Pubdate: Tue, 17 May 2016
Source: National Post (Canada)
Page: A6
Copyright: 2016 Canwest Publishing Inc.
Author: Sharon Kirkey


The Liberal government's vow to legalize pot is a flagrant violation 
of international drug laws, a global health law expert says - making 
it an ideal time to either renegotiate international drug-control 
treaties or pull out of them altogether, he suggests.

In a commentary in this week's Canadian Medical Association Journal, 
the University of Ottawa's Steven Hoffman says efforts to 
de-penalize, decriminalize and legalize marijuana can be good for 
public health, "if done right."

However, the Liberal government's pot bill, expected to be introduced 
next spring, would almost certainly run up against three UN treaties 
requiring marijuana possession to remain a criminal offence, and that 
Canada, as a signatory, is legally obliged to follow, writes Hoffman.

"Canadians may be less concerned with international laws when they 
are about drugs, but they probably do care when these laws govern 
genocide, nuclear disarmament or human rights," Hoffman and co- 
author Roojin Habibi write.

Canada can't "pick and choose which international laws to follow 
without encouraging other countries to do the same." Still, Hoffman 
says the drug treaties were drafted in the 1960s and reflect the 
philosophy of a war on drugs "that we did not win, and, history seems 
to show, we're not going to win either" using punitive or criminal sanctions.

If Canada wants to be one of the world's most progressive nations, it 
has several options, Hoffman argues: give people a constitutional 
right to use pot, persuade enough countries to rewrite the treaties 
or grant Canada an exemption, or formally opt out of them.

Given that convincing the 32 countries "with death penalties for drug 
smuggling to reconsider the strict UN drug-control treaties seems as 
politically possible as adding a constitutional right to smoke 
marijuana into the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms," they 
write, the third legal option is likely the only feasible one.

"Formally withdrawing from outdated treaties like these is a 
country's sovereign right. It may also be a moral duty if the 
government believes the conventions' required policies are harmful."

"This is an issue that really dichotomizes the world into countries 
that have taken extremely mean, punitive measures - treating addicts 
as evil people - versus the other half of the world that is starting 
to treat addiction as a medical challenge," Hoffman said in an interview.

The Liberals have an opportunity to lead the world "because there are 
no good models right now."

Either way, he said Canada has promised to uphold multilateralism and 
follow international law. Violating the drug conventions would weaken 
Canada's global position, he argues. "The international legal system 
benefits everybody in the world - and Canada historically has been at 
the vanguard of promoting and protecting that international system."
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