Cannabis and the Conventions: Aftermath of UNGASS

Side event will consider the growing treaty tensions surround - ing cannabis policy innovations underway in many countries

cannabis conventions cnd2016 flatThe UNGASS 2016 Outcome Document asserted that the United Nations drug conventions “allow for sufficient flexibility for States parties to design and implement national drug policies according to their priorities and needs.” But does such flexibility extend to reforms now being enacted or contemplated in numerous jurisdictions to create legal access to cannabis for purposes other than exclusively “medical and scientific”? In the meantime, the World Health Organization’s Expert Committee on Drug Dependence has announced that it will hold a meeting dedicated to a pre-review of cannabis.

Download the flyer (PDF)

cannabis conventionsThis side event at the 2017 Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) will consider the growing treaty tensions surrounding cannabis policy innovations underway in many countries, and will ask how Member States and the UN system might address these tensions in ways that reinforce the UN pillars of human rights, development, peace and security, and the rule of law.

Thursday, March 16, 2017
9:00 – 9:50 a.m.
Conference Room M7, Vienna International Center

Simultaneous interpretation will be provided between Spanish and English.

See the report of the meeting on CND blog and TNI at CND 2017.

For in-depth analysis, see our report: Cannabis Regulation and the UN Drug Treaties: Strategies for Reform

cannabis side event 2017


  • David Bewley-Taylor, Director, Global Drug Policy Observatory
  • Alison Holcomb, Chief Executive Officer, Action Now Initiative & Author of Washington State cannabis legalization ballot Initiative 502
  • Lisa Sánchez, Project Manager, Mexico Unido Contra la Delincuencia/Transform Drug Policy Foundation
  • Tom Blickman, Senior Policy Researcher, Drugs and Democracy Programme, Transnational Institute
  • John Walsh (Moderator), Senior Associate, Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)

From the CND blog:

John Walsh Washington Office of Latin America (WOLA) – Moderator: The Outcome Document sought to give states flexibility, and now 1 in 5 Americans live in an area where cannabis is legal. Are there growing treaty tensions and what are states doing in addressing these tensions?

Dave Bewley-Taylor, Global Drug Policy Observatory: I’ll provide some historical context in regard to the treaties and where cannabis stands, and look at the legal situation with the tensions as John descrived. The issue was largely ignored in New York, but we will address them here today. Cannabis is the most widely used drug alongside cocaine and hoerin. The UN drug conventions are the most widely adhered to, but I would contend that notion: first is legacy issues and second is the way many parties engage with the rules and norms. S first: they signed in an era different from the one today (50’s and 1960’s) and during a period when drugs are a minor concern for many states. Consequently studies suggesting the dangers of cannabis took precedent and succeeded in demonising the substance and its users. The UN is only just carrying out a formal review of cannabis, and has not done so before. Many states are now moving away from punitive measures set out in the conventions – through legalisation and decriminalisation. Tensions also exist though traditional and religious uses of cannabis. The global south is turning a blind eye to the cultivation of cannabis. The US, Cannada, and Uruguay are all going against the UN treaties by allowing  the use of cannabis for non-medical purposes. States face dilemmas with international law with treaty obligations. Some available options for treaty reforms: change the treaties themselves and the relationships with states and the treaties A period of non-compliance would allow states to work to their relationship with the treaties. States are going to need to formally address these tensions eventually. Details on how is in our report: Treaty reform for all states on consensus approval; treaty reform requiring a majority approval; treaty reform applying to a group of states; treaty reform that applies to individual states; withdrawing from treaties; selective denunciation; and denunciation followed by re-accession with a reservation.

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Alison Holcomb CEO, Action Now Initiative: In 2012 Colorado and Washington were the first to create a legal supply of cannabis for adult use. The legal age for consumption is 21. In 2014 Colorado and Washington also brough their supply online. And more notably last November 4 states legalised cannabis. Now more than 68 million people are living in a state with legal cannabis (21% of the US population). It is possible Michigan will also move to legalise cannabis. Production distribution remains criminal under federal law. Most criminal cases are carried out on a local level. All legalisation began at the local level – from law enforcement making cannabis use a low priority in order to manage their scarce resources. Those who worked with local stakeholders saw more success on the ballot. We must consider how sensitive the new President is to public opinion – public opinion has moved to overall support, but also the sentimaent regarding whether the federal government should interfere with state laws is very strongly opposed to interference. Replications still oppose full legalisation, but when asked about enforcing federal laws against legalising states, 55% of republicans would oppose interference. Interfering with state laws is not a high priority of the Whitehouse right now. We would rather see this written into state legislature rather than going to the ballot first. Vermont is one that has introduced a bill before going to the ballot.

Lisa Sanchez Transform Drug Policy Foundation, MUCD: It’s an honor to be here in this panel of experts. We have been working on this issue for several years. In Latin America: Uruguay is interesting because in comparison with the type of regulation in the US, Uruguay is more geared to state control because it has a tradition of insitutional state presence. They authorised self cultivation, cannabis clubs with certain numbers of members and plants. They wanted effective control of the market, and neighbours had to be given confidence on control of the market. We are seeing a movement in the region, eg. Jamaica decriminalising possession for recreational and medical purposes. The movement has stayed at the medical level. Cannabis offences are very severe in the region, and there are more women in prison than men, but we are now seeing a change in this. Mexico decimrinalised in 2009 and offences are considered small infringements. My organisation went to the high court over the state infringing on personal privacy. We are now having 29 legal initiatives to reform drug policy this year. Chile is very interesting – large plantation, but it’s unclear whether they have legalised or not  (certain reforms – cultivations of cannabis for cannabis use, mothers looking for therapy for epileptic children). We must look at the scientific state in 2017, not in the past. The US context during Obama’s administration gave Mexico the ability to control the drug problem, but this is now being closed by the new Trump administration. We need more political will and more civil society participation and sold scientific research – we will follow the situation in California as it is similar to Mexico’s system. Disinformation and fear of public opinion paralyses our political elites from enacting good laws.

Tom Blickman, Transnational Insitute: The Netherlands still has not legalised cannabis, so it is a strange situation. We have just had elections, so there is a risk of one party who does not want to regulate cannabis and may block the process. We also see a lot of reform at the local level in several European countries urging governments to regulate cannabis. In Spain there are social clubs and a lot of leglisative movement – a law to regulate these clubs for example. In Germany there 20 cities that want to regulate (Berlin) and the same is happening in Switzerland who are are contemplating it (5 cities), Copenhagen is another example of movement. Not a question of ‘if’ but a question of ‘when’. Morocco who has supplied the market for years, is at risk of being cut out when the market is fulfilled domestically – brings us back to the conventions in terms of international trade and who supplies the market.

cannabis side event 2017 room

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