Despite attempts to keep marijuana on the banned substances list, American citizens are embracing weed. An estimated 16.3% of the population has used weed at least once, which places us second in the world, behind Iceland. Since Iceland’s population is approximately 1% of America’s, it is clear that the U.S. is the global leader when it comes to cannabis usage.
After all, pot is now legal medicinally or recreationally in 30 states plus Washington D.C. The main issue is the fact that it is federally illegal. Even so, legal marijuana sales in America reached $9.7 billion in 2017, a huge 33% increase on the 2016 figure. Add in the upcoming nationwide legalization in Canada, and it is obvious that North America is the global hub for the herb.
Is the United Nations Holding Marijuana Legalization Back?
Although it is easy, and fun, to paint Jefferson Beauregard Sessions as the anti-marijuana villain, it could be that the United Nations is the biggest obstacle to full marijuana legalization in the United States. Much is made about the fact that weed is on the same ‘level’ as heroin on America’s Controlled Substances List.
However, all the U.S. has done is follow UN protocol as per the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which also placed marijuana on its strictest schedule alongside heroin! The main reason why this happened is because the UN fell prey to the anti-cannabis hysteria of the 1930s. Its main reason for demonizing marijuana was dubious data from a 1935 League of Nations study, which was notorious for its bias.
Overall, America is part of three treaties that prevent it from legalizing marijuana, even if it wanted to. As well as the 1961 Convention, there is the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances and the 1988 Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. Every country that has signed these treaties agreed to implement their obligations domestically.
As America is a member nation to these treaties, it has to vote on any revisions, especially if the World Health Organization recommended the rescheduling of marijuana. Regardless, the fact that the plant has been scheduled to begin with means it will only be usable for medical purposes.
Hypothetically speaking, if America decided to follow the Canadian route of going its own way, violation of the treaties could result in an embargo that prevents them from receiving crucial medicines. One of the purposes of the drug treaties is to provide this access to medicine in exchange for agreeing to adopt specific drug policies. Given the strength of American pharmaceutical companies, such an embargo would hurt the U.S. a lot less than smaller nations.
Before you get your pitchforks ready against the UN, it is important to note that the United States was instrumental in creating these frameworks from the outset. Most anti-marijuana treaties were negotiated from the 1950s onwards, at a time when America was a respected, and even feared, global superpower. The nation was still in the grip of Reefer Madness style propaganda, so it pushed the idea that marijuana was dangerous. America’s might ensured that most nations fell in line with its prohibitionist mindset.
Would America Be Punished if it Decided to Legalize Marijuana?
There is a school of thought that the UN will severely punish the United States if the nation ever decided to follow in Canada’s footsteps. Indeed, this was the same argument given by those trying to prevent our northern neighbors from making pot legal nationwide. At the time of writing there are no plans to ‘punish’ Canada for its decision, just like nothing happened to Uruguay when it legalized weed in 2014. Uruguay also signed the three treaties mentioned above. In other words, these UN ‘drug police’ don’t exist.
As things stand, the United States is NOT in violation of the UN treaties it signed even though marijuana is legal for one reason or another in 30 states. Remember, it is the federal government that is the signatory to the treaty, not states such as California and Colorado. At the moment, marijuana IS federally illegal.
Regarding potential punishments, history has shown that the UN International Narcotics Control Board does little other than point a wagging finger at governments that violate the conditions of treaties. In theory, the Board has the power to impose punitive measures on painkillers but such an action would result in international outrage. In any case, America is already one of the global leaders in painkiller production so it is unlikely to get bullied.
In reality, the Control Board is about as threatening as an ancient dog with no teeth and respiratory problems. It can demand an explanation from any nation that doesn’t uphold, or undermines, the measures of treaties. It can also tell such countries to adopt legal remedies to ensure its laws comply with those of the treaties. If the nation in question refuses to comply, the Board can inform other nations in the treaties and write a report to the United Nations’ General Assembly.
As it transpires, threatening to be a tattle-tale isn’t much of a deterrent. In 2002, the United Kingdom elected to reclassify marijuana and effectively decriminalized possession. The Board criticized the move but imposed zero sanctions. Britain re-criminalized weed in 2009 but was adamant that the UN had nothing to do with the decision. Uruguay flat out ripped up the treaty by legalizing marijuana in 2014 and Canada is following suit. Once again, no sanctions are coming.
So, What Would Happen if the United States Legalized Marijuana on a Federal Level?
First and foremost, there is practically zero chance of the UN imposing sanctions. If it failed to do so against Uruguay, a nation of just four million people, it will not make the mistake of incurring the wrath of a global leader. If the rest of the world adopted our existing position on marijuana, it would result in a major relaxation of international control over weed. Before the Obama Administration, it was discovered that the level of cannabis enforcement in America was about the same as that of Western Europe.
Since then, the intensity of marijuana enforcement in the U.S. has fallen significantly. Although Sessions is threatening to enforce federal law, there is basically no chance of that happening unless he wants to arrest about 50 million people! As things stand, an increasing number of nations are considering the legalization of cannabis for medicinal use. A recent announcement in the UK suggests it could happen there by the end of 2018.
If the United States went the way of Uruguay and Canada and finally removed federal restrictions, the already flourishing global marijuana market would explode. According to ArcView Market Research and BDS Analytics, the global market will be worth $57 billion by 2027, and recreational use will consist of 66% of the proceeds!
It should be noted that ArcView are basing this on a belief that America will legalize marijuana after the 2020 Presidential Election which assumes that neither Trump, nor another Republican will be in the White House. Those are dangerous assumptions.
Overall, if the United States ever legalized marijuana on a federal level, the United Nations would almost certainly be forced to review its existing treaties. It would have little to gain by trying to enforce an outdated set of laws and the UN would certainly not punish the U.S. In reality, American legalization would set off a chain reaction which would ultimately lead to a global cannabis marketplace.
It is possible that the UN will change its legislation regardless. Nations such as Brazil, Germany, the United Kingdom and Australia have either legalized weed medicinally, or intend to do so in the near future. Once it gets to a point where most of the UN’s large nations allow medicinal weed at the very least, its anti-marijuana laws will surely become obsolete.