minded Parties with a view to initiating reform on cannabis.
B. Treaty Reservation
Upon signing, ratifying, accepting, approving, or acceding to a treaty, a
Party may issue a unilateral statement (or reservation) in writing to the
UN Secretary-General modifying or excluding the legal effect of certain
124 Transnational Institute, Cannabis Regulation and the UN Drug Treaties: Strategies for Reform,
by David Bewley-Taylor et al, Briefing Paper (Amsterdam: Transnational Institute, 2016) at 9.
125 Global Drug Policy Observatory, The Rise and Decline of Cannabis Prohibition: The History
of Cannabis in the UN Drug Control System and Options for Reform, by David Bewley-Taylor,
Tom Blickman & Martin Jelsma (Amsterdam: Transnational Institute, 2014) at 63–64.
126 Bewley-Taylor et al, supra note 124 at 9–10.
127 Bewley-Taylor, Blickman & Jelsma, supra note 125 at 64.
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provisions within the treaty.128 Reservations allow Parties to withhold
from specific legal obligations while remaining in compliance with inter-
national law and the treaty framework. They must, however, demonstrate
a good faith interpretation of treaty provisions, and be compatible with
the “object and purpose” of the treaty.129 Reservations may generally also
be made after ratification; but in this case, unless dealt with by specific
provisions within the treaty, the written reservation must be circulated
to all treaty Parties. A 12-month window is given for Parties to lodge their
objection with the UN Secretary-General.130
Owing to Article 50(1) of the Single Convention, post-ratification reserva-
tions are not permitted unless they affect provisions specified under Arti-
cle 49 or 50(2).131 However, reservations can be made at the time of treaty
accession.132 In the latter scenario, the reservation becomes valid unless
more than two-thirds of Parties object to the reservation within 12 months.
The Psychotropics Convention provides for a similar reservation procedure.133
Lacking a specific provision on reservations, a Party wishing to make res-
ervations to provisions within the Trafficking Convention must follow the
procedures established within the Vienna Convention. The process involves
communicating the reservation to the UN Secretary-General, circulating it
to all Parties to the treaty, and if not objected to formally within 12 months,
allowing the entry into force of the reservation.134 Consequently, if Canada
were to deposit a reservation while remaining party to the treaties, it may
seek to do so by deposing a reservation with respect to the only provision
across the three treaties that mandates the criminalization of cannabis for
personal use — Article 3(2) of the Trafficking Convention.
A less common mechanism equating to a post-ratification reservation
is denunciation followed by re-accession to the treaty with reservations.
While the Vienna Convention does not explicitly prevent states from ratify-
ing and making reservations to a treaty once they have withdrawn from it,
some experts maintain that the procedure allows Parties to select which
obligations to uphold and which to flout, undermining the consensus
that binds Parties to a treaty and diluting the good faith interpretation
128 Vienna Convention, supra note 26, art 2(1)(d).
129 Ibid, art 19(c).
130 Ibid, art 20(4)(b).
131 Single Convention, supra note 4, art 50(1).
132 Ibid, art 50(3).
133 Psychotropics Convention, supra note 5, art 32(3).
134 Vienna Convention, supra note 26, art 20(5).
Legalizing Cannabis 453
of treaty provisions and pacta sunt servanda.135 It may also expose the
reserving Party to reputational damage, as apparent from the negative
reactions elicited by Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana’s denunciation and
subsequent re-accession to the International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights.136 Nevertheless, it has been argued that allowing states to re-accede
with reservations is more constructive than excluding the country from
the treaty framework entirely, especially in the context of human rights.137
Given that the instances where countries denunciate treaties and re-ac-
cede with reservations to specific provisions all occurred since the late
1990s, use of this procedure may also indicate that the mechanism is used
for contending with treaty provisions that do not evolve with social norms
and scientific and medical knowledge.
