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Marihauna legalization refers to efforts to ease restrictions on cannabis use under international treaties. Most cannabis reform organizations do not spend a great deal of resources on international cannabis reform, since success would require governmental assistance that has so far not been forthcoming. Decisions to change global drug regulations are usually reached by informal consensus; without such agreement, reform is virtually impossible.
Nations could withdraw from international drug control treaties, but they would almost certainly continue to face great pressure to comply with their provisions. As of January 1, 2005, 180 nations belonged to the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. The international drug control bodies exert a powerful influence across the globe, preventing even reform-minded nations such as the Netherlands from completely legalizing cannabis.
The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs makes a distinction between recreational and medical and scientific uses of drugs. Numerous provisions state that nations are allowed to permit medical use of drugs. However, recreational use is prohibited by Article 4:
- The parties shall take such legislative and administrative measures as may be necessary . . . Subject to the provisions of this Convention, to limit exclusively to medical and scientific purposes the production, manufacture, export, import, distribution of, trade in, use and possession of drugs.
Furthermore, the Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances requires its Parties to establish criminal penalties for possession of drugs prohibited under the Single Convention for recreational use. Reform at the international level would be required before any nation could completely legalize marijuana.
Barriers to reform
Some barriers to cannabis reform are the result of the international drug control structure, while others are related to political circumstances. The United Nations system in general tends to be difficult to change, partly due to the large number of members and the prevalence of consensus-based amendment mechanisms. Since the international drug control system is overseen by the United Nations General Assembly and UN Economic and Social Council, this has affected drug reform efforts. In addition, United States officials have used their influence in the past to dissuade other countries' delegations from even proposing drug reform.
The Single Convention grants the Commission on Narcotic Drugs the power to reschedule controlled substances. However, it would be difficult or impossible to change international cannabis regulations through that body. As Cindy Fazey, former Chief of Demand Reduction for the United Nations Drug Control Programme points out:
- Theoretically, the conventions can be changed by modification, such as moving a drug from one schedule to another or simply by removing it from the schedules. However, this cannot be done with cannabis because it is embedded in the text of the 1961 Convention. Also, modification would need a majority of the Commissions’ 53 members to vote for it. Amendment to the conventions, that is changing an article or part of an article, does not offer a more promising route for the same reason. Even if a majority were gained, then only one state need ask for the decision to go to the Economic and Social Council for further consideration, and demand a vote. The 1971 and 1988 Conventions need a two-thirds majority for change, not just a simple majority.
The only way to modify cannabis regulations at the world level would be call a conference to adopt amendments, in accordance with Article 47 of the Single Convention. This has only been done once, with the 1972 Protocol Amending the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. As Fazey notes, this process is fraught with bureaucratic obstacles.
The United States, one of the most influential Parties to the Single Convention, has tended to oppose loosening marijuana laws. Describing the now-U.S. President's position, an October 20, 1999 article in the Dallas Morning News noted, "Aides said Mr. Bush does not support legalizing marijuana for medical use". The international drug control machinery is heavily dependent on American donations; for instance, the U.S. contributes about 90% of the budget of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Without U.S. support for reform, the chances of effecting change at the international level are remote.
In reference to situations where the Commission on Narcotic Drugs proposes changing the scheduling of any drug, (d)(2)(B) of The U.S. Controlled Substances Act gives the Secretary of Health and Human Services the power to issue recommendations that are binding on the U.S. representative in international discussions and negotiations:
- Whenever the Secretary of State receives information that the Commission on Narcotic Drugs of the United Nations proposes to decide whether to add a drug or other substance to one of the schedules of the Convention, transfer a drug or substance from one schedule to another, or delete it from the schedules, the Secretary of State shall transmit timely notice to the Secretary of Health and Human Services of such information who shall publish a summary of such information in the Federal Register and provide opportunity to interested persons to submit to him comments respecting the recommendation which he is to furnish, pursuant to this subparagraph, respecting such proposal. The Secretary of Health and Human Services shall evaluate the proposal and furnish a recommendation to the Secretary of State which shall be binding on the representative of the United States in discussions and negotiations relating to the proposal.
