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  1. Beenthere2Hippie
    Justin Trudeau, the Liberal prime minister who won last October's elections in Canada against the Conservative Stephen Harper, who was seeking a third term, ran in part on a promise to legalize marijuana, and said he was going to "get started on that right away," signaling a departure from the Harper administration's anti-pot stance.

    Now, Trudeau's said his efforts have hit a snag—international treaties. They were, uh, there during the election campaign, even if they were left unmentioned by the candidate himself.

    The Canadian Press reports:

    The Liberal government will have to do substantial work on the international stage before it can follow through on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's promise to legalize marijuana, new documents suggest.

    That work will have to include figuring out how Canada would comply with three international treaties to which the country is a party, all of which criminalize the possession and production of marijuana.

    Trudeau's plan to legalize, regulate and restrict access to marijuana is already proving a complicated and controversial undertaking on the domestic front, in part because it requires working with the provinces.

    Internationally, says a briefing note prepared for the prime minister, Canada will also have to find a way to essentially tell the world how it plans to conform to its treaty obligations.​

    The treaties—the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and (because, hey, what's in a name, two more), the Convention on Psychotropic Substances and the United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances—date back to the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Canada made a reservation to the second treaty, about permitting the use of peyote for magical or religious rites by "small, clearly determined groups," mimicking a U.S. one.

    A similar argument came up in the United States a couple of years ago, when some critics of marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington insisted these international treaties required the federal government to prevent legalization, a spurious argument Jacob Sullum demolished:

    Under our federalist system… states have no obligation to punish every activity that Congress chooses to treat as a crime. The Supreme Court has said, based on a dubious reading of the power to regulate interstate commerce, that the federal government may continue to enforce its own ban on marijuana in states that take a different approach. But that does not mean the feds can compel states to help, let alone force them to enact their own bans…

    Even if treaties could override federalism, the agreements [critics cite] do not purport to do so. The 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs says compliance is subject to "constitutional limitations" and undertaken with "due regard to [signatories'] constitutional, legal and administrative systems." The 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances and the 1988 Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances contain similar provisions.​

    The federalist approach taken in the United States by advocates of marijuana legalization, which has brought or is bringing recreational marijuana into the legal market in four states plus Washington, D.C., and allowed a plethora of local jurisdictions to do the same, as well as for states to try more restrictive than legal, but no longer totally prohibitionist, approaches, like legalizing medical marijuana or small amounts of the non-medical stuff.

    In Canada, as The Press mentioned, Trudeau is facing difficulty with the provinces. A former Liberal prime minister, Jean Chretien, flirted with a bill to decriminalize marijuana in 2003. It was concern from the United States, not concern about international treaty obligations, that helped kill that effort. And while marijuana legalization was thought to be driving young people to the polls, unlike in the U.S., the provinces themselves haven't made much of an effort to legalize marijuana.

    They have a different constitutional structure in Canada. Maybe Trudeau can ask permission from the Queen? He can tell her because it's 2015 2016, that's why.

    By Ed Krayewski - Reason/Jan. 7m 2016
    Photo: Mark Ralston AFP
    Newshawk Crew

    Author Bio

    BT2H is a retired news editor and writer from the NYC area who, for health reasons, retired to a southern US state early, and where BT2H continues to write and to post drug-related news to DF.


  1. tatittle
    International treaties are the means by which our current system of criminilization came to fruition in many places (including USA).
  2. Alfa
    It would seem most effective to keep cannabis illegal on federal level, but lower it to a symbolic value by moving it to the absolute lowest level or most meaningless law there is. For example to fine amounts of 20kg and up with a 15% value fine. Which is basically a tax.
    And then opening various avenues for states to legalize it and for citizens and companies to get permits to be excepted from federal law.
  3. Joe-(5-HTP)
    Let's just hope the new administration don't judge it politically messy or that it's not worth Pursuing this further.

    Canada legalising cannabis would be such important momentum for the legalisation movement globally, so I really hope it happens. It would be nice to get a statement of intent from the Trudeau admin on this.
  4. Alfa
    Conversely it would also be a moment of defeat or threat to UNODC, INCB and other internationally operating drug agencies. I'd not be surprised if Trudeau is encountering power play from such powers.
  5. Calliope
    I am afraid that this federal versus provincial issue is a bit confused in regard to Canadian law. We simply don't have criminal laws at the provincial level. The Criminal Code of Canada is the code for the whole country and it is the only thing that makes cannabis illegal to grow, possess, import, sell and so forth. Provincial Governments do not enact criminal laws. They have jursidiction over health, education and various other things.

    And who and what difficulties are being faced by Trudeau on the cannabis legalizing front exactly? This is not made at all clear in the story beyond pointing out that there are international treaty obligations, I see no mention of any particular provincial politicians or even particular provinces. Well ok, there is some resistance from some police, especially in places like Saskatoon Saskatchewan which holds the distinction of having a police force who used to take young first nations men out to the prairie and dump them without winter clothing to freeze to death. They called these 'starlight tours'. And this is the police force that decided a year ago to go all american and begin entrapping men into violating the backwards new law in Canada which made buying sex criminal but not selling it. These are not people who represent Canadians generally but a bunch of conservative assholes who want to hold on to their losing grip on what they see as moral corruption.