In the context of the international drug control regime, the procedure
gained precedent through the Bolivian government’s actions with regards
to the coca leaf in 2013. Coca leaf chewing, a popular indigenous practice
in Bolivia, is at odds with Article 49(2)(e) of the Single Convention, which
requires that the practice “be abolished within twenty-five years from the
coming into force of this Convention.”138 In 1976, Bolivia acceded to the Single
Convention by the transitional reservation provided under Article 49(1)(c),
which allows Parties to temporarily permit coca leaf chewing. The 25-year
period for this transitional reservation lapsed in 1991. After efforts to amend
relevant provisions under the Single Convention failed, Bolivia denunciated
the treaty and sought to re-accede with a reservation allowing for the con-
sumption and use of the coca leaf for cultural and medicinal purposes. The
objections of 15 countries, including the US, fell short of the 62 (one-third of
Parties) required to block the entry into force of the reservation.
While ultimately successful, Bolivia’s example also foreshadows the ire
of the international drug control community if unilateral actions to legalize
cannabis nationally were taken on the basis of this procedure. In 2011, the
INCB stated that Bolivia’s actions contravened the Convention’s “spirit”
and that “the international community should not accept any approach
whereby Governments use the mechanism of denunciation and re-
accession with reservation in order to free themselves from the obligation
135 Laurence R Helfer, “Not Fully Committed? Reservations, Risk and Treaty Design” (2006)
31:1 Yale J Intl L 367 at 372–73.
136 Björn Arp, “Denunciation Followed by Re-Accession with Reservations to a Treaty: A Criti-
cal Appraisal of Contemporary State Practice” (2014) 61 Nethl Intl L Rev 141 at 155.
137 Glenn McGrory, “Reservations of Virtue? Lessons from Trinidad and Tobago’s Reservation
to the First Optional Protocol” (2001) 23:3 Hum Rts Q 769.
138 Single Convention, supra note 4, art 49(2)(e).
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454
to implement certain treaty provisions.”139 Objecting Parties reasoned
that the procedure was contrary to good faith in treaty relations140 and
against established customary law prohibiting late reservations.141 To date,
no reservation to any of the drug control treaties has been blocked by the
threshold number of Party objections.142 Given the Bolivian precedent, the
mechanism of denunciation followed by re-accession and reservation may
be a viable path forward for cannabis legalization in Canada.
A further, but little-known, reservation mechanism available under
the Vienna Convention is the establishment of an inter se agreement.143 The
approach describes a scenario where a Party may modify the legal effects
of certain provisions between itself and another like-minded Party or
Parties, if these changes are in line with the object and purpose of the
treaty and do not detract from the full enjoyment of the provision for the
non-agreeing Parties.144 The inter se agreement was originally drafted in the
Vienna Convention with the evolutionary nature of multilateral treaties in
mind, the intent being to allow like-minded Parties to build an alternative
framework over time.145 It has frequently been used in the context of Par-
ties who are willing to take more effective or far-reaching measures for the
realization of the object and purpose of the treaties.146 Some have noted
that it could also be the most elegant recourse to modifying obligations
under the drug control treaties, while avoiding the more cumbersome and
lengthy requirements of treaty modification or withdrawal.147 If Canada
were to initiate an inter se agreement, it could expect the collaboration of
several Parties, including Uruguay, the Netherlands, and Jamaica. As pro-
ponents of this approach concede, however, it would be “uncharted legal
139 International Narcotics Control Board, Press Release, UNIS/NAR/1114, “International Nar-
cotics Control Board Regrets Bolivia’s Denunciation of the Single Convention on Narcotic
Drugs” (5 July 2011).
140 Objection by Italy, supra note 81.
141 Objection by Finland, supra note 82; Objection by the Netherlands, supra note 82; Objection by
Ireland, supra note 82.
142 Robin Room, “Reform by Subtraction: The Path of Denunciation of International Drug
Treaties and Reaccession with Reservations” (2012) 23 Intl J Drug Policy 401 at 402.
143 Martin Jelsma et al, Balancing Treaty Stability and Change: Inter Se Modification of the UN
Drug Control Conventions to Facilitate Cannabis Regulation, Policy Report (Swansea, UK:
Global Drug Policy Observatory, Transnational Institute and Washington Office on Latin
America, 2018).
144 Vienna Convention, supra note 26, art 41.
145 “Summary Records of the Sixteenth Session” in Yearbook of the International Law Commission
1964, vol 1, UN Doc A/CN.4/SERA/1964 (New York: United Nations, 1965) at 142–44.