The Secretary of Health and Human Services also has power, under Attorney General, and to require that drugs be removed from federal control. Thus, the Secretary of Health and Human Services has great power over drug policy at the U.S. and global levels. The U.S. President's control over drug policy ultimately rests in his ability to appoint and dismiss the Secretary.(b), to issue findings on scientific and medical matters that are binding on the
In addition, the International Narcotics Control Board has tended to have an unfavorable view of drug legalization. This was perhaps most profoundly expressed by Philip O. Emafo, President of the International Narcotics Control Board, in the Board's 2002 annual report:
- The Board continues to serve the international community in line with its mandate. Some distractions, however, come from groups that advocate legalization or decriminalization of drug offences, and others come from groups that favour a crusade focusing only on “harm minimization” or “harm reduction”. Contrary to all available evidence, such lobbyists have persisted in proclaiming that there are safe ways to abuse drugs.
- Supporters of such legalization pursue their goals through aggressive, wellfunded campaigns and with missionary zeal. Their arguments, however, do not reflect the truth. The truth is that there are no safe ways to abuse drugs. The truth is that drug abuse creates problems for the drug abusers, for their immediate environment and, ultimately, for society as a whole. Most people are all too familiar with the pain experienced by the family members of a drug addict and with the disintegration of families as a result of drug abuse. And many people are aware of the loss of productivity that occurs in companies whose employees abuse drugs.
- The sight of unkempt drug abusers on street corners and in train stations, begging for money to finance their drug habits, cannot be ignored by responsible Governments. States have a moral and legal responsibility to protect drug abusers from further self-destruction. States should not give up and allow advocates of legalization to take control of their national drug policies. Governments should not be intimidated by a vocal minority that wants to legalize illicit drug use. Governments must respect the view of the majority of lawful citizens; and those citizens are against illicit drug use.
- Persons in favour of legalizing illicit drug use argue that drug abusers should not have their basic rights violated; however, it does not seem to have occurred to those persons that drug abusers themselves violate the basic rights of their own family members and society. Families and society also have rights that should be respected and upheld.
These comments suggest that support from the Board is unlikely in the near future, or at least until the election of the next INCB President.
Individual nations could withdraw from drug control treaties, but would still be subject to the pervasive influence of bodies like the International Narcotics Control Board, which can issue unfavorable reports and recommend sanctions. The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs or the Convention on Psychotropic Substances could be terminated if the number of signatories fell below 40, but the Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances has no termination clause and therefore would remain in effect as long as there is even one signatory.
Arguments for and against prohibition of cannabis
Arguments for prohibition include physical and mental health and public order grounds, negative effects on work and education, increased risk for accidents, the "gateway drug" argument and purely political grounds such as vote catching and simple dislike of the drug culture.
Arguments against prohibition include civil rights issues (including religious ones), loss of potential tax revenues, unnecessary criminalization of ordinary people and the enforced mixing of cannabis users with sellers of more dangerous drugs and the associated criminal underworld, and the practical argument that prohibition is not effective at reducing drug use.
Another argument against prohibition is the inevitable increase in potentially dangerous impurities that distribution through criminal networks entails (although this is mainly relevant to hashish and, of course, other illegally manufactured drugs) and the health hazards and their costs that these impose.
For more detail see Arguments for and against drug prohibition.
- Adult lifetime cannabis use by country
- Annual cannabis use by country
- Cannabis legalization in Canada
- Cannabis reclassification in the United Kingdom
- Cannabis rescheduling in the United States
- Decriminalization of non-medical marijuana in the United States
- Health issues and the effects of cannabis
- Illegal drug trade
- Legal and medical status of cannabis
- Legality of cannabis by country
- Legal issues of Cannabis
- Removal of cannabis from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act
- Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs
- ↑ United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. 2006. Cannabis: Why we should care. World Drug Report, vol. 1. ISBN 92-1-148214-3 Retrieved on 10 Nov 2006
- ↑ Antonio Maria Costa: Call it anything ... but soft
- Monthly Status of Treaty Adherence, Jan. 1, 2005.
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