Home > criminal justice, law, philosophy, politics, regulation > Eric Sterling on International Treaties vs. Marijuana Legalization

Eric Sterling on International Treaties vs. Marijuana Legalization

Justice and Drugs:

Alternet.org has a very thoughtful article by three members of the New York City Bar Association’s Drugs and the Law Committee on the way international treaties impact efforts to legalize marijuana in the U.S.

The U.S. has signed the Single Convention on Narcotics (1961) and Article VI of the U.S. Constitution provides that federal law and treaties are the “supreme Law of the Land.” The various states are governed by these treaties, and thus limit the ability of any state to legalize marijuana. This is certain to become an issue in the summer and fall of 2012 as the voters of Washington State, Colorado and Oregon consider initiatives to legalize marijuana. If one or more of these pass, these international treaties will be a factor in how the federal government responds.

The authors — Heather J. Haase, Esq., Nicolas Eyle, and Joshua Schrimpf, Esq. — note that the international consensus behind these treaties is being shaken.

A major change in the traditional protocol of the treaties — don’t rock the boat — is coming from Bolivia. When Bolivia (and Peru) acceded to the Single Convention (what we in the U.S. call ratifying the treaty), they agreed to ban their long-time practices of coca chewing and drinking coca tea after 25 years (Article 49.2(e), Single Convention of Narcotics). Since 1987, they have not been in compliance.

A couple of years ago, Bolivia rewrote its constitution and decided to try to change the requirement that it disapprove of coca use. (Bolivia’s President, Evo Morales, came to political prominence as the leader of the union of coca growers!).

Bolivia tried to get the U.N.’s Commission on Narcotics Drugs to change the prohibition on coca use, unsuccessfully.

Now Bolivia is using different approach which is to “withdraw” from the treaty (called “denunciation,” Article 46, Single Convention on Narcotics) and then joining the treaty again (“accession,” Article 40) but with reservations (Article 50.3). The reservation can be rejected if it is objected to by one-third of the countries that are party to the Single Convention within twelve months after a country notified the U.N. Secretary General it wants a reservation. That means that one-third of the 183 nations (“parties”) have to object.

This type of strategy is outlined in chapter 6 in the excellent book by Robin Room, Benedict Fischer, Wayne Hall, Simon Lenton and Peter Reuter, Cannabis Policy: Moving Beyond Stalemate, (Oxford U. Press, 2010).

Image via Criminal Justice Policy Reform

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