In the United States, marijuana is a national issue with many states struggling to get their bills passed—Ohio and California being two that have failed so far. But to those states that have legalized it, the issues surrounding marijuana might seem more like a local concern given the fact that they can only do business within their state’s lines.
However, marijuana is an international drug and the United States is not the only country trying to legitimize the substance, erase the black market and lower the prices where it is already legalized. Marijuana is a global issue, and it seems that despite international treaties and sanctions that vilify the drug, many countries are moving forward in attempt to embrace it.
Canada, the United States’ northern neighbor, has recently and very publicly been addressing its struggle getting marijuana legalized. The new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made marijuana part of his platform, stating that one of his first intentions upon gaining office would be to get marijuana recreationally legalized.
While his efforts since elected seem to mirror his campaign promises, he is running into snags. Many of these are due to a trio of United Nations treaties that Canada is a part of. The treaties are the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs from 1961, the Convention on Psychotropic Substances from 1971 and the United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances from 1988.
Each aforementioned treaty labels cannabis and its derivatives as Schedule I substances and places similar restrictions on it as are placed on opium-based drugs, stimulants, barbiturates and psychedelics.
Whereas both the United States and Canada are federal structures, states’ rights in the U.S. have allowed for decriminalization and legalization in a piecemeal manner. Trudeau is having trouble with Canada’s provinces, which do not seem to be on board with broad legalization.
South of the United States is a different story. In November 2015, Mexico’s Supreme Court declared that marijuana use was a basic human right. While this has been a big step forward ideologically, it has not done much by way of law. President Enrique Pena Nieto opposes outright legalization, but wants the medical benefits available to all those who need it. While policy change is in the works, Pena Nieto said he wanted to solidify the state’s formal position toward the drug before the United Nations drug policy meeting later this year.
Italy is a country that might not generally be associated with marijuana, but it is the site of a large potential shift in the status of marijuana. Medicinal marijuana has been legal in Italy since 2013, and it was largely decriminalized in July 2015.
A new bill was also introduced in 2016 that decriminalized many marijuana infractions, in addition to many other infractions such as obscene acts and driving without a license. While this was done partly as an attempt to help fix one of the least efficient justice systems in the world, it speaks to the changing views of marijuana and that it is no longer broadly placed on the same pedestal as drugs like heroin.
The world’s drug issues will again be discussed in April this year during the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs, which is the group behind the three treaties with which Trudeau and Canada are struggling.
While it is not expected that much will change, it will be interesting to see what comes from the assembly considering the potential contribution of the Global Forum of Producers of Prohibited Plants. This is a group of 14 countries with the aim of influencing UNGASS with a focus on human rights. While this group has more liberal views than are typical, its goals include involving all affected communities in large-scale decisions, removing the current UN policies that make modern medicinal uses of substances illegal, eradicating prohibition and ending the war on drugs.