Don’t Legalize Marijuana, UN Drug Enforcement Board Warns Countries

March 5, 2018 By Tom Angell

A United Nations drug enforcement body is warning international leaders to keep marijuana illegal.

Countries are supposed to prohibit non-medical use of cannabis under international drug control treaties that most nations signed onto decades ago, but a growing number of U.S. states as well as countries like Canada are moving to enact legalization anyway.

“Governments and jurisdictions in North America have continued to pursue policies with respect to the legalization of the use of cannabis for non-medical purposes, in violation of the 1961 Convention as amended,” the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) wrote in its annual report published last week.

Specifically, INCB said that a proposed marijuana legalization law that is moving through Canada’s Parliament is in “contravention” of the international agreements.

“The Board notes with concern that in Canada, draft legislation intended to authorize and regulate the nonmedical consumption of cannabis was introduced in the House of Commons in April 2017,” the report says. “As the Board has stated repeatedly, if passed into law, provisions of Bill C-45, which permit non-medical and non-scientific use of cannabis would be incompatible with the obligations assumed by Canada under the 1961 Convention as amended.”

The UN body also criticized state cannabis legalization policies in the U.S.

“The situation pertaining to cannabis cultivation and trafficking in North America continues to be in flux owing to the widening scope of personal non-medical use schemes in force in certain constituent states of the United States,” it said. “The decriminalization of cannabis has apparently led organized criminal groups to focus on manufacturing and trafficking other illegal drugs, such as heroin.”

The board warned Uruguay, which enacted a national marijuana legalization law in 2013 that it is in “clear violation” of the drug treaties. “The limitation of the use of controlled substances to medicinal and scientific purposes is a fundamental principle to which no derogation is permitted under the 1961 Convention as amended,” INCB wrote in the new report.

The body also raised concerns about pending proposals in the Netherlands that would legalize and regulate marijuana cultivation, saying that would be “inconsistent” with treaties to which the country is a party.

Jamaica gets called out, too, for its 2015 law allowing marijuana for religious use. “The Board reminds the Government of Jamaica and all other parties that under article 4, paragraph (c), of the 1961 Convention as amended only the medical and scientific use of cannabis is authorized and that use for any other purposes, including religious, is not permitted,” the report says.

While INCB notes throughout the report that medical cannabis is allowed under the international conventions, countries are expected to enact strict controls to “ensure that cannabis is prescribed by competent medical practitioners according to sound medical practice and based on sound scientific evidence.”

And personal cultivation of medical marijuana by patients is not permitted, the board argues.

“Those articles require States providing for the use of cannabis for medical purposes to establish a national cannabis agency to control, supervise and license its cultivation. Such agencies must designate the areas in which the cultivation of cannabis is permitted; ensure the licensing of producers; purchase and take physical possession of stocks; and maintain a monopoly on wholesale trading and maintaining stocks,” the report reads. “States must take measures to prohibit the unauthorized cultivation of cannabis plants, to seize and destroy illicit crops, and to prevent the misuse of and trafficking in cannabis. Similarly, the Board wishes to draw the attention of all Governments to its previously stated position that personal cultivation of cannabis for medical purposes is inconsistent with the 1961 Convention as amended because, inter alia, it heightens the risk of diversion.”

While INCB ostensibly has enforcement authority over the provisions of the international drug control treaties, its actions usually don’t amount to more than the issuing of sternly worded reports, so it is unlikely that this year’s version will do more to stop the international movement toward marijuana legalization than similar past missives have.

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