The three major international drug control treaties are mutually supportive and complementary. An important purpose of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances codify internationally applicable control measures in order to ensure the availability of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances for medical and scientific purposes, and to prevent their diversion into illicit channels and include general provisions on trafficking and drug use. The 1988 United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances significantly reinforced the obligation of countries to apply criminal sanctions to combat all the aspects of illicit production, possession and trafficking of drugs. (Commentaries on the conventions)

  • Balancing Treaty Stability and Change

    Inter se modification of the UN drug control conventions to facilitate cannabis regulation
    Martin Jelsma, Neil Boister, David Bewley-Taylor, Malgosia Fitzmaurice & John Walsh
    Global Drug Policy Observatory (GDPO) / Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) / Transnational Institute (TNI)
    March 2018

    Legal tensions are growing within the international drug control regime as increasing numbers of member states move towards or seriously consider legal regulation of the cannabis market for non-medical purposes. Amongst reform options not requiring consensus, inter se modification appears to be the most ‘elegant’ approach and one that provides a useful safety valve for collective action to adjust a treaty regime arguably frozen in time.

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    Download the report (PDF)

  • If the U.S. legalizes marijuana, what happens to its international drug treaties?

    "Cannabis is the most vulnerable point in the whole multilateral edifice," said the executive director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime
    The Cannabist / Bloomberg View (US)
    Wednesday, January 10, 2018

    When Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded a Barack Obama-era federal policy that allowed recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington, he did more than reignite a domestic legal and cultural battle. He also highlighted a simmering diplomatic dispute whose outcome will shape U.S. ties with its closest neighbors and its ability to leverage international law: Whether the U.S. will comply with landmark conventions that — largely at Washington’s insistence — unequivocally prohibit recreational use as part of the global fight against drug trafficking. Allowing states that have legalized marijuana to keep blowing smoke about their adherence to the convention risks undermining all of them. (See also: Yes, legalizing marijuana breaks treaties. We can deal with that)

  • The Case for International Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Control

    The UN exerts little energy toward ensuring that the domestic drug laws mandated by the treaties are drafted and implemented in a manner that safeguards human rights
    Rick Lines, Richard Elliott, Julie Hannah, Rebecca Schleifer, Tenu Avafia & Damon Barrett
    Health and Human Rights Journal
    March 2017

    The international drug control treaties contribute directly to an environment of human rights risk and violations. The drug treaties are what are known within international law as “suppression conventions.” Suppression regimes obligate states to use their domestic laws, including criminal laws, to deter or punish the activities identified within the treaty, and are therefore “important legal mechanisms for the globalization of penal norms.” However, while suppression treaties mandate all states to act domestically and collectively to combat crimes defined as being of international concern, they offer no obligations or guidance on what is and is not an appropriate penal response.

  • A New International Legal Regime for a New Reality in the War Against Drugs

    1988 Convention created an international regime in which producing and consuming states had clear obligations
    Guillermo J. Garcia Sanchez
    Harvard International Law Journal (US)
    Thursday, January 26, 2017

    After twenty-three years under the latest international agreement, drug consumption has risen, production has increased, and some states remain helpless against the power of organized crime fueled by drug money. The substantial evidence that the anti-drug regime has been ineffective suggests that international law on this matter should be reexamined. Consuming states are already doing it through practice. Producing states, instead of adhering to the dogma of the current regime, should spearhead the creation of a new paradigm that is more to their advantage.

  • Cannabis and Cannabis Resin

    Pre-Review Report
    H. Valerie Curran, Philip Wiffen, David J. Nutt & Willem Scholten
    October 2016

    The scheduling under the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs assumes a scientific justification. However, cannabis and cannabis resin have never been evaluated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) since it was mandated the review of psychoactive substances in 1948. The last evaluation for the international substance control conventions were therefore when the League of Nations evaluated them in 1924 and 1935. In 80 years since that decision, both the social context of cannabis use and the science of drug dependence have dramatically changed.


    Download the report (PDF)

  • Canada faces choice on international drug treaties over legalized pot

    Legalizing pot will violate international treaties. What should Canada do?
    CBC (Canada)
    Monday, October 3, 2016

    As Canada moves forward with its plan to legalize marijuana, government officials have at least one international conundrum to sort out: what to do about the global treaties Canada has signed that prohibit making pot legal? A senior government official said there are essentially two options available. On the one hand, Canada could take a "principled stand" in favour of the international legalization of pot. The other, quieter approach, would be to withdraw from the treaties and attempt to re-enter with a special exemption for legalized marijuana. (See also: Cannabis Regulation and the UN Drug Treaties)

  • Cannabis Regulation and the UN Drug Treaties

    Strategies for Reform
    June 2016

    As jurisdictions enact reforms creating legal access to cannabis for purposes other than exclusively “medical and scientific,” tensions surrounding the existing UN drug treaties and evolving law and practice in Member States continue to grow. These treaty tensions have become the “elephant in the room” in key high-level forums, including the 2016 United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs — obviously present, but studiously ignored.

    Download the briefing (PDF) | Press release | Version française (PDF)

  • Canada's marijuana legalization plan flouts 3 UN drug conventions

    'Canada cannot pick and choose which international laws to follow,' say authors in CMAJ commentary
    CBC (Canada)
    Monday, May 16, 2016

    The federal government's plan to legalize marijuana contravenes Canada's adherence to the UN drug control conventions, according to a commentary in the CMAJ medical journal. Canada is legally obligated to follow three international treaties. "The federal government should immediately take proactive steps to seek a reservation to the marijuana provisions of these treaties and/or to initiate their renegotiation," write the authors. "If these diplomatic efforts fail, Canada must formally withdraw from these treaties to avoid undermining international law and compromising its global position." (See also: Will Canada violate international conventions if it legalizes pot? | Cannabis Regulation and the UN Drug Treaties)

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