Understanding the U.N. Treaties, Federalism and Marijuana Legalization

I got private pushback from some major players on both the left and the right of drug policy for my argument that U.N. drug control treaties are not relevant to the legalization of recreational marijuana in Washington and Colorado. The view I expressed in my editorial was that for nations with federalist government like the U.S., U.N. treaties traditionally apply only to federal policy. The U.S. federal government is thus bound by the U.N. drug control treaties it signed but its individual states did not.

A policymaker sympathetic to marijuana legalization directed my attention to Article 3 the 1988 United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. The article includes an agreement to make a huge range of drug-related activities illegal, including manufacture, sales and transport. The article goes on to say: Subject to its constitutional principles and the basic concepts of its legal system [Emphasis mine], each Party shall adopt such measures as may be necessary to establish as a criminal offence under its domestic law, when committed intentionally, the possession, purchase or cultivation of narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances for personal consumption contrary to the provisions of the 1961 Convention, the 1961 Convention as amended or the 1971 Convention.

The “subject to its constitutional principles” phrase is the escape clause for federalist countries like the U.S. Continue reading “Understanding the U.N. Treaties, Federalism and Marijuana Legalization”