    Trudeau promised a federal-provincial task force to look into how to implement legalization. This task-force isnt to decide *whether* to legalize but *how* to manage things like taxation and modes and methods of distribution. This is consistent with the way alcohol is treated in canada with provinces setting taxes on goods and services the revenue from which goes to fund things like health care, education, infrastructure and so forth that are in the provincial purview. I'd point out the following story published last friday in a mainstream news outlet, one I grew up thinking of as quite conservative, hardly a news source that would ignore problems for Trudeau's cannabis legalization aims:

    Bill Blair faces ‘formidable challenge’ in leading marijuana task force

    The Trudeau government is calling on former police chief Bill Blair to find the best way to legalize marijuana in Canada, relying on the rookie Liberal MP’s law-enforcement credentials to sell the controversial policy to the public.

    Federal officials said Mr. Blair is expected to work with a new federal-provincial task force to develop a regime in which marijuana is available to all adults across the country, with the two levels of government reaping applicable sales taxes.

    In his new role, the former chief of the Toronto Police Service will be expected to find a consensus in favour of the major shift in the way that marijuana is handled by the country’s justice system.

    His former colleagues at the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police said they remain concerned by issues such as access to the drug by young Canadians, and the potential for an increase in impaired driving.

    “Mr. Blair has a formidable challenge in front of him,” said Clive Weighill, chief of the Saskatoon Police Service and president of the CACP. “We in policing have a role to play, as do many others. We will work with the government in a positive and collaborative manner to help mitigate public safety impacts.”

    Carleton University professor Frances Woolley said the government’s policy will have to allow adults to enjoy recreational marijuana, while reducing the harm related to dependency, poor-quality products and the use by young adults. At the same time, the professor of economics said the federal and provincial governments need to have access to higher tax revenues, while finding ways to reduce policing costs.

    “There are inevitable tensions between these goals: Harm reduction potentially conflicts with revenue maximization, for example,” she said. “What I would hope the task force to accomplish is to steer a path that gets us as close as we can to achieving these three objectives.”

    Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has driven the Liberal Party away from the simpler policy of decriminalizing marijuana – which would keep the product illegal but lower penalties for possession – toward the more radical promise of legalization.

    For the October election, the Liberal platform promised that the federal-provincial task force would create a “new system of strict marijuana sales and distribution, with appropriate federal and provincial excise taxes applied.”

    Officially, the lead ministers on the file are Jody Wilson-Raybould at Justice, Ralph Goodale at Public Safety and Jane Philpott at Health. Still, Mr. Blair, as the parliamentary secretary for Ms. Wilson-Raybould, has been given a lead role on this specific file, to free up the ministers to focus on other issues.

    “[Mr.] Blair’s experience and background in public safety will be a great asset to the government’s work to ensure a careful and thoughtful approach to the legalization and regulation of marijuana,” Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s spokesman said in a statement.

    During the election campaign, Mr. Blair played a key role in defending the Liberal Party’s credentials on law-and-order issues.

    “We’ve already had a great deal of experience with controlling the sale and use of alcohol. We believe that we can build upon that model and we can ensure our communities could be made safer through regulation and legalization,” Mr. Blair told CTV News in October.


    And as to the claim that legalization needs to be sold to the Canadian public, I call bullshit. The Canadian public already supports and has for some time the legalization and taxation of cannabis. To whit, in a January 2nd 2016 CBC story on big political issues in 2016 in Canada:

    "... the most recent poll by Forum Research (conducted in early November) showed that 59 per cent of Canadians agreed with the legalization, regulation, and taxation of marijuana. Just 33 per cent of respondents disagreed.

    These numbers have held steady for some time, with Forum finding only a slight increase in support for legalization compared to the polling done by the firm before the election campaign came to a successful end for the Liberals.

    Support for legalization was very strong among Liberal and NDP voters. But Conservative voters, by a margin of more than two-to-one, were opposed.

    That marijuana should be legalized has been a majority opinion for some time, with polling by Angus Reid showing most Canadians supporting it since at least 2007. Opposition to marijuana legalization, however, was a majority view as recently as 1997, according to polling done by Environics.

    As to how marijuana should be sold once it is legalized, a large number of Canadians appear to be on side with Kathleen Wynne's way of thinking. The premier of Ontario suggested that selling marijuana through the province's Liquor Control Board (LCBO) "makes a lot of sense."

    A poll conducted by Forum Research in early December showed that 40 per cent of Canadians also thought it would be best sold through a government agency, while 15 per cent preferred it be left to individual growers. Another 17 per cent preferred a combination of the two.

    A more recent poll of Ontarians, however, found respondents split on whether they wanted to see marijuana sold at the LCBO, whereas the idea of selling it through 'specialized marijuana dispensaries' was met with majority support."


    And here is what Trudeau's Liberal Party policy document on legalizing (that received 80%+ support in 2012 at their convention) says about international treaties:


    This question is more common with government than the general public. Here are four answers:
    1. Canada is a sovereign country - free to make our own laws through a democratically elected government in the House of Commons.

