Legalization marijuana in Canada: The United Nations Problem

Legalization in Canada The United Nations Problem

Although it seems that everything is on track to legalize marijuana in Canada, the one elephant in the room which has not been addressed is how the country plans to navigate the UN Drug Control Treaties.

Those prohibitionist-era documents include the Single Convention on Narcotics, the Convention on Psychotropic Substances, and the Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.

Little has been said by the federal government as to how they plan to deal with these signed agreements, but a University of Ottawa student think-tank has come up with a very creative plan to move forward.

“Canada faces a challenge in that the government has decided it’s going to legalize cannabis but also respect the rule of international law at the same time,” said Steven Hoffman, the Associate Professor of Law and Director of the Global Strategy Lab in an interview with “Those two goals are not easily reconciled given the UN Drug Control Treaties make it very clear that countries have to prohibit cannabis for nonmedical purposes,” added Hoffman.

Hoffman decided it was a great exercise for the next generation of Canadian lawyers to ponder over. “I gave my students the impossible task of trying to find a way that the Canadian government could legalize cannabis for all purposes, without violating the treaties and without withdrawing from the treaties,” said Hoffman.

The students assessed the different potential workarounds for Canadians to enjoy legal cannabis. The eureka moment then arrived, according to Hoffman:

“If the Hoffman the legalization as one big science experiment, then Canada could claim that it was in-keeping with the treaties because they allow for cannabis to be made available for scientific purposes.”

In this creative way to free cannabis from the chains of prohibition, legalization would be framed as a social experiment. In this experiment, Canadians who choose to partake in legal weed, as well as their fellow citizens, would be the test subjects. The final results would point to how legalization affects the country as a whole, both socially and in the general health of the nation. “[In this way]  we can legalize cannabis because it’s for scientific purposes and meet the treaties without having to withdraw from them,” said Hoffman.

Any departure from the requirements of the treaties would have to be as minimal as possible. Additionally, the experiment would need to be framed in a way that shows we cannot do the science without complete legalization, as it would affect the results of the study. According to Hoffman, “One question that might require full legalization would be something like, what are the intergenerational health and social effects of access to legal cannabis?”

Although the experiment is a way to sidestep these agreements without ruffling too many international feathers, Hoffman was quick to point out that whatever we do there is no easy way out of these obsolete documents. “Our first conclusion is that none of the workarounds are particularly great. It’s pretty clear that the treaties require prohibition, and Canada’s move is likely to come up against them,” added Hoffman.

Hoffman and his students have published the report in the hopes that the feds will take notice. contacted Global Affairs Canada but did not receive a response on the issue.

No matter how Canada chooses to deal with the UN Drug Control Treaties, some type of action will need to take place.

These treaties prohibiting cannabis were signed without any clear scientific evidence that marijuana does harm. Perhaps the best way to pull out is to scientifically prove that legalization is, in fact, a positive step forward.