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Regulating drugs: resolving conflicts with the UN drug control treaty system

Walsh, John and Jelsma, Martin (2019) Regulating drugs: resolving conflicts with the UN drug control treaty system. Journal of Illicit Economies and Development, 1 (3). 266 - 271. ISSN 2516-7227

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Identification Number: 10.31389/jied.23


There are good reasons to legally regulate drugs markets, rather than persist with efforts to ban all non-medical uses of psychoactive substances. Regulated cannabis and coca markets are already a reality in several countries, with more likely to follow. But ignoring or denying that such policy shifts contravene certain obligations under the UN drug control treaties is untenable and risks undermining basic principles of international law. States enacting cannabis regulation must find a way to align their reforms with their international obligations. Reaching a new global consensus to amend the UN drug control conventions so as to accommodate cannabis regulation is not feasible for the foreseeable future, and the options that do not require consensus are limited. For countries choosing to regulate cannabis, notwithstanding the drug treaty provisions intended to disallow such a step, a proactive way forward would combine: (1) providing evidence of the ineffectiveness and negative consequences of the prohibitionist approach; (2) underscoring the inconsistencies and historical errors embedded in the treaty regime, and the political and procedural obstacles to its modernization; (3) explaining the shift to regulation with arguments of citizens’ health and safety, and justifying it with an appeal to human rights obligations; (4) acknowledging that regulation contravenes certain drug treaty provisions and arguing that a limited period of ‘respectful non-compliance’ is unavoidable; and (5) preparing to resolve the legal conflict by submitting new reservations or by elaborating a new agreement among like-minded countries on the basis of the inter se procedure for treaty modification, as provided by Article 41 of the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2019 The Authors
Divisions: LSE
Subjects: K Law > KZ Law of Nations
H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare. Criminology
Date Deposited: 20 Dec 2019 10:33
Last Modified: 27 Feb 2024 08:42

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