Ottawa urged to withdraw from UN drug treaties ahead of pot legalization

Ottawa urged to withdraw from UN drug treaties ahead of pot legalization
Ottawa urged to withdraw from UN drug treaties ahead of pot legalization

Opposition parties and international legal experts are calling on Ottawa to say what it plans to do about three UN drug treaties that pose a conundrum for the Liberal government and its plans to legalize cannabis by the summer of 2018.

Conservative foreign affairs critic Peter Kent says Canada’s international reputation is at stake, adding the government should pull out of the agreements rather than violate the letter of the treaties.

“The government has a position to legalize (cannabis) which contravenes the terms of those three treaties and so the government should be upfront and respect the signatories to the treaty and withdraw,” Kent said.

“We would condemn the government allowing Canada to go into violation of the treaties.”

Canada faced a similar decision when it decided to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol, Kent said, noting the Conservative government pulled out in 2011 under the legal terms of the treaty. Kent was environment minister at the time.

“The bottom line is, we believe Canada ... should be principled with all of its dealings with the international organizations with which we have treaties and agreements,” he said.

Canada is currently one of more than 185 parties to three United Nations drug-control conventions — the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances and the 1988 Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.

Steven Hoffman, director of a global strategy lab at the University of Ottawa centre for health law, policy and ethics, also believes Canada should withdraw from the treaties, saying it would send a strong message about progressive Canadian drug policies.

“Canada can’t pick and choose which treaties to follow without encouraging other countries to do the same,” Hoffman said in an interview.

“If we are deciding not to comply with our international legal obligations under the UN drug-control treaties, we are indirectly encouraging other countries to disregard international laws as well.”

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