There are two reasons to wish for spring in Canada this year. The first is obvious:
The second is that Prime Minister Trudeau and his cabinet are still on track to bring forth legislation that will legalize adult-use cannabis for the whole country.
As wonderful as that news sounds, the Prime Minister still has three international issues to tackle before we can vape in peace. Those are the UN narcotics treaties Canada was a party to in the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s.
So how does Canada deal with these issues and still exchange pleasantries with the countries that don’t agree with its stance on cannabis?
Steven Hoffman is a University of Ottawa Law Professor and he took the time to explain how Canada can make an amicable split from these treaties, or at least work around them so everyone can achieve their desired goals. “The current government will have a challenge in that they run up against the United Nations drug control treaties that require countries like Canada to enact state punishment for the possession, use, and purchase of cannabis. These are treaties that the government will have to either find a creative way around or withdraw from them.”
Hoffman noted that the treaties do contain certain stipulations, despite their one-sided view of marijuana when they were enacted. “Medical marijuana is allowed because in the treaties there’s a provision that allows for the use of cannabis for medical purposes.”
When these treaties were signed, there was no evidence in the eyes of the various governments that cannabis had any medicinal qualities, but the provision was included in case these medical uses were found in the future. “Article 4c of the Single Convention on Narcotics specifically says that under the treaties, cannabis can only be used for medical and scientific purposes. It was an understanding that these are drugs, that some drugs have medicinal properties, and so the treaties did not want to exclude people from accessing a drug like cannabis if in the future it was proven to have those medicinal qualities.”
Medical marijuana is now an abundant industry in the great white north, but for adult-use cannabis Trudeau will need to dip into that Bachelor of Arts degree of his, and come up with a creative solution to break away from these agreements.
“I think the ideal path would be that Canada should attempt to revise the treaties. [The treaties] are old, outdated, they’re mean, and they’re not reflective of current science,” said Hoffman. He explained that the “meanness” comes from the fact that these treaties look upon things like drug addiction as a criminal offense rather than a medical condition.
Hoffman said the reality is that many countries are opposed to making the treaties more progressive and Canada’s attempt to change them are unlikely to be successful. “There are still some countries out there that have capital punishment for drug trafficking, including cannabis.”
Hoffman was quick to point out that ignoring the treaties could prove to be the most damaging for Canada and the rest of the world. “The worst thing we could do is to totally ignore the treaties because then we’d be violating international law. We can’t pick and choose which international laws to follow without encouraging other countries to do the same.”
While encouraging other countries to scoff marijuana laws is one thing, giving other countries a license to ignore issues that include human rights as an example, is another. “We have all sorts of programs to promote human rights protections and to prevent genocide. If we start picking and choosing which treaties to follow other countries will do the same.”
So if Canada can’t ignore the agreements and has an uphill climb ahead to revise them, what is the path of least resistance to legalizing adult-use cannabis for Canadians?
“Realistically the most feasible route, if we seek and can’t obtain a reservation, then we should withdraw from the treaties.” Although on the surface it may sound like a big deal to pull-out of these international commitments, Hoffman states that it’s not as big of a deal as we may think. “I don’t think withdrawing is such a radical move in the sense that these treaties are already outdated, from a different era, and have proven to be ineffective.”
So it seems Canada has options when dealing with the UN, but what about our “best bud” the United States?
President Trump has stated that he would like to respect states’ rights when it comes to marijuana, but will the same be true if an entire country sharing its Northern border wants to allow pot for anyone over 19? And even if the United States doesn’t agree with Canada’s move on cannabis, can they do anything to make it more difficult on the international stage?
“Maintaining good relations with the United States will be of vital importance to Canada’s interests. Under international law, the international legal obligation falls under the [American] federal government and the federal government still views cannabis as an illegal substance. It is possible that the federal government of the United States could take a very strong negotiating position with Canada in an attempt to stop Canada from legalizing.”
As the icicles begin to melt, Canadians will look to their leaders for some direction on our pending legal weed. The United Nations will also have some questions for our Prime Minister on the same subject. How Trudeau responds to them could be the determining factor as to when we will all get enjoy some quality, legal, Canadian pot.