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How Existing Global Drug Conventions Provide A Pathway To End Cannabis Prohibition

WITH increasing numbers of countries looking to end prohibition and introduce regulated cannabis markets a new paper identifies ways of doing so without contravening international drug laws.

In enacting their recreational cannabis market in 2018 the Canadian Government were deemed to have contravened the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (SCND).

Likewise Uruguay, the first country to follow this path, cited the protection of human rights to enable its perceived breach of the Convention – and it has subsequently been threatened with sanctions by the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB).

However, respected cannabis researcher and author Kenzi Riboulet-Zemouli, believes there is wriggle room in the Convention to allow countries to pursue a compliant path.

A Deep Dive

He outlines his case in a new paper entitled ‘High Compliance, A Lex Lata Legalization For The Non-Medical Cannabis Industry’.

Speaking to BusinessCann he said: “The War on Drugs, initiated in the 1970s has helped peddle the myth that the prohibition of cannabis is enshrined in treaty law, and is impossible to avoid.

“However, this new research takes an in-depth look at the 1961 Convention, and considers how it was drafted, highlighting a pathway to legal adult-use markets.

Kenzi Riboulet-Zemouli

“I believe it is possible to craft an adult-use policy for cannabis products that combats drug abuse, protects human rights, and is in compliance with the international drug treaties.” 

While the paper closely analyses the text of the 1961 SCND –  the primary global treaty for the control of cannabis – it also examines the treaty’s preparatory works and minutes from its drafting discussions in order to gain further insights into the minds of its authors.

Two Types Of Cannabis

While the treaty fails to acknowledge the terms ‘recreational’ or ‘adult-use’ it does delineate two classes of cannabis, namely: ‘medical and scientific’ (MSP) and other than medical and scientific (OMSP).

And, it is in the second category of cannabis – OMSP – that Mr Riboulet-Zemouli believes there is wriggle room for nation states to introduce adult-use programmes.

Article 2(9) of the SCND lays down two conditions for compliance to OMSP cannabis, namely the application of effective measures to reduce the potential abuse and harm from cannabis products.

And, secondly, annual reporting to INCB on the amount of OMSP cannabis traded.

This caveat was recently used by Malta, whose adult-use law is framed as establishing an industry for ‘purposes other than medical and scientific’ in the context of harm reduction – an echo of the two conditions of Article 2(9).

Barcelona-based Mr Riboulet-Zemouli added: “I believe the OMSP caveat was included by the drafters of the SCND to allow for some future flexibility of interpretation.”

Prohibition References Absent

He supports this position by highlighting the absence of prohibition from almost all of the dialogue and discussions in drafting the convention.

The paper  highlights this when it says: “The 1961 Single Convention on narcotic drugs was written before the ‘war on drugs’ even started. 

“During the negotiations, in 1961, US representative and cannabis prohibition enthusiast Harry Anslinger left the room; the USSR ambassador defended that ‘prohibition should take the form of a recommendation only’.

”The People’s Republic of China and half of Africa were not even present; and the countries left replaced all mentions of ‘cannabis prohibition’ by ‘cannabis control’; they also inserted clear flexibilities, directly exempting non-medical use and related activities.

“The drafters discussed the concept of cannabis intoxication without particular problem and knew it would continue, legally, without any problem.

A Clear Pathway

“The SCND is not a ‘drug war’ nor is it a prohibitionist treaty. It is its interpretation which is prohibitionist.”

In its conclusion the paper states that to align with the SCND a country will need to comply with the two main points in article 2(9) as well as maintaining separate, medical and non-medical – adult-use cannabis and industrial hemp – sectors.

Mr Riboulet-Zemouli added: “Shortcomings in the history of the drug control Conventions, and the current hegemony of one particular interpretation – articulated around prohibition – may have impacted our interpretive frames and driven legal scholarship away from the study of these exemptions for non-medical uses, purposefully added in the treaty.

“This in-depth research clears the way for nation states to press ahead with the domestic rule changes without fear of contravening the main cannabis drug law, the 1961 SCND.”

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