146 International Law Commission, supra note 110 at 108.
147 Bewley-Taylor et al, supra note 124 at 11.
Legalizing Cannabis 455
territory,” with a paucity of practical examples to draw upon from any
arena of international treaty law.148 It is also unlikely that an inter se agree-
ment would be seen as aligning with the object and purpose of the UN
drug control treaties and it could be detracting from the full enjoyment of
treaties for the non-agreeing Parties. In the event that a dispute regarding
the effect of the inter se agreement was unresolved, Parties would have to
be settle the matter at the International Court of Justice.149
C. Treaty Denunciations
All three drug control treaties allow for a Party to denunciate the treaty
upon written notice to the UN Secretary-General. A denunciation, how-
ever, would not take effect immediately and the time from notice depos-
ition to treaty denunciation vary according to the treaty. Under the Single
Convention and the Psychotropics Convention, a notice to withdraw becomes
effective the first day of January, provided that it was received by the Sec-
retary-General on or before the first day of July of the preceding year. If
the notice was received after the first day of July, it is treated as if it had
been received on or before the first day of July of the following year. Thus,
a notice to withdraw from the Single or Psychotropics Conventions can take
effect at the earliest six months after the date of deposition of the notice
to withdraw (assuming the notice is received earlier than July 2nd).150 As
for the Trafficking Convention, the notice of withdrawal can only take effect
one year after the date of receipt of notice to the Secretary-General.151
The Vienna Convention allows Parties to cite a historical “error”152 or a
“fundamental change of circumstances”153 when depositing a notification to
withdraw from a treaty. Citing insurmountable obstacles to reconciling the
regime’s object and purpose with national priorities, Canada could denunci-
ate all three drug control treaties, or simply the Trafficking Convention con-
taining specific reference to cannabis possession for personal use. Although
denunciation is a rare occurrence in international law, it is not without
precedent in the Canadian context. In 2013, Canada withdrew from the
148 Ibid.
149 Single Convention, supra note 4, art 48(2); Psychotrpics Convention, supra note 5, art 31(2);
Trafficking Convention, supra note 6, art 32(2).
150 Single Convention, supra note 4, art 46(2); Psychotropics Convention, supra note 5, art 29(2).
151 Trafficking Convention, supra note 6, art 30(2).
152 Vienna Convention, supra note 26, art 48.
153 Ibid, art 62.
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456
widely adhered-to UN Convention to Combat Desertification;154 the reason
being, according to former Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, a disinter-
est “in continuing to support bureaucracies and talkfests.”155 Canada also
controversially exited the Kyoto Protocol in 2011.156 As denunciation with-
out re-accession has never occurred in the context of the international
drug control treaties, the degree and nature of the impact of treaty with-
drawal is uncertain. However, treaty denunciation in the context of inter-
national drug control will likely carry certain political and reputational
consequences, such as the rebuke of the INCB and committed Parties
such as the US, the risk of economic sanctions, and the removal of Canada
from proceedings of the international drug control regime except where
observers are allowed.
Canada’s denunciation of the treaties may also hinder its fast- growing
market for the legal export of cannabis. Federally licensed medical canna-
bis producers in Canada already export to Brazil, Chile, Croatia, Germany,
and New Zealand, all of which are Parties to the drug control regime.
Some experts peg the value of the global market for medical cannabis as
high as $100 billion per year in the next five to ten years.157 Parties to the
regime have access to the legal trade and regulation of narcotic drugs and
psychotropic substances for medical and scientific purposes under Article
30 of the Single Convention and Article 12 of the Psychotropics Convention.158
As an external entity, import of cannabis from Canada would fall under
the definition of illicit traffic provided in Article 3(1)(a)(i) of the Trafficking
Convention, which maintains that Parties must:
[A]dopt such measures as may be necessary to establish as criminal
offences under its domestic law, when committed intentionally . . . [the]
transport, importation or exportation of any narcotic drug or any psycho-
tropic substance contrary to the provisions of the 1961 [Single] Convention,
154 United Nations, Canada’s Notification to Withdraw from the United Nations Convention to
Combat Desertification in those Countries Experiencing Serious Drought And/Or Desertification,
Particularly in Africa, UN Doc CN 204.2013.TREATIES-XXVII.10 (Depositary Notification)
(28 March 2013).
155 Wayne Kondro, “Canada Pulls Out of UN Treaty to Combat Desertification”, Science (29
March 2013), online: <www.sciencemag.org>.
