US Marijuana Reform May Force Withdrawal from UN Treaties

EspañolMarijuana legalization in the US states of Colorado and Washington may lead to new challenges for the Barack Obama administration. A Brookings Institution report released last week suggests drug reform could cause the United States to withdraw from international treaties that “commit the United States to punish and even criminalize activity related to recreational marijuana.”

Colorado was the first US state to legalize recreational marijuana.
Colorado was the first US state to legalize recreational marijuana. (Releaf)

The report notes that while the Obama Administration asserts they comply with the treaties “because they leave room for flexibility and prosecutorial discretion,” this situation may not be sustainable in the long term. The report’s authors, Wells Bennet and John Walsh, believe that the administration’s argument “makes sense on a short-term, wait-and-see basis, but it will rapidly become implausible and unsustainable if legalization spreads and succeeds.”

“A wait-and-see strategy, under these circumstances, will look really good if marijuana legalization goes really badly. But if legalization proceeds in a smart and rigorous way — if 10, 15, 20 states enact and operate responsible regimes for the regulation of marijuana — we will be enforcing the Controlled Substances Act less and less in jurisdictions that have regulated, legal marijuana markets,” explains Bennett.

“That will create more and more tension with our international commitments to suppress marijuana. At that point, it will be extraordinarily difficult for the [United States] to maintain that it complies with its obligations.”

Although marijuana regulation suffered no changes at the federal level, a memo signed by US Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole set a collision course between domestic legislation and the international treaties. Cole’s memo states that “jurisdictions that have enacted laws legalizing marijuana in some form and that have also implemented strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems to control the cultivation, distribution, sale, and possession of marijuana” will not be a priority for federal agents.

“The memo even allows for the possibility that robust legal regimes ‘may affirmatively address’ federal priorities, by, for example, ‘replacing an illicit marijuana trade that funds criminal enterprises with a tightly regulated market in which revenues are tracked  and accounted for,'” reads the report.

As the federal government tries to reconcile changes in state drug laws with their own federal legislation and international treaties, a vote to further relax marijuana restrictions will take place in the country’s capital and three states in November. In Oregon and Alaska, full legalization is on the table, while voters in Florida will consider making medical marijuana use legal. In Washington, DC, a ballot initiative seeks to legalize marijuana possession, although it would not legalize sales.

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