Sunday, June 4, 2023

UN Calls For States to End Legalization

Leaders Say Legal Cannabis Violates Treaty


The United Nations (UN) says that the U.S. is failing to comply to an international drug treaty by allowing states to legalize adult-use cannabis.

Last month the UN’s International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) released its annual report of global drug control efforts. The agency appeared to criticize the U.S. for allowing states to legalize cannabis, claiming that doing so was in violation of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961.

The 1961 Single Convention international treaty controls the cultivation, production and trade of certain drugs, including cannabis for member nations of the UN. Parties that have signed on to the treaty are expected to maintain legislation that keeps these drugs under strict control.

Much like the Controlled Substances Act in the U.S., the 1961 Single Convention treaty categorizes dangerous drugs into four schedules. The treaty limits the use of these drugs to medical and scientific purposes.

Agency Highlights Federalist Argument

In its report, the INCB appears to be accusing the U.S. of failing to fulfill the treaty. It concedes that a federalist country like the U.S. may not have the same level of control over its states that can be found in other nations.

“In States with a federal structure, a special issue may arise with respect to whether the federal Government may be held accountable if a federated entity implements legalization which violates the conventions, while the federal Government does not have the power to compel the federated entity to fulfill the treaty obligations,” wrote the agency.

However, it also notes that a federalist government is no excuse for ignoring the stipulations of the treaty. “The internal distribution of powers between the different levels of a State cannot be invoked as justification for the failure to perform a treaty,” it says.

UN Says Cannabis is Dangerous

The overall tone of the report is heavily anti-cannabis. The INCB considers it a dangerous illicit substance with overwhelmingly negative effects for public health.

The INCB report highlights state legalization of cannabis in its very first chapter, titled “Analysis of the trend to legalize the non-medical use of cannabis.” The agency notes that cannabis legalization started in the Americas, but the trend has already started to spread to Europe and other regions. It also notes that recent developments in South Africa and Thailand may be a sign that the trend is spreading to Africa and Asia as well.

According to the report, approximately 209 million people used cannabis in 2020—only four percent of the global population. But this represents a 23 percent increase over the last decade. Prevalence of cannabis use is reportedly highest in North America, Oceania and West Africa.

The INCB report warns that THC levels are rising in cannabis products across the world. In Europe, THC levels reportedly increased by 40 percent between 2010 and 2019. In the U.S., THC levels have reportedly risen from 3.96 per cent in 1995 to 16.16 per cent in 2018.

The agency says this increase in THC levels poses a health risk to users by increasing the number of cannabis use disorder cases. Global cannabinoid dependence and withdrawal hospital admissions were reportedly up more than eightfold. The report notes that cannabis accounts for most drug treatment demands in Africa. The report characterizes cannabis as “highly addictive and liable to abuse.”

The report also says rising THC levels have contributed to quadrupled instances of cannabis-related, psychotic-disorder admissions across the world.

Medical Programs Criticized

While the 1961 treaty technically allows for the medical use of cannabis, INCB criticizes the implementation of medical cannabis programs that appears to be aimed at states in the U.S. The report says that these programs have been implemented without due consideration for the regulation provisions of the 1961 Single Convention treaty related to cultivation of cannabis for medical purposes.

The agency seemed particularly concerned with home cultivation of cannabis and the home preparation of cannabis extracts. It claims that self-made preparations could contain toxic levels of pesticides and other poisonous substances. It also said that the lack of knowledge regarding a product’s cannabinoid content “might be dangerous.”

Despite evidence to the contrary, the report also claims that legalization and the consequent increase in demand has actually benefited drug cartels and criminal organizations. It also accuses cannabis producers of seeking to lift limits and regulations for marijuana “with a view to making a commercial profit” at the cost of societal health.

“This has contributed to the normalization and trivialization of cannabis use and consequently, to reduced perceptions of harm associated with cannabis consumption,” wrote the agency.

The report points out that decriminalization policies can be adopted without violating the treaty. “The ‘decriminalization’ approach, as well as the ‘depenalization’ approach, can be considered consistent with the conventions as far as it respects the obligation to limit the use of drugs to medical and scientific purposes and under the condition that it remains within certain limits set by the conventions,” says the report.

Threat Level

It’s unclear whether this report actually poses a threat for state-level cannabis programs in the U.S.

Although it seems that the report is aiming its criticism at the U.S., it never specifically mentions the nation by name while it addresses the “special issue” that is experienced in federalist countries.

The report all but accuses the U.S. of violating the treaty by allowing states to legalize cannabis. But countries like Canada, Georgia, Malta and Uruguay have fully legalized the drug at the national level—something the U.S. has not done—and the UN does not appear to be taking any action against those countries.


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