John Walsh, Martin Jelsma, Tom Blickman, David Bewley-Taylor
19 March 2019
The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD or Expert Committee) released in January 2019 the outcomes of the first-ever critical review of cannabis, recommending a series of changes in the current scheduling of cannabis-related substances under the UN drug control conventions.
Policy changes over the past five years or so have dramatically reshaped the global cannabis market. Not only has there been an unprecedented boom in medical markets, but following policy shifts in several jurisdictions a growing number of countries are also preparing for legal regulation of non-medical use. Such moves look set to bring a clear range of benefits in terms of health and human rights. As this groundbreaking Report, highlights, however, there are also serious concerns about the unfolding market dynamics.
TNI's Prof. Dave Bewley-Taylor recently delivered a statement on how states can reconcile treaty obligations with democratically mandated policy shifts at the national level to a legally regulated cannabis market, with due regard for international law, and what role the International Narcotics Control Board can play in this process.
David Bewley-Taylor, Tom Blickman, Martin Jelsma, John Walsh
03 April 2018
Ever since the introduction of Bill C-45, questions have been swirling concerning Canada’s position relative to the UN drug control conventions: conventions to which Canada is a party and that, crucially, prohibit the creation of regulated markets for the recreational use of cannabis.
Martin Jelsma, Neil Boister, David Bewley-Taylor, Malgosia Fitzmaurice, John Walsh
15 March 2018
Legal tensions are growing within the international drug control regime as increasing numbers of member states move towards or seriously consider legal regulation of the cannabis market for non-medical purposes. Amongst reform options not requiring consensus, inter se modification appears to be the most ‘elegant’ approach and one that provides a useful safety valve for collective action to adjust a treaty regime arguably frozen in time.
Jamie Bridge, Martin Jelsma, Tom Blickman, Marie Nougier, David Bewley-Taylor, Christopher Hallam
29 September 2017
Diplomatic processes at the United Nations are notoriously slow and difficult, perhaps increasingly so in a modern world of multi-polar geopolitics and tensions. This is certainly no different for the highly charged and provocative issue of international drug control.
A special session of the General Assembly took place in April revealing a growing divergence in the global drug policy landscape. Difficult negotiations resulted in a disappointing outcome document, perpetuating a siloed approach to drugs at the UN level. There is a clear need to realign international drug policies with the overarching 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals, embedding the drugs issue comprehensively within the UN’s three pillars: development, human rights, and peace and security. The UNGASS process has helped to set the stage for more substantial changes in the near future, towards the next UN review in 2019.
In 2012, voters in the US states of Washington, Colorado and Oregon were given the opportunity to vote in ballot initiatives for the creation of legally regulated cannabis markets. Washington’s Initiative 502 and Colorado’s Amendment 64 both passed with 55.7% and 55.3% of the vote respectively. Oregon’s Measure 80 failed with 53.4% of those voting rejecting the measure. As calls for and legal processes towards the initiation of cannabis policy reform become more common within US states, it is a timely and useful exercise to reflect upon the campaigns for reform in Washington (WA), Colorado (CO) and Oregon (OR) and examine why the public supported cannabis policy reform in some instances and not others.
State-level cannabis reforms have exposed the inability of the United States to abide by the terms of the legal bedrock of the global drug control system. It is calls for a conversation the US federal government wishes to avoid. The result is a new official position on the UN drugs treaties that, despite its seductively progressive tone, serves only to sustain the status quo and may cause damage beyond drug policy.
State-level cannabis reforms, which gathered steam this month, have exposed the inability of the United States to abide by the terms of the legal bedrock of the global drug control system; the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. This is something that should force a much-needed conversation about reform to long- standing international agreements. But while ostensibly 'welcoming' the international drug policy reform debate, it is a conversation the US federal government actually wishes to avoid.
David Bewley-Taylor, Martin Jelsma, Christopher Hallam
16 June 2014
Scheduling is mostly prioritised in its repressive pole, though present debates are increasingly highlighting the need to modify the balance of the system in order to affirm the importance of the principle of health.
Cannabis was condemned by the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs as a psychoactive drug with “particularly dangerous properties” and hardly any therapeutic value. Ever since, an increasing number of countries have shown discomfort with the treaty regime’s strictures through soft defections, stretching its legal flexibility to sometimes questionable limits.
Emily Crick, Heather J. Haase, David Bewley-Taylor
14 November 2013
In November 2012, voters in two US states – Washington and Colorado – approved ballot initiatives to establish legally regulated markets for the production, sale, use and taxation of cannabis (commonly referred to in the US as marijuana). This is the first time anywhere in the world that the recreational use of the drug will be legally regulated – the wellknown coffee shop system in the Netherlands is merely tolerated rather than enshrined in law. Needless to say, with implications both within and beyond US borders, the drug policy community is watching Colorado and Washington closely.
A growing number of nations are developing policies that shift away from the prohibition-oriented failed approach to drugs control. Ultimately however nations will need to reform the overall UN based global drug control framework of which practically all nations are a part.
Recent years have seen a growing unwillingness among increasing numbers of States parties to fully adhere to a strictly prohibitionist reading of the UN drug control conventions; the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (as amended by the 1972 Protocol), the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances; and the 1988 Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.
March 2011 marked the 50th anniversary of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. This legal instrument, the bedrock of the current United Nations based global drug control regime, is often viewed as merely a consolidating treaty bringing together the multilateral drug control agreements that preceded it; an erroneous position that does little to provide historical context for contemporary discussions surrounding revision of the international treaty system.
Fifty years after its entering into force, it is time for a critical reflection on the validity of the Single Convention today: a reinterpretation of its historical significance and an assessment of its aims, its strengths and its weaknesses.
The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) remains one of the least transparent and most secretive of UN bodies. It meets in secret, and while agendas can now be found on the INCB’s website, no minutes of its meetings are published, nor are the analyses by which it arrives at its positions on policy issues.