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(Photo by – Nick Sparkman)

Cannabis reform on an international level seems to be happening through the 2000’s, late 2010’s and early 2020’s on a wide ranging international level. There appears to be an easing of the restrictions previously placed on the use of cannabis under international treaties.

(Photo by – Romain Dancre)

Internationally, the drug is in Schedule IV, still the most restrictive category, of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. As of January 1, 2005, 180 nations belonged to the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.

(Photo by – Next Green Wave)

Pro-Legalisation Poster in Belgrade, Serbia, the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs makes a distinction between recreational, medical and scientific uses of drugs; nations are allowed to permit medical use of drugs, but recreational use is prohibited by Article 4:

“The parties shall take such legislative and administrative measures as may be necessary . . . Subject to the provisions of this Convention, to limit exclusively to medical and scientific purposes the production, manufacture, export, import, distribution of, trade in, use and possession of drugs.”

The Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances requires its Parties to establish criminal penalties for possession of drugs prohibited under the Single Convention for recreational use. A nation wanting to legalise marijuana would have to withdraw from the treaties; every signatory has a right to do this.

As of January 2009, “cannabis, cannabis resin, cannabinol and its derivatives” are categorised as “Class B”, in accordance with “(Amendment) Order 2008” of the United Kingdom’s Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, this follows on from a proposal by UK politician David Blunkett “to seek the reclassification of cannabis from a Class B drug to a Class C drug” in 2001, the classification was moved to the less stringent Class C in January 2004, although, sadly, it was returned to Class B in January 2009.

The issue has turned into a more pronounced situation with the legalisation of recreational cannabis in Uruguay in 2013 and then in Canada in 2018. As of 2020, even more countries are in direct violation of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs due to these countries bringing in legalisation of commercial cannabis sale and production.

Barriers and Limitations.

(Photo by – Sara Kurfess)

Some of these barriers to cannabis reform have occurred because of the international drug control structure, whilst others come down to political circumstances.

There are a lot of non-government organisations that are in support of the prohibition of cannabis as a recreational drug. In 2013, 97 NGOs in 37 countries joined the World Federation Against Drugs.


(Photo by – Mat Reding)

This international drug control system is controlled by the United Nations General Assembly and UN Economic and Social Council. The Single Convention grants the Commission on Narcotic Drugs the power to reschedule controlled substances. Cindy Fazey, the former Chief of Demand Reduction for the United Nations Drug Control Programme, has been quoted as saying:

“Theoretically, the conventions can be changed by modification, such as moving a drug from one schedule to another or simply by removing it from the schedules. However, this cannot be done with cannabis because it is embedded in the text of the 1961 Convention. Also, the modification would need a majority of the Commissions’ 53 members to vote for it. Amendment to the conventions, that is changing an article or part of an article, does not offer a more promising route for the same reason. Even if a majority were gained, then only one state need ask for the decision to go to the Economic and Social Council for further consideration and demand a vote. The 1971 and 1988 Conventions need a two-thirds majority for change, not just a simple majority.”

Before modifications to cannabis regulations on any kind of international level, a conference to adopt amendments in accordance with Article 47 of the Single Convention would be needed.


(Photo by – Marco Oriolesi)

We have to cite the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, which proposes changing the scheduling of any drug, 21 U.S.C. § 811(d)(2)(B) of The U.S. The Controlled Substances Act gives the Secretary of Health and Human Services the power to issue recommendations that are binding on the U.S. representative in international discussions and negotiations:

“Whenever the Secretary of State receives information that the Commission on Narcotic Drugs of the United Nations proposes to decide whether to add a drug or other substance to one of the schedules of the Convention, transfer a drug or substance from one schedule to another, or delete it from the schedules, the Secretary of State shall transmit timely notice to the Secretary of Health and Human Services of such information who shall publish a summary of such information in the Federal Register and provide opportunity to interested persons to submit to him comments respecting the recommendation which he is to furnish, pursuant to this subparagraph, respecting such proposal. The Secretary of Health and Human Services shall evaluate the proposal and furnish a recommendation to the Secretary of State which shall be binding on the representative of the United States in discussions and negotiations relating to the proposal.”

The U.S Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) denied in June 2011 a petition that proposed rescheduling of cannabis and enclosed a long explanation for the denial.
On March 5, 2013, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) urged the United States government to challenge the legalisation of
Marijuana for recreational use in Colorado and Washington. INCB President, Raymond Yans stated that these state laws violate international drug treaties, namely the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961. The Office of the US Attorney General said, in December 2012, that regardless of any changes in state law, growing, selling or possessing any amount of marijuana remained illegal under federal law. Raymond Yans called the statement “good but insufficient” and said he hoped that the issue would soon be addressed by the US Government in line with the international drug control treaties.

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