With the legalization of recreational cannabis just around the corner, Canadians are talking a lot about sales and distribution, impaired driving, and the impact on children—but little has been said about international law.
If all goes according to the plan laid out by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the Cannabis Act will place Canada in violation of three UN treaties. The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (1961), the Convention on Psychotropic Substances (1971) and the Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (1988) all require countries to ban the possession and production of recreational cannabis.
To withdraw from the treaties, a country must give the UN notification a year in advance—so Ottawa would have had to give notice last July in order to withdraw from the treaties before July 2018, the date the Trudeau government has set for legalization of recreational cannabis.
Some legal experts believe Canada should abide by the terms of the treaties, even if it means delaying legalization to allow enough time for withdrawal, while others say that’s not necessary. But all agree the federal government needs to address this issue — something it hasn’t yet done.
Steven Hoffman, a professor in the Faculty of Health and Osgoode Hall Law School at York University in Toronto, is an advocate for the legalization of recreational cannabis, believing its criminalization has had negative legal and health consequences. He also believes the UN treaties are outdated and “not reflective of current science.” But he feels strongly that Canada shouldn’t violate them.