156 United Nations, Canada’s Notification to Withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol to the United
Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, UN Doc CN 796.2011.TREATIES-1
(Depositary Notification) (15 December 2011).
157 DJ Summers, “The Legal International Cannabis Trade Already Exists and We Mapped It”,
Leafly (4 March 2017), online: <www.leafly.com>.
158 Single Convention, supra note 4, art 30; Psychotropics Convention, supra note 5, art 12.
Legalizing Cannabis 457
the 1961 [Single] Convention as amended or the 1971 [Psychotropics]
Convention.159
D. Rescheduling Cannabis
The drug control treaties authorize the World Health Organization (WHO)
to make recommendations to reschedule or de-schedule listed substances
on the basis of medical and scientific analysis and the addictive proper-
ties of drugs. Modifications proposed by the WHO’s Expert Committee on
Drug Dependence (ECDD) must be submitted to the UN Secretary-Gen-
eral and voted upon by the CND. Modification of the Schedules within the
Single Convention requires the agreement of a simple majority of all CND
members present and voting.160 For the Schedules within the Psychotropics
Convention, modification requires the acceptance of a two-thirds majority
of CND members.161 As of January 2018, Canada was one of 20 elected
members of the CND.162
As natural cannabis extracts are doubly listed within Schedules I
and IV of the Single Convention, and synthetic THC is listed in Schedule
II of the Psychotropics Convention, separate voting criteria would have to
be satisfied in order to successfully reschedule it so as to allow canna-
bis’ legalization. However, it is worth noting that the initial scheduling of
cannabis-related substances was never subject to a formal review of the
ECDD.163 In their 2016 Report, the ECDD agreed to ask the WHO Secretar-
iat to prepare pre-review documentation on cannabis-related substances,
including THC, cannabis plant, cannabis resin, and cannabidiol, and hold
a special session on cannabis in 2018 to decide on whether the scheduling
of any cannabis-related substances needs to be modified.164 That meet-
ing was held in Geneva at the 40th Session of the ECDD (June 4–7, 2018)
and preceded a critical expert review which concluded that cannabidiol is
“generally well tolerated with a good safety profile.”165
159 Trafficking Convention, supra note 6, art 3(1)(a)(i).
160 Single Convention, supra note 4, art 3.
161 Psychotropics Convention, supra note 5, art 17.
162 Commission on Narcotic Drugs, “Members of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs: as of
1 January 2018”, online: <www.unodc.org/documents/commissions/CND/Membership/
CND_membership_January_2018.pdf>.
163 Bewley-Taylor, Blickman & Jelsma, supra note 125 at 60.
164 World Health Organization, Annual Report 2016: WHO Essential Medicines and Health
Products (Geneva: WHO, 2017) at 33.
165 World Health Organization, Expert Committee on Drug Dependence, Cannabidiol (CBD)
Critical Review, 40th Mtg (Geneva: WHO, 2018).
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458
While substance rescheduling may remove part of the barrier to the
treaties’ prohibitionist stance on cannabis, the drug is also subject to specific
provisions within both the Single Convention and the Trafficking Convention.
The Single Convention’s provision on the “control of cannabis” mandates
Parties to “adopt such measures as may be necessary to prevent the mis-
use of, and illicit traffic in, the leaves of the cannabis plant.”166 Within the
Trafficking Convention, “appropriate measures” must be taken to “prevent
illicit cultivation of and to eradicate plants containing narcotic or psycho-
tropic substances, such as . . . cannabis plants.”167 Under the penal provision,
the Trafficking Convention also requires establishing as a criminal offence
“the cultivation of . . . cannabis plant for the purpose of the production of
narcotic drugs contrary to the provisions of the [Single] Convention.”168
As such, beyond the bureaucratic nature of the rescheduling process, the
interpretation of cannabis-specific provisions within the UN drug control
treaties poses a further barrier to the legalization of cannabis.
IV. FINAL REMARKS
The consensus on international drug control policy, once exhibited
through the high rate of accession to the UN drug control treaties, has
fractured considerably over time. Parties are increasingly experimenting
with national drug control policies that challenge traditional interpret-
ations of their international obligations. With respect to cannabis, this
experimentation has ranged from the non-enforcement of existing crim-
inal laws on drug possession and use, to the diversion of offenders to
non-criminal channels, to the recent legalization of cannabis at sub-na-
tional and national levels. The latter approach has pushed the legal limits
currently prescribed by the treaties.
