Delay the marijuana legalization date to avoid breaking international law

Bound by three UN Treaties to keep the drug illicit, Canada should wait until early 2019

no sign by pot on canadian backdrop

By: Aaron Richardson

Canada is scheduled to become the second country in the world — after Uruguay, though countries like Spain and South Africa have done it partially — to legalize marijuana. The current date of legalization is scheduled for July 1, 2018.  However, Canada faces a big obstacle that we’re not yet sure how to get around.

As a part of the United Nations (UN), Canada is bound to follow the regulations set by three different UN treaties on the legality of narcotics and psychotropics. These treaties were put into place in 1961, 1971, and 1988 and “they’re old, they’re outdated, and they’re not reflective of current science,” according to Steven Hoffman, a law professor at the University of Ottawa.

However, despite these treaties being scientifically outmoded, they are still in effect. If Canada was to legalize marijuana without conforming to the regulations laid out for us, we would be breaking international law. Thankfully, there are ways in which Canada can still legalize marijuana without resorting to such extremes — and the best of those would be to delay the legislation date until after we’ve got things sorted out.

That, of course, is not the only option, but it’s the most realistic. Aside from ignoring the treaties and legalizing it anyway, other methods include: asking to be an exception, amending the constitution, or claiming legalization is for scientific purposes.

Looking to be excepted from the treaties is hypothetically possible, but unrealistic in practice. Various other countries would have to be involved in the process of granting permission, which would be a “diplomatic nightmare” as Global News puts it. Meanwhile, the Canadian constitution is notorious for its incredibly difficult amendment process, making that too an impractical route. The third option, citing scientific motivation, would be basically a lie.

The most appealing and realistic option, then, would be for us to leave the treaties. Unfortunately, Canada did not provide notice in time for us to officially leave by July 1, 2018. Despite missing the date to provide notice to the UN, the Canadian government hasn’t provided an alternative legalization date. Even more, Global News reports that “the Liberals have been silent about how they plan to tackle the issue.”

Although the laws binding us are scientifically inaccurate and outdated, they are still laws. It is a possibility for Canada to simply ignore the treaties, and legalize marijuana anyway. But is that really a better option than simply delaying legalization?

The legalization of marijuana is not a simple task. As Huffington Post reported, marijuana legalization will put the brunt of the burden on the provinces, not the federal government. Giving more time for provinces to decide the best way to distribute and tax marijuana could help ease the burden placed on them by the government.

It is possible that a delay in legalization could upset many Canadians, as it would mean marijuana likely being illegal until January 2019. But being just six months later than our currently scheduled date doesn’t seem like too much of a price to pay for following international law.

Being one of the first countries in the world to legalize marijuana, Canada should not rush the process. And as one of the wealthiest nations in the world, we have an obligation to follow regulations, and set an example for other countries in the world to follow suit.