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Does Legal Weed Violate International Drug Treaties?

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The United States government has been in violation of international drug treaties for the past few years, ever since allowing the fine people of Colorado and Washington to buy and sell recreational reefer without fear of prosecution. However, a recent report from the Brookings Institution finds that while this metaphorical pissing on the United Nations has not brought down the savage hand of international authorities, that could all change next month when voters in Alaska, Oregon and the District of Columbia head to the polls to decide on joining the statewide cannabis circus.

Wells Bennett, a fellow in National Security Law, who works with the Brookings Institution’s Governance Studies program, claims that while the U.S. government has stood beside several international treaties, including the 1961 Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which holds Uncle Sam responsible for punishing criminals dealing in recreational weed, that allegiance was compromised in 2012, with the passing of Colorado’s Amendment 64.

Yet, the Obama Administration maintains that it is in compliance of these treaties because the marijuana laws in Colorado and Washington “leave room for flexibility and prosecutorial discretion.” This means that although the Justice Department stated earlier this year that it would not interfere with the cannabis markets in those states, the word of Attorney General Eric Holder is subject to change as soon as he feels it has become necessary to bring the hammer down.

Despite this, Bennett believes this “wait-and-see” concept is only plausible on a short-term level, and insists it will create a myriad of issues with international law if states continue down the progressive path to legal weed.

“A wait-and-see strategy, under these circumstances, will look really good if marijuana legalization goes really badly. But if legalization proceeds in a smart and rigorous way — if 10, 15, 20 states enact and operate responsible regimes for the regulation of marijuana — we will be enforcing the Controlled Substances Act less and less in jurisdictions that have regulated, legal marijuana markets,” he said.

“That will create more and more tension with our international commitments to suppress marijuana. At that point, it will be extraordinarily difficult for the [United States] to maintain that it complies with its obligations.”

Considering this supposed violation to international drug treaties, how is it that the United States has escaped penalties for going rogue with reefer? It essentially boils down to drug treaties being difficult to enforce. In fact, after Colorado and Washington legalized recreational marijuana, Raymond Yans, head of the International Narcotics Control Board, released a statement proclaiming his disdain for the United States’ deflection from the global agreement, but he never perused the issue.

In a press release, Yans said, “Legalization of cannabis within these states would send wrong and confusing signals to youth and society in general, giving the false impression that drug abuse might be considered normal and even, most disturbingly, safe.”

Interestingly, the Brookings report claims that if the U.S. government continues to advance in its will to allow individual states to legalize marijuana, there is a distinct possibility that world leaders will be forced to remove the herb from its Schedule I classification. Yet, this will not be an easy task, as posting any reform to an international drug treaty would take overwhelming support from over 100 countries that have agreed to the rules.

Removing marijuana from its dangerous drug classification could be a topic of focus, however, when the UN’s General Assembly Special Session on drugs gathers in 2016 to discuss a number of issues pertaining to controlled substances, including legalization. There is speculation that a recent report by the Global Commission on Drug Policy, advising world leaders to experiment with the decriminalization of all illegal substance, will be discussed in detail.

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