While imperfect, each of the pathways outlined above allow Canada to
legalize cannabis while respecting international law. Although the pros-
pects for consensus-driven treaty reform may seem discouraging, it should
not be assumed that a human rights-based, evidence-informed, and legally
consistent regime for all Parties is beyond question. As a member of the
G7, Canada is in an ideal position to advocate for this change and should
view the growing sentiment of tolerance towards cannabis in the inter-
national community as an opportunity to not only initiate the passage of
166 Single Convention, supra note 4, art 28(3).
167 Trafficking Convention, supra note 6, art 14(2).
168 Ibid, art 3(1)(a)(ii).
Legalizing Cannabis 459
a public health-oriented legal framework within Canadian borders, but to
achieve this more broadly for the benefit of all Parties of the drug con-
trol regime. While a monumental undertaking, this would firmly place the
Canadian government in a position of leadership in a multilateral setting,
a coveted national priority as indicated by Canadian Prime Minister Tru-
deau’s Mandate Letter to the Minister of Foreign Affairs.169
The remaining options each present their own set of advantages and
disadvantages. Canada may choose to denunciate and re-accede to the
treaties with reservations, a procedure bolstered by the precedent of
Bolivia, but will almost certainly draw criticism from the INCB and the
treaty membership. Canada may also propose a rescheduling of canna-
bis-related substances, but cannabis is also the subject of specific provi-
sions within the Single Convention and the Trafficking Convention, and the
utility of this approach would depend on amendments to those clauses.
Barring treaty reform or amendment as options, Canada could theor-
etically pursue an inter se agreement with like-minded Parties to interpret
provisions related to cannabis as permitting its legalization, and in this
way further advance the case for treaty reform in the near future. The
challenge with this approach is that it has never been used in the context
of the international drug control regime, and the official interpretation of
the treaties and the UN bodies administering them have made clear their
view that the legalization of cannabis for recreational use contravenes the
object and purpose of the treaties.
The most direct course of action would be to denunciate the treaties
and forge ahead with national priorities. While sending a clear message to
the international community, this approach may also excise Canada from
the global drug control “conversation,” potentially lead to its exclusion
from the legal trade of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances and
detract from Canada’s reputation as a champion of multilateralism. More
fundamentally, the requisite time required to notify the UN Secretary-
General of treaty denunciation, before legalization takes effect in October
2018, has already passed.
Above all, it must be emphasized that while international treaties are
integral to world peace and order, their effectiveness hinges upon the
good faith cooperation of all parties. As aptly stated by former President
of the UN General Assembly Vuk Jeremić, “to strengthen trust between
nations . . . respect for accepted norms and standards cannot be ambiguous
169 Trudeau, supra note 29.
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460
or selective.”170 The unprincipled interpretation of provisions, even where
such provisions may be outdated or out-of-step with current medical
opinion and scientific evidence, undermines the delicate balance of peace,
order, and stability offered by international treaty law. Canada should
make every effort to reconcile its legal regime for recreational cannabis
with its longstanding record of respecting the rule of international law
and being one of its greatest promoters. Consequently, Canada should, at
minimum, withdraw from the drug control treaties out of respect for the
international rule of law.
Beyond concern for the international community, Canada could seek a
principled approach to squaring its national priorities with its international
legal obligations in the regime, by acknowledging that the contemporary
drug control regime was fashioned under different political and scientific
circumstances and that the current global “war on drugs” has unaccept-
ably contravened the human rights of people around the world. Far from
an obstacle, the Canadian government’s commitment to pursuing a public
health-promoting and evidence-informed legal framework for cannabis in
compliance with international treaty law is also an opportunity to further
strengthen its multilateral agenda. Triggering overdue discussions about
reforming or amending the international drug control regime would make
Canada a progressive agent of change, not only within its borders, but also
for all Parties seeking to adopt a smarter and more humane approach to
drug policy.
170 United Nations, Press Release, GA/11290 “World Leaders Adopt Declaration Reaffirming
Rule of Law as Foundation for Building Equitable State Relations, Just Societies” (24 Sep-
tember 2012), online: United Nations <www.un.org>.
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