Did the UN’s Anti-Narcotics Board Just Recommend Decriminalizing Drugs Globally?
In a double-whammy from the UN’s independent drug policy council, a new report condemns both the drug war’s harsh enforcement and the legalization of recreational cannabis.
Published on February 28, 2020

A new report from the United Nations’ International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) concluded with two recommendations regarding the worldwide cannabis legalization movement. First, governments need to stop punishing their people so harshly just for getting lit. And two, states should hit pause on legalizing recreational pot until new international drug treaties can be negotiated among nations.

The two recommendations came at the end of the INCB’s latest annual report. The INCB is an independent organization that interprets drug laws and policies on behalf of the United Nations. However, the INCB does not have any legal authority, nor can it enforce any of the UN’s drug control policies. In other words, like many UN agencies, it can tell countries what to do, but it can’t actually make those countries do anything.

Regarding weed legalization, the INCB wrote:

The Board notes with concern the legalization of cannabis for non-medical and non-scientific  purposes in several jurisdictions and that other jurisdictions are considering taking similar action. The Board reiterates that the 1961 Convention as amended, the 1971 Convention and  the 1988 Convention limit the use of all controlled substances to medical and scientific purposes.

The three conventions mentioned above are international treaties that basically made the War on Drugs a global phenomenon. All UN member states signed the treaties, though some, like Nepal, did not agree to every clause laid out in the conventions. Under the treaties, all member states agreed to treat marijuana as a dangerous, addictive drug, though they could craft policies to permit limited medical use of cannabis and cannabis-derived products. 

Nepal, to date, is the only nation that demanded it be allowed to license recreational pot for an indeterminate period of time. That portion of Nepal’s agreement with the UN is still in effect.

The INCB went on to declare all recreational weed legalization, regardless of voter referendums or the collective will of the local people, in violation of the UN’s treaties. But the board did note that it had spoken with individual weed-legal jurisdictions to better understand why those places decided to defy the international conventions — and, most importantly, that the INCB took those reasons into serious consideration. So, to be fair, the INCB suggested a quick fix for these treaty conflicts, at least until there’s a new convention treaty signed by all nation states.

In the section immediately following the part that cries about legalizing weed, the INCB wrote:

The fundamental goal of the international drug control conventions, to safeguard the health and  welfare of humanity, includes the full enjoyment of human rights. State actions that violate  human rights in the name of drug control policy are inconsistent with the international drug  control conventions. 

Basically, the INCB is saying that drug control policies are supposed to protect people. Instead, over the past half century that the UN has maintained these treaties, cops in the US have used civil asset forfeiture to rob Americans of billions of dollars worth of property, even when those Americans aren’t convicted of any crimes. 

And while there are too many stories of unarmed Americans getting shot and killed by overworked and under-trained cops over a suspected bag of weed or cocaine, low-level drug dealers in the Philippines are literally being executed in the streets, without trial, by vigilantes under President Duterte’s atrocious counterdrug program. 

The UN itself has been loosening up toward its own place in the global drug war, too. Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO), the UN’s public health agency, has been considering reclassifying marijuana to a less restrictive scheduling, or even removing the plant from scheduling altogether.

Anyway, here’s the INCB’s easy fix for the tragic War on Drugs and its devastating consequences, according to its own report:

States are not legally required by the international drug control conventions to impose criminal sanctions, including imprisonment, but may provide for treatment and rehabilitation measures as an alternative to conviction or punishment…. [emphasis ours]

So, we’re not saying that the UN’s anti-drug policy board is telling countries that they can win the War on Drugs by simply decriminalizing drug use, possession, and possibly even sales — but it sure as fuck looks that way.

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Randy Robinson
Based in Denver, Randy studied cannabinoid science while getting a degree in molecular biology at the University of Colorado. When not writing about cannabis, science, politics, or LGBT issues, they can be found exploring nature somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. Catch Randy on Twitter and Instagram @randieseljay
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