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UN Body Reaffirms That Marijuana Legalization Violates International Treaties, While Addressing Germany Cannabis Reform And U.S. Psychedelics Movement



The United Nations’s (UN) drug control body is reiterating that it considers legalizing marijuana for non-medical or non-scientific purposes a violation of international treaties, though it also said it appreciates that Germany’s government scaled back its cannabis plan ahead of a recent vote. The global narcotics agency is also taking note of the psychedelics policy reform movement in U.S. states.

This is mostly par for the course for the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), which has routinely criticized countries for allowing the enactment of cannabis legalization due to their obligations under various Single Convention treaties going back to 1961. But as Germany entered the fold, and the U.S. has continued to move toward marijuana and psychedelics reform, the body is again making its disappointment known.

INCB’s 2023 annual report, which was published on Tuesday, “underscores” that member nations are required to “take such legislative and administrative measures as may be necessary” to criminalize “the production, manufacture, export, import, distribution of, trade in, use and possession of drugs” such as marijuana under decades-old treaty agreements.

“The Board continues to reiterate its concern regarding the legalization of the use of cannabis for non-medical and non-scientific purposes in several jurisdictions, with other jurisdictions considering similar action,” it said.

To that point, INCB also included a recommendation in the latest report to recall an analysis from its 2022 report that, at one point, suggested that the U.S. is out of compliance with drug treaty obligations because the federal government is passively allowing states within the country to legalize marijuana.

“The apparent tension between these provisions and the trend towards legalization must be addressed by the signatories to the three drug control conventions,” it said.

Meanwhile, the new report also discusses the board’s ongoing monitoring of efforts to legalize marijuana in Germany. The country’s parliament officially approved a bill to legalize cannabis nationwide last month.

“The Board has had ongoing discussions with the authorities in Germany and has taken note of the evolution of the originally planned control measures following concerns expressed by the European Commission, in particular with respect to the provisions on the sale of cannabis in speciality shops to adults for non-medical purposes,” it said.

That’s in reference to changes to the Germany government’s legalization plan that makes it so possession and home cultivation would become legal, while authorizing social clubs to distribute marijuana to members, but not establishing a full-scale commercial market right away.

Overall, while German supporters have said legalization would take effect in April if the legislation is enacted, there are questions about that timeline. The country’s Bundesrat may move to refer the legislation to a mediation committee to address criminal justice-related implications of the law, which could mean several months of additional discussion.

In the U.S., INCB recognized that while “cannabis remains subject to the highest level of control under the Controlled Substances Act, use of the drug has been legalized in several states for non-medical purposes.”

“The Board has repeatedly expressed its concern that these developments may be inconsistent with the country’s legal obligations as a party to the three international drug conventions,” it said.

“The Board continues to maintain a constructive dialogue with the Government of the United States on these matters,” it added.

The report further notes that President Joe Biden’s mass pardons for federal marijuana possession offenses are actively “being implemented” by the Justice Department.

“While the presidential pardon does not expunge the existing conviction, it removes civil or legal restrictions, such as on the rights to vote, hold office or sit on a jury, and lifts barriers to housing, employment and educational opportunities,” it says.

Notably, INCB did not mention the parallel presidential directive that’s underway to review the scheduling status of cannabis under federal law.

The reason that lack of mention stands out is because supporters and opponents of rescheduling under U.S. law, as recommended by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), have made competing arguments about the influence of international treaty obligations in the final decision that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is expected to hand down.

For example, a Democratic congresswoman recently implored DEA to “reject any argument” that rescheduling marijuana under federal law would constitute a violation of international treaty obligations. She also asked the agency to reveal a list of any “outside partners” it has met with to discuss the global implications of a potential cannabis reclassification.

Legal experts recently released an opinion that disputes that assessment. In fact, they argued that a move to Schedule III would better uphold the country’s broader obligations under international law to regulate cannabis in a way that protects public health and safety.

Among those who’ve raised concerns about treaty obligations blocking a move to Schedule III is Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), who raised the issue in a letter sent to DEA Administrator Anne Milgram late last month, claiming that any reclassification that puts marijuana outside of Schedule I or Schedule II “would constitute a violation of the Single Convention,” referring to the 1961 United Nations (UN) Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.

But as a coalition of 12 senators pointed out in a separate letter to Milgram a week earlier, the UN has since revised global cannabis scheduling policies and allowed other member states, such as Canada, to legalize and regulate marijuana without penalty. Those lawmakers urged DEA to legalize marijuana completely.

Additionally, INCB in its new report said that it is monitoring psychedelics policy developments in the U.S. and in other countries, including the legalization of psilocybin services in Oregon and a broader class of psychedelics in Colorado.

“A growing interest in the therapeutical potential of psychedelic drugs and the potential risks in their unregulated use has also been noted,” the report said. “While clinical studies on the use of psychedelics are conducted in some countries, most of the health, wellness and tourism businesses involving the use of psychedelics have been operating without much regulatory oversight. Unsupervised and experimental use of those substances, even in microdoses as self-medication, may put some vulnerable populations at risk.”

Hawaii Senate Passes Marijuana Legalization Bill

Image element courtesy of Kristie Gianopulos.

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Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Sacramento-based managing editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.


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