A Closer Look at the United Nations Condemnation of Cannabis
March 5th, 2014
Policy, Top Story
The United Nations’ International Narcotics Control Board (“INCB”) published its 2013 Annual Report on March 4, 2014 voicing its concerns about “misguided initiatives” on cannabis legalization in the United States and Uruguay, saying that they failed to comply with international drug conventions. Cannabis supporters counter that cannabis prohibition has failed to reduce its use, filled prisons with inmates, increased violence, and fueled the rise of organized crime.
“We deeply regret the developments at the state level in Colorado and Washington, in the United States, regarding the legalization of recreational use of cannabis,” said INCB’s head Raymond Yans in the report. “INCB reiterates that these developments contravene the provisions of the drug control conventions, which limit the use of cannabis to medical and scientific use only. INCB urges the Government of the United States to ensure that the treaties are fully implemented on the entirety of its territory.”
While the U.S. and Uruguay aim to curb illegal drug trafficking through legalization and regulation, the UN is argues that these “alternative drug regimes” would not collapse “underground markets” but rather lead to much greater drug use and higher levels of addiction among average citizens. However, the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine found in its 1999 report “Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base” that “there is little evidence that decriminalization of marijuana use necessarily leads to a substantial increase in marijuana use.” According to data compiled by Norml, many other studies came to the same conclusion.
The report also points to the thriving black market for alcohol and tobacco in many markets, saying that up to 20% of Britain’s domestic cigarette sales consist of smuggled goods. Despite being legalized, alcohol is responsible for far more arrests than illegal drugs with 2 million U.S. incidents in 2012. However, the black market for legalized drugs is actually far more dependent on taxation than the legalized drugs themselves. When legalization imposes minimal taxation, then the price of legal goods becomes far cheaper than illegal goods, pushing the black market out of the space.
The INCB itself has also attracted some criticism from the international community. For example, human rights activists were horrified when an INCB board member said that “the agency neither supports nor opposes the death penalty for drug-related offenses” in a Bangkok Post story. Cannabis supporters are urging the agency to stay out of national politics and regulatory systems, and rebalance itself to focus more on health and wellbeing than idealogical issues.
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