This chapter looks at the past, present and future of international cannabis control required by the UN drug control conventions in the post-2016 United Nations General…
This chapter looks at the past, present and future of international cannabis control required by the UN drug control conventions in the post-2016 United Nations General Assembly Special Session era with an eye on the next High Level Ministerial Segment (HLMS) at the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in 2019, and beyond. From a policy analysis perspective, the author meanders through the increasing tendency to legally regulate recreational cannabis markets notwithstanding the obligation enshrined in the UN drug control conventions to limit cannabis exclusively for ‘medical and scientific’ purposes. Taking into account relevant national and international developments, the chapter describes how the growing discomfort with the status of cannabis and the prohibitive and punitive approach stemming from the international drug control regime went through a process from soft to hard defections of the treaty obligations. The case of the Netherlands demonstrates the difficulty faced by reform-minded states in reconciling their wish for a different cannabis control mechanism with their obligations under international law, resulting in an incomplete regulation of its coffee-shop system, where small amounts of cannabis are tolerated for sale, but where the illicit supply to the shops remained unregulated. Subsequent more wide-ranging reforms to regulate cannabis from seed to sale in Uruguay, several US States and – in 2018 – in Canada, are clearly violating the obligations of the UN drug control conventions. Nevertheless, the HLMS will likely leave the elephant in the room untouched. The emerging paradigm shift regarding cannabis shows that a modernisation of the UN drug control regime is long overdue. This chapter discusses some of the options available.
The landscape for international drug policy is shifting rapidly as the tensions between the objectives, assumptions and activities that are being introduced at local level are tearing apart the assumptions on which the system was founded. Countries are divided into camps that pursue different aims with drug policy. In addition to an established distinction between those that seek to reduce drug harms and those pursuing a vision of a drug-free world, some UN member states have established licit markets for products that the conventions hold are available for medical and scientific purposes. This incongruence is matched by states in the other camp who apply capital and corporal punishment ostensibly in pursuit of a public health objective. These differences over underlying values, but also in the use of evidence, and interpreting the purpose of the drug control system are no longer reconcilable. While there is pressure on maintaining the system, it no longer serves an organic function and continues mainly for the benefit of constituent members. With the dissolution of US leadership, drug policy is no longer operating within an effective international framework.