How marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington is making the world a better place
It's time to explore a multilateral reworking of the drug control treaties to better reflect current realities.
No pressure, Colorado and Washington, but the world is scrutinizing your every move.
That was the take-home message of an event today at the Brookings Institution, discussing the international impact of the move toward marijuana legalization at the state-level in the U.S. Laws passed in Colorado and Washington, with other states presumably to come, create a tension with the U.S. obligations toward three major international treaties governing drug control. Historically the U.S. has been a strong advocate of all three conventions, which "commit the United States to punish and even criminalize activity related to recreational marijuana," according to Brookings' Wells Bennet.
The U.S. response to this tension has thusfar been to call for more "flexibility" in how countries interpret them. This policy was made explicit in recent remarks by Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield, who last week at the United Nations said that "we have to be tolerant of different countries, in response to their own national circumstances and conditions, exploring and using different national drug control policies." He went on: "How could I, a representative of the Government of the United States of America, be intolerant of a government that permits any experimentation with legalization of marijuana if two of the 50 states of the United States of America have chosen to walk down that road?"
As far as policy stances go this is an aggressively pragmatic solution. The federal government lacks the resources and perhaps the political will to crack down on the legalization states, but it also likely doesn't want to openly admit that it's allowing regulation regimes that openly contradict the provisions of major treaties. By saying that those treaties allow for interpretation, the government is attempting to carve out some space to allow legalization experiments to continue with minimal boat-rocking.
But as Wells Bennet and John Walsh of the Washington Office on Latin America write in a new Brookings report, that position will "rapidly become implausible and unsustainable if legalization spreads and succeeds." At today's event, Martin Jelsma of the Transnational Institute, an international think tank, agreed: "The U.S. is hesitant to acknowledge that the legal regulation [of marijuana] is a direct violation of the treaty system... you have reached the limit of what you can defend applying the most flexible interpretation of the treaty system."