Is Legalization A Basic Human Right?

Human Right / Flavio Takemoto

By Marguerite Arnold


As voters prepare to go to the polls in American primaries and caucuses this year, the issue of legalization is shaping political choices in races from the presidency to municipal contests. Internationally, however, sovereign governments, and the top academics and thought leaders who advise them, are moving ahead in some of their own intriguing ways.

In early November 2015, Mexico’s Supreme Court decided that marijuana use was a basic human right, critical to self-determination. As such it became the first government in the world to consider marijuana use beyond the rights of governments to restrict access for reasons other than contamination or basic public safety.

Less than a month later, Asa Kasher, a top Israeli ethicist, advised a Knesset committee in Israel that the country’s government should ease restrictions even further than it has for medical marijuana and also allow regulated recreational use. Israel has long been a leader in medical use and has expanded legal medical use rapidly to the point where regular doctors can now prescribe the drug beyond the initial “pain clinics” that had been set up in Israel less than a decade ago.

What does this mean for the legalization battle internationally and domestically?

With the German government cautiously moving ahead on marijuana legalization, seemingly in step with major developments elsewhere, these are intriguing times for the global industry.

It also appears that the question of legalization is increasingly giving way from never to when and in what measure.

The sea change in attitudes over the course of less than a generation has taken place for several reasons. The fact that millennials are coming of age is just one of the many.  Millennials do not sit on the Supreme Courts of any country or regularly give advice to national lawmakers.

Beyond any generational impact, and frequently tied to the shift in attitudes both societally and legally about gay marriage, marijuana legalization has become an issue of the times.

The civil rights implications of the discussion, that also include race-based arrests and incarceration rates and other associated fallout from the drug war, are impacting the court of global opinion.

How this will affect decisions and the speed of legalization in American state markets is unlikely to be clear for some time. However, the needle of the discussion has clearly shifted into go mode. Where it might well play out and in the near future is in the challenges, especially in the courts, over employment law.

This is, procedurally and legally, along with banking issues, advertising and regulation, a problem that legalization is causing on the federal level, an issue that the states by themselves cannot solve.

While the discussion on the campaign trail now, if not now around office water coolers, is hardly focused on human rights, most Americans believe that federal legalization, no matter the party line of the candidate who takes the White House, is just around the corner. And when federal legalization occurs, the matter of American civil rights in the legalization discussion should be front and center.

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