Tomorrow will be Canada’s 150th birthday and apparently, there is no better way to celebrate than by violating three UN drug treaties.
Marijuana.com has reported that in the process of legalization, Canada will be forced to somehow deal with three major UN drug treaties it was a party to in past decades. Any country that plans to withdraw from this treaty needs to do so at least one year in advance, and with Prime Minister Trudeau’s self-imposed deadline of July 2018 to make adult-use marijuana available, that one year mark should be tomorrow.
The only inkling of a position thus far from the Government of Canada on the issue was from Adam Austen, a spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland.
In a recent email statement, Austen said that the government is looking at its international commitments, but also made reference to the various U.S. states that have violated the treaties by legalizing adult-use cannabis.
“We are committed to working with our global partners to best promote public health and combat illicit drug trafficking,” said Austen. “Canada remains fully compliant with its obligations under the international drug treaties at this time.”
University of Ottawa Law Professor Steven Hoffman spoke with Marijuana.com to clarify America’s approach. “The U.S. states did violate the treaties, except that it’s much more difficult to hold the U.S. [federal] Government responsible for that violation,” he said. “The federal government in the U.S. doesn’t have the ability to act on this [because] criminal law is set mostly by the states, so when individual states are doing this, the federal government isn’t able to stop them.”
Hoffman was also quick to point out that the day in which Canada would be in violation the treaties would not be the day after tomorrow, but rather the actual day next year when cannabis becomes legal and available.
Another possible way of dealing with the agreements could be delaying the date at which Canada legalizes, but Hoffman points out that the move is “unlikely to be very popular among the majority of Canadians.” Hoffman also said that Canada can look for a workaround with the treaties, in order for us to “have our cannabis cake and eat it too.”
One of the ideas Hoffman put forth was an ingenious proposal made by his University of Ottawa law students. “[They came up with] a way to take advantage of the scientific purposes exemption. In order to take advantage of that exemption, the government would basically have to say that the reason we are legalizing cannabis, is with the intent of advancing a scientific objective.” That means Canada would need to, for example, say that legalization was part of a social experiment to see its effects on society, and the only way those results can be achieved would be to legalize.
In the past, Hoffman has said that the worst option possible for Canada would be to ignore the treaties altogether because it sets a precedent for countries to do whatever they want despite their international commitments. This ripple effect could include agreements on human trafficking, environmental responsibilities, and other significant global accords.
As time and effort march forward for cannabis reform in Canada, the country seems to have everything under control. Canada’s cannabis bill has already passed the second reading in Parliament, and individual provinces are working out frameworks of distribution. How we plan to deal with our international commitments, however, remains a mystery.