Side event: Cannabis and the Conventions, the UNGASS and beyond

Organized by the Government of Uruguay, WOLA, TNI and the Drug Policy Observatory.

John Walsh, WOLA| Cannabis is the elephant in the room. There is a need to create legal access to cannabis, other that medical. 

Davis Bewley-Taylor, Global Drug Policy Observatory | I want to give some background about where we stand today. Nations singed up the Single Convention in a very different context that the current one. This means that the Convention consolidated the thinking of coming form the 40’s and 50’s. At the time, drug users were marginalized; cannabis was largely ignored scientifically, it was used in racist way, and the substance and user were demonized. And since then, the Single Convention has never been reviewed in relation to cannabis. Even the last scientific review about cannabis is from 1935.

But reforms are possible. We saw it first in Holland, and today in Latin America, Europe, North America and Australia. We talk about medical and recreational use. But there is also a tension that exists in relation to religious and traditional uses. And this is an argument for contesting the Conventions today.

What some states in the US and Uruguay have done is forbidden by the UN Treaties. This year more countries and states are proposing modifications. So there is no more room for ignoring this issue. It is important to review the conventions based in evidence and what is taking place today in the world.

Augusto Vitale, director del IRCAA de Uruguay| I will talk about what happened in Uruguay. Our policy is inter-institutional and has been developed in accord with all the actors concerned. In the country, we have the precedent of the regulation of the market and publicity of tobacco and alcohol.

The cannabis policy starts before the presence of Mujica. A proposal of bill existed before in order to regulate auto-cultivation that tried to respond to a lack of evidence that many scientific reports showed. Because in Uruguay, the consumption was never forbidden but it was not regulated either. What we wanted to do is to separate the different uses (medical, industrial and recreational). And we did it from the government, with the users, and civil society, that created a favorable environment towards change.

I come from working in prevention. So now, the issue is to put an answer on public health and to control the ones that stayed illegal, in order to create a secured environment for consumption.The issues now are to liberalize the use without making the substance banal, promoting prevention in youth, and preventing the legal production to go outside the legal framework (specially abroad). This is why monitoring and evaluation are so important and need to be constantly, with the help of academics and an Experts committee.

Uruguay is a country with a strong State control. So we can control that there are not labels or publicity in order not to treat it as a normal market substance. We have now to go beyond this law. Uruguay doesn’t want to be a model because every country has it own context.

Kathy-Ann Brown, Jamaica | In Jamaica we have a logo “Don’t worry, be happy” but for us this doesn’t mean a business as usual approach. We want to differentiate use and abuse. Like we do with alcohol during lunch in Europe. For us, this is not cultural. For us ganga plant or cannabis plant is an herb. We use it like an herb (to us tea for example) but the problem is that it is illegal.

See the 2001 national Report to see the use the benefits of Ganga for some diseases. But what do we have? We have the UN Conventions with interdictions on the traditional uses of the plant. For example, how to regulate the use for a medical way? You need a prescription for a doctor but we have our naturalist-traditional doctors that are not recognized to prescript Ganga.

They say the Single Convention regime gives us flexibilities. Even the commentary of the convention says that probably cannabis should be reschedule again. And the conversation has been going on and on. But in 2014 the CND decided cannabis was not to be reschedule. This is not a scientific debate this is messaging. And people lives depend on this. It is not equitable with our culture. So, what will happen after this? I hope the debate here will focus on it.

Martin Jelsma, TNI| I want to look forward to look what are the options for regulation. See the Briefing Paper we published today “Cannabis Regulation and the UN drug Treaties”. Today only Uruguay has gone out of the legal framework. And the Conventions continue to constitute an obstacle for political reform.

We argue that is better to explore than to ignore. Full compliance is not longer an option. It is never an ideal situation. So we propose several options for reform that could help to reconcile these efforts. To talk about a new legal international framework, that means Treaty reform, is a nightmare. Consensus is not longer there, so reconsider reform of the treaties is not useful because it wont happen. This is why we propose 4 forms to reform the legal framework:

  1. Agreement of all the member States that means to make amendments to the treaties. There are precedents, for example, with the subject of incarceration. So this is not unthinkable but is difficult.
  2. Rescheduling the Cannabis with a single majority in the CND. And this can be done with a scientific review of the substance.
  3. The Vienna Convention allows special situation for amendments, when the context is not easy to amend the Treaties. It is mode of intersect agreement. But is a temporary possibility before of thinking in real amendments.
  4. Reform by individual States. Like Bolivia did with coca leaf. To exit and re-enter the Conventions with reservations.

There are options that do not require a consensus negotiation. The mandate can include the possibility to look beyond the legal framework. There is a need to decide an agenda towards 2019 and beyond that include these options. Because change has been already done.

 

Q & A:

What about industrial hemp? It is an issue bigger that medicinal and it is an option of life for some people. Some productions of hemp are regulated under legislation. But the important issue is that people participating in the legal regime do not participate in the illegal regime.

What about presidential elections and the transition in the US and the change that has happened in the country? Regardless what happens at a Federal level change is happening today in a State level. The momentum is there regardless of the Presidential election. The paradox is that Conventions are designed to prevent what is today happening in US states and in Uruguay. So what we see that the Conventions are today counterproductive. There is a need to change.

What about the grey zone in Uruguay? Actually, police is acting a lot with the social actors and there has been not problem to implement the regulation for auto-cultivation. And we will see when the drug stores will start to sell the legal cannabis.

John Walsh, WOLA | Concluding remarks. The elephant is so big that can not longer be ignored.

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