The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) has launched a counter-offensive against moves to liberalise drug laws around the world, warning that cannabis legalisation poses a grave danger to public health.
The US Drug Enforcement Agency has now walked back statements it made about the trafficking of marijuana grown in the US to buyers in Mexico, after being met with skepticism by other law enforcement agents and experts and being pressed to divulge more information on the allegedly burgeoning problem. The claim that Mexican drug cartel members were taking US-grown weed and selling it at a premium to Mexican customers first emerged in a broader NPR report on the effects of legalized marijuana on the illicit drug trade.
If D.C. residents vote to legalize marijuana possession next week, it wouldn’t just mean a sea change in drug policy in the nation’s capital. It could also mean big business. A study by District financial officials shared with lawmakers estimates a legal D.C. cannabis market worth $130 million a year. The ballot initiative voters will see Tuesday does not allow for the legal sale of marijuana — only the possession and home cultivation of small amounts — but D.C. Council members gathered Thursday to hear testimony about what a legal sales regime might look like.
Suppose the United States government helps to negotiate, and subsequently champions, certain framework treaties – ones justly viewed as imposing significant constraints on all signatories. Down the road, the United States occasionally even calls out counterparties for their looser policy innovations, when the latter push the outer boundaries of what’s permitted under the treaties; a treaty-created monitoring body does likewise in its annual reporting. This pattern essentially holds year in and year out and from one presidential administration to the next.
These are interesting times for drug law reform, which, as it gathers pace, is asking important questions of international law. A UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs is set for 2016 just as national reforms are challenging international treaties that form the bedrock of a global prohibition regime that has dominated since the turn of the twentieth century. States parties to the three UN drug control conventions must now confront the legal and political dilemmas this creates. This is the situation in which the US now finds itself following cannabis reforms in various states that are at odds with these treaties.
The 43-year-old war on drugs had never seen such a barrage of opposition as it did in 2014, with successful marijuana legalization initiatives in several U.S. states, California’s historic approval of sentencing reform for low level drug offenders and world leaders calling for the legal regulation of all drugs — all of which cement the mainstream appeal of drug policy alternatives and offer unprecedented momentum going into 2015.
Some 20 years ago, a Spanish official in favor of lifting the ban on drugs such as marijuana mentioned at a UN meeting that there "might be a more humane option" in the fight against trafficking. She was immediately taken aside by a senior diplomat, who told her in no uncertain terms: "Don't say things like that round here, not even in the washroom." Today, the same official says that internal documents are now circulating within the UN that openly admit to the failure of prohibition.
The dynamics of reform in the Americas continues. This time, the momentum comes from the Caribbean region. Jamaica and other Caribbean Community (CARICOM) member states are now moving to change their marijuana laws. Among the proposed changes discussed in Jamaica were the decriminalisation of possession of small amounts of ganja for recreational and religious use and cultivating it for medicinal purposes.
Legalisation of cannabis is making slow but unstoppable progress across much of the developed world, many experts believe, following the end of prohibition in two US states. In Amsterdam, long famous for its coffee shops, international experts gathering to discuss cannabis regulation said the international conventions, once so heavily policed by the US, would now be increasingly flouted. Already many countries, most notably the Netherlands and Spain, have bypassed the rules.
Last week, NBC’s Today Show giddily announced an exclusive: Privateer Holdings, the Seattle marijuana company long acclaimed locally for its straight, corporate image and Ivy-League-educated bosses, was launching “the first global pot brand” based on the legacy of Bob Marley. The company is likely to start selling pot overseas, says Privateer public-relations director Zack Hutson, previously a spokesperson for Starbucks. “We’re in discussions with a distributor in Israel” – a country with a federally legal medical-marijuana system. Hutson also cites Uruguay and the Netherlands as potential early markets.
William Brownfield, assistant secretary at the US Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, has charged that Jamaica and other Caribbean Community (CARICOM) member states that are moving to change marijuana laws did not consult the US government. He had informal talks with some CARICOM states but said those discussions were "not structured as formal dialogue between governments or between international partners". He also revealed that the US had developed four basic principles to address the issues surrounding the growing move to legalise marijuana. (See also: No need to consult US on ganja, says Knight)
An October statement on drug control from the US State Department has prompted much comment and speculation at home and abroad. Delivered by Ambassador William Brownfield, the ‘Brownfield Doctrine’, as it has been named by some commentators, lays out a four pillar approach the United States will follow in matters of international drug control.
Mexico and the United States cannot pursue diverging policies on marijuana legalization, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto was quoted as saying, hinting he may be open to following the lead taken by some U.S. states in changing drug laws. Political pressure has grown in Mexico to take a more liberal stance on marijuana. In an interview with Spanish newspaper El Pais, Pena Nieto said "we can't continue on this road of inconsistency between the legalization we've had [...] in the most important consumer market, the United States, and in Mexico where we continue to criminalize production of marijuana."
The local pro-ganja lobby in Jamaica is welcoming the vote for the legalisation of ganja in the American states of Oregon, Alaska, and Washington DC. "One of the biggest stumbling blocks has been the fear about how the United States would react to what we are doing and what we seeing happening is a clear indication that the United States people are moving in favour of legalising ganja on a wider and wider basis, whilst Jamaica continues to stall and not be bold enough to do what we need to do," Delano Seiveright, director of the Cannabis Commercial and Medicinal Research Taskforce said. (See also: Jamaica urged to keep ganja debate going)
Made-in-America marijuana is on a roll. More than half the states have now voted to permit pot for recreational or medical use, most recently Oregon and Alaska. As a result, Americans appear to be buying more domestic marijuana, which in turn is undercutting growers and cartels in Mexico. "Two or three years ago, a kilogram of marijuana was worth $60 to $90," says Nabor, a 24-year-old pot grower in the northwestern Mexican state of Sinaloa. "But now they're paying us $30 to $40 a kilo. It's a big difference." (See also: DEA: Cartels now smuggle U.S. pot into Mexico)
Latin America is now at the vanguard of international efforts to promote drug policy reform: Bolivia has rewritten its constitution to recognize the right to use the coca leaf for traditional and legal purposes, Uruguay has become the first nation in the world to adopt a legal, regulated Cannabis market, and Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala, and Ecuador are openly critiquing the prevailing international drug control paradigm at the UN. And now with the United States itself relaxing its marijuana laws state by state, the U.S. prohibitionist drug war strategies are losing credibility in the region.
Retail marijuana sales for adults are now legal (at least at the state level) in Colorado and Washington. Next month, voters in Alaska and Oregon may decide to follow suit. It is nearly certain that marijuana legalization will make it onto the California ballot in 2016, during a presidential election season that will generate enormous interest among young voters. Robert MacCoun looks at options for designing a marijuana proposal.
Illicit drugs made from plants (e.g., cocaine, heroin) are being replaced in some national drug markets by those that are synthesized (e.g., methamphetamine, fentanyl). The U.S. has had a parallel experience in the past decade with the rise of illicit consumption of synthetic opioids and cannabinoids. If illicit drug markets continue to separate from an agricultural base, it would upend traditional understandings of drug markets and drug policy.
A Colorado marijuana innovation is changing the way lawmakers in even the most conservative parts of the country talk about cannabis and is poised to create a rapid expansion in the number of states that have legalized marijuana in some way. But many marijuana advocates view the new political campaign with skepticism, fearing it could halt their movement's momentum. Taken to its logical conclusion, medical marijuana could be a "box canyon" for broader legalization efforts.