While much of the struggle for adult-use cannabis centers on US policy, we often forget that international policy shapes the conversation, as well. Most of our international treaties on drug control date back to the 1960s, when cannabis prohibition was alive and well.
International bodies like the UN haven’t addressed changing these drug treaties since 1988, but 2020 could be a different story.
On Thursday, February 27, the UN’s narcotics enforcement arm, INCB, led a presentation on cannabis. The INCB’s president, Cornelis de Joncheere, suggested that drug treaties written 60 years ago are no longer relevant in 2020. de Joncheere said the INCB now needs to embrace new processes and instruments to keep up with the cannabis movement.
It’s important to note that, in its 2019 report, the INCB found that most adult-use cannabis legalization flies in the face of international drug treaties. In other words, countries that allow adult-use cannabis are technically doing so in breach of international law.
While the INCB is still staunchly against adult-use cannabis, it’s softened its opinion, calling for greater access to medical cannabis and research.
The UN’s health organization, WHO, is taking a more radical approach. Since 2019, the WHO has called for the UN to reclassify cannabis in these international treaties. The United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs is set to meet in Vienna this week to review the WHO’s recommendations on cannabis.
While it’s easy to dismiss international law, it does have an impact on adult-use efforts in the United States. Lax international laws could put more pressure on the federal government to reschedule cannabis. Since the Drug Enforcement Agency classifies cannabis as a Schedule I drug as a result of these international treaties, a reclassification could put pressure on US authorities.
But, ultimately, the United States is still a sovereign nation. In reality, it’s unlikely that UN treaties will have a huge impact on adult-use cannabis in the US. However, as more organizations call for rescheduling cannabis, the better chance activists have of pushing through adult-use cannabis at the federal level in the US.
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