A key election promise of Canada’s recently elected liberal government was the commitment to legalize recreational marijuana.
During the campaign, the liberal platform stated, “We will legalize, regulate, and restrict access to marijuana. Canada’s current system of marijuana prohibition does not work. It does not prevent young people from using marijuana and to many Canadians end up with criminal records for possessing small amounts of the drug.”
It’s an unknown whether Canadian Prime Minister designate, Justin Trudeau, will fulfil his party’s campaign promise. If the Canadian government proceeds in legalizing marijuana, it could force a change in global drug policies and the legalization would be a first among developed nations.
While four U.S. states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana, it’s still illegal at the U.S. federal level. The only other country to legalize the growing of cannabis was Uruguay, and all cannabis grown in the country must be sold to the government, which theoretically leaves the government in control of the substance. Developed countries, including Spain and the Netherlands have relaxed enforcement of cannabis laws, but no developed country has actually legalized its recreational use, so Canada’s legalization would be a first.
Canada’s legalization of recreational marijuana would have immense global repercussions, due to individual countries’ drug policies being tied to three international treaties or conventions. These conventions resulted in the so-called war on drugs being a global effort.
If Canada’s new government legalizes cannabis it would be a rejection of the conventions to which Canada is a party. Canada, the U.S. and most countries signed three conventions, the 1961 Single Convention of Narcotic Drugs; the 1971 UN Convention on Psychotropic Drugs; and the 1988 UN Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Drugs.
The common thread of these three conventions is the limitation or prohibition of the possession, use, trade and distribution of narcotics, including cannabis, other than for medical or scientific purposes. The objective was to stop international drug trafficking.
These conventions do not allow any recreational use of cannabis, which is exactly what Canada’s liberal party promised to do as part of their election platform. If Canada were to legalize cannabis, they would be violating the terms of the three conventions. Canada would be sending a message to the U.S. and the rest of the world that the conventions are no longer approriate. Normally, a country’s blatant violation of a convention would result in a diplomatic backlash. This would not likely be the case if Canada were to legalize marijuana. For the past decades the war against drugs has been led by the United States. It’s unlikely that the U.S. would confront its northern neighbor over legalization, since the U.S. government has ignored the actions of its states that legalized recreational marijuana.
Canada’s potential action to legalize cannabis may occur against the backdrop of a planned 2016 United Nations special session, to review drug policy. Many advocates of the legalization of marijuana see this special session as an opportunity to change the international treaties to allow the legalization of recreational marijuana.
There is no guarantee that Canada will change its laws regarding marijuana, but if it does it would show the rest of the world that the conventions are irrelevant.