The United Nations second guesses America’s new marijuana laws

The U.N. General Assembly / Photo: Luke Redmond, used under Flickr Creative Commons license
The U.N. General Assembly / Photo: Luke Redmond, used under Flickr Creative Commons license

WASHINGTON, November 13, 2014 — First it was the effort to pull America into the vortex of the U.N. Small Arms Treaty and the Law Of The Sea Treaty (aptly named ‘LOST’), Agenda 21, and Cap and Trade. Now, the U.N. has decided it doesn’t approve of recent decisions of voters in Colorado, Oregon, Washington State and Alaska.

“I don’t see how (the new laws) can be compatible with existing conventions,” Yury Fedotov, executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), told reporters.

How an American state’s verdict on the legalization of Marijuana or anything else is the business of the United Nations or Mr. Fedetov, is a question that insists upon an answer.

Wells C. Bennett of the Brookings Institute says that for decades, the United States has been the driving force behind the “global drug control treaty system, which limits the use of marijuana exclusively to medical and scientific purposes, and obligates governments to punish and even criminalize recreational marijuana activity.”

The United States was the international power that initiated the original treaty process, beginning in the early 20th century. The U.S. organized a conference of 12 nations in Shanghai, China in 1909, to address the global trade of Opium.

Named the International Opium Commission, the resulting treaty was signed by Great Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, Russia, Siam (Thailand), Persia (Iran), Portugal, China, the Netherlands and the United States. The agreement stated:

“The contracting Powers shall use their best endeavors to control, or to cause to be controlled, all persons manufacturing, importing, selling, distributing, and exporting morphine, cocaine, and their respective salts, as well as the buildings in which these persons carry such an industry or trade.”

Revisions to the treaty were passed in 1915 and 1925 under the League of Nations. These treaties dealt with Opium, Coca, and their derivatives: cocaine, heroin and morphine. Subsequently, under the U.N.’s “Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs” in 1961, a designation called “Schedule 1” was adopted, which added Cannabis to the sanctions.

Drug control is interwoven with American foreign policy. Despite this, countries like the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, and some in Latin America — Bolivia, Columbia and Uruguay — are disregarding the dictates of the U.N. drug control regime as it pertains to marijuana, primarily because of the practical impossibility of controlling it and the criminal enterprises and corruption associated with its distribution.

The UNODC exists primarily for the purpose of enforcing the will of the United States as it regards controlled substances in general and Cannabis in particular. The status quo it has protected has allowed criminal empires to flourish around the world, destabilizing governments and creating violence, while a “disproportionate burden is placed on weaker states that are home to narcotics production and trafficking,” writes Virginia Comolli for the Council on Foreign Relations.

In nearly all countries, marijuana is still either technically or explicitly illegal, but many nations are implementing steps towards legalization by reducing the penalties to the equivalent of an infraction or misdemeanor in an American city.

The chief irony is that new laws in Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska threaten to expose the reality that treaties such as the Single Convention find both the U.N. and Washington to be emperors without clothing.

Some conservatives who decry the legalization or de-criminalization of marijuana will find the action of these states in the de facto erosion of the treaty, producing symptoms of cognitive dissonance. That’s because even though a segment of conservatives strongly oppose de-criminalization, nearly all are of the opinion that individual American states are justified constitutionally to resist and ignore international laws based on treaties that supersede and contradict domestic laws.

The tide of public sentiment against de-criminalization of marijuana is receding and promises to pull states like California and Massachusetts into the meridian of legalization.

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Experts expect that if California voters approve legalization in some form in 2016, Mexico will likely follow suit, particularly because of a growing consensus that doing so will have a crippling effect on the revenue base and violent acts of narco traffickers.

Asked by Reuters whether there was anything the UNODC could do about the new situation in America, Fedotov said he would “raise the problem next week with the U.S. State Department and other U.N. Agencies.” He suggested that the U.S. developments may be part of a wider trend that the UNODC was following.

Follow they may, but they have no more authority to impose international law on individual states with regard to marijuana than they do to regulate the Second Amendment, the Internet, climate change, or community development and planning. And neither does John Kerry.

The District of Columbia’s voters approved an initiative for partial legalization of Cannabis. Initiative 71 allows adults 21 or older to possess two ounces or less of marijuana, grow up to six plants at home, and transfer up to an ounce at a time to other adults “without remuneration.”

Yet to be seen is whether Initiative 71 is taken up by the lame duck Congress or the 2015 Congress after the first of the year, as such a change requires congressional authorization.

It seems reasonable to conclude that individual rights of personal ownership of firearms should be on a level playing field with marijuana in D.C., but that’s another bizarre disconnect in all of this.

On all sides of the personal liberty issue, whether it is guns, Marijuana or private property rights, it’s hard not to recognize, as the saying goes, “as one man’s meat is another man’s poison, so one man’s rubbish is another man’s treasure”.


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  • “Yet to be seen is whether Initiative 71 is taken up by the lame duck Congress or the 2015 Congress after the first of the year, as such a change requires congressional authorization.”

    This is not accurate. The DC Council Chairperson has to submit the law to Congress for a 30-day review period. He has indicated that he will do this in January. At this point, Congress has 30 legislative days to pass a resolution overriding the law. If a resolution is not enacted by the end of that period, the initiative automatically becomes law.

    This is true of all laws in the District, despite the fact that the District has zero voting representation in Congress.