To send this article to your account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account.
Find out more about sending content to .
To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure firstname.lastname@example.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.
Find out more about sending to your Kindle.
Note you can select to send to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.
“Drugs” have been regulated at the international level since 1912, while cannabis has been specifically regulated since 1925. Contemporary local, national, and international cannabis regulations are now diverging, with some jurisdictions legalising its recreational production, sale and consumption. This essay explores the legal and historical complexity and contingencies around the development of international cannabis regulations and prohibitions. It highlights that the global drug control system was not solely focused on prohibition and instead was a complex mix of regulations underpinned by frequently ill-defined and unclear prohibitions. It argues that the international drug control system should not serve as a bar to national-level reforms and that the two can continue to coexist. The essay favors a flexible, functional and pragmatic interpretation and implementation of the system as the most likely and indeed preferred outcome of international cannabis policy reforms.
Domestic policy choices concerning the non-medical use of cannabis are generating increased interest in what has been usefully called the global drug prohibition regime. Commentators are questioning whether the UN-based treaty system can accommodate national policy approaches that deviate from the regime's prohibitive ethos. As tension around cannabis “legalization” builds it becomes ever more urgent to relieve systemic pressure, a process to which inter se treaty modification may be key.
Human rights and the UN drug control regime have long had an uneasy relationship, which is evident today in the tensions that exist between criminal justice reform advocates, the institutions of the UN drug control regime, and economic interests that stand to benefit from decriminalization and legalization efforts. The UN drug control regime's relationship with human rights cannot be properly discussed without acknowledging its colonial and racist roots. From the earliest agreement on drug control in 1909, born out of the crisis of opium dependency caused by the forced opening of China to trade in opium by the British, to the 1988 United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, which was a product of America's war on drugs, international efforts to regulate drugs have never been for the benefit of those who have suffered the most from both the supply of drugs and its criminalization. The war on drugs has been a global war from the beginning, arising out of colonial structures that centered white/European racial dominance. The inadequacies of the international drug regime and current efforts to reform it are rooted in this historical legacy. In light of this, we argue that efforts by international bodies to center human rights in the discussion on reforming the UN drug control regime are, so far, insufficient. Only through recognizing the power imbalances at play can we advance the possibility of a system that values individuals and responds to a changing landscape where corporate interests are coming to the table in the context of decriminalization and legalization.
Cannabis reforms are proliferating. A handful of nations have already legalized the drug for recreational purposes, and several more may soon follow suit. These national cannabis reforms are generating bottom-up pressure to liberalize the transnational legal order (TLO) for cannabis prohibition, one that involves not only international law, but also domestic law and regulatory practice. Based on a trio of international conventions, this TLO currently requires member states to limit access to marijuana, especially for non-medical or non-scientific purposes. But even as it comes under attack from below, the existing cannabis prohibition TLO may be exerting its own downward pressure on national cannabis policies. This essay uses a timely case study involving the United States’ marijuana research policy to explore the two-way relationship between international law and national cannabis policies in the dynamics of transnational legal ordering. It highlights an overlooked way the international conventions are currently helping to stifle national cannabis reforms, and it discusses the possible ramifications of that top-down pressure for the future of the cannabis prohibition TLO.
Drug policy in the American hemisphere is in flux. After decades whereby a prohibitionist regime reigned supreme and proposing alternatives was taboo, several countries have begun to reconsider policy, particularly in the case of marijuana. International law has been instrumental in building the legal and institutional regime of prohibition, and it has remained largely impervious to critiques of its disastrous consequences. Indeed, when it comes to drug law and policy, international law has been part of the problem. Nevertheless, countries in the Americas have begun to adopt innovative strategies that also embrace international obligations. In this essay, I examine the failures of the law and order paradigm behind prohibition. I then analyze legal reforms in the Americas as motivated by three different perspectives: 1) human rights, 2) public health and 3) political economy. Each one offers a powerful challenge to prohibition but relies on different assumptions and offers different transformative potential.
In the past decades, Europe has been the site of multiple drug policy innovations and cannabis policy experimentation. Most of the policy reforms in this area are taking place at the national and subnational levels. They have not resulted from agreements or harmonization initiatives at the EU level, but rather from bottom-up adoption of cannabis policies and practices that deviate from punitive approaches. Cannabis regulation has been only marginally debated by European institutions and is not discussed in depth in any EU document. On the one hand, the diversity of European drug policies is a positive development: it serves as a policy laboratory and reflects adaptations to local contexts in light of drug market-related challenges. On the other hand, a greater EU consensus would be helpful for policy coordination and international engagement.