    2. Other UN member countries have already improved their marijuana laws without sanction.

    3. Canada should lead a movement to amend out-of-date international conventions to reflect changes in medical evidence and international consumption rates. They have been used as an excuse for inaction and regressive thinking for too long.

    4. Canada has rights to withdraw from these UN conventions, as granted in the articles of each convention - exercisable by written notification to the UN Secretary-General. Withdrawal would take effect one year after the date notification was received.​

    While some may still make the case that legalization is prima facie inconsistent with Canada’s international legal obligations, Canada’s Special Senate Committee on Illegal Drugs identified a number of factors in 2002 that provide state parties to these conventions with leeway around strict application. For example:

    Review, amendment and withdrawal mechanisms exist in the Conventions. (see answer four above)
    The conventions impose moral obligations on states, not legal ones. There are no penalties or sanctions for violating the conventions other than a public rebuke by some of the signatories.​

    That hardly sounds like a position from which Trudeau is likely to lose heart and crumble in the face of some grumbling in some conservative quarters about how the big bad US of A and other international entities are gonna be mad at us Mom!!! We can't do this cos they won't like us!!

  6. Calliope
    A piece appearing in the National Post on January 18 2016, not known for its connections to the communist party of canada, nor to the marxist-leninist party or WORKERS UNITE! Cos it has none, none whatsoever... It is in fact historically a very conservative (for Canada) paper with an openly anti Liberal Party of Canada (Trudeau's party) editorial stance. So this piece has some significance in showing where the momentum on this issue is in Canada I think.

    Alves, Kronby & Reid: When it comes to pot, Canada shouldn’t worry too much about treaty obligations

    Will the legalization of marijuana in Canada depend on the votes of federal MPs or on the views of Canada’s international partners? The Post’s Tasha Kheiriddin poses the question, “Will Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s promise to legalize pot go up in smoke, or will he turn into an activist and try to convince other countries to liberalize their drug laws, as well?” and argues that this is “the choice he faces, if he doesn’t want Canada to run afoul of its international obligations” (‘Seeing green,’ Jan. 7). Fortunately, Canada does not need to convince the world to legalize marijuana.

    The fate of Canada’s international obligations is in its own hands. Central tenets of international law include the principles of state consent, sovereign equality among states, and non-intervention in the domestic affairs of other states. States draft international treaties within this legal framework and include rules that govern how states join, amend and withdraw from treaties. Subject to limitations, international treaties also can permit states to take “reservations” to their obligations under specific provisions of a treaty when they join the treaty.

    Canada is a signatory to three international treaties that, with the exception of medical marijuana, require the criminalization of the manufacture, distribution and possession of cannabis and its active psychotropic substance, tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC: the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961, as amended by the 1972 Protocol; the convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1971; and the United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances of 1988 (the “conventions”).

    While there are differences and nuances among these conventions, they generally provide that a state can: (a) make a reservation when it joins; (b) propose an amendment to the convention; or (c) withdraw from the convention.

    Seeking an amendment to the conventions to exclude cannabis and THC would be no easy task. But it is not the only option. In 2009, Bolivia, a signatory to all the conventions, proposed an amendment to the Single Convention to remove the ban on the practice of coca leaf chewing. In January 2012, after the amendment was opposed by other states, Bolivia withdrew from the Single Convention and re-joined in February 2013 with a reservation on the prohibition on coca leaf chewing.

    A state cannot alter its obligations through a reservation unilaterally under the conventions. If a third of the parties to the convention oppose the reservation, it is nullified. Bolivia’s reservation was accepted because only 15 of the required 61 states were opposed.

    (The withdrawal and re-accession approach is not without controversy, however. When Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago withdrew and re-acceded with a reservation to a treaty on civil and political rights, other countries claimed that this was a violation of international law.)

    Uruguay is another example. In 2013 it legalized marijuana and has so far not attempted to alter its obligations under the conventions. The ramifications for Uruguay have been minimal. The International Narcotics Control Board has denounced Uruguay for being in breach of its obligations under the conventions, but little else has happened. While Uruguay’s approach may not be a model for Canada to follow, it serves as a reminder that a sovereign state can choose not to comply with its international treaty obligations, provided that it is prepared to face the consequences, if any.

    There is also a precedent for withdrawing from international treaties when the government decides that the commitments in the treaty are no longer consistent with the country’s policies or interests, as the Canadian government has done in the recent past. In 2011, despite international condemnation, Canada withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol on the justification that it would be unable to satisfy the carbon emission reduction targets and would be faced with a $1.4-billion bill for carbon emissions permits from other Kyoto Protocol countries. Canada also withdrew from the UN Convention to Combat Desertification in 2013 and the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling in 1981.

    As Canada moves towards legalization, how it complies with its international obligations under the conventions will not be an insurmountable obstacle. All options should be on the table at this early stage, along with the acknowledgement that the course Canada takes may set the precedent for other parties to the conventions that decide to legalize marijuana in the future.

    National Post
    Hugo Alves and Matthew Kronby are partners at, and George Reid is an associate with, Bennett Jones LLP in Toronto.

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