We *told* you UN treaties were a problem

“The head of the United Nations’ International Narcotics Control Board is calling on Attorney General Eric Holder to legally challenge marijuana ballot initiatives in Colorado and Washington.” It seems the U.S. is a signatory to a U.N.-drafted 1961 treaty under which nations agree to “adopt such measures as may be necessary to prevent the misuse of, and illicit traffic in, the leaves of the cannabis plant.” [Mike Riggs, Reason; Jacob Sullum]


  • This incident brings to mind several thoughts which when considered together are mildly funny (albeit not funny enough to offset the frustration I feel about this sort of thing):

    1) What is the degree of overlap between self-styled proponents of international laws (particularly regarding reigning in “American exceptionalism”) and proponents of legalizing marijuana in the US at the federal level? I would bet that the overlap is substantial, but limited to left-leaning proponents of legalized marijuana and not pro-legalization libertarians or other small-government types.

    2) What is the degree of overlap between those who approve of e.g. the Obama administration’s nomination and use of noted internationalist Harold Koh as Legal Advisor of the Department of State and those who disapprove of the Obama administration’s stance on legalizing marijuana, and how often has this particular group been disappointed in the past on similar issues?

    3) What is the level of credulity one must maintain to believe that prohibitionists with regard to one category (e.g. guns) will never come back and try to do away with a category of items more aligned with your personal and political preferences? Similarly, what is the level of ignorance and/or denial one must maintain to believe that prohibition is a workable system (economically and otherwise) in one arena but nowhere else?

  • “adopt such measures as may be necessary to prevent the misuse of, and illicit traffic in, the leaves of the cannabis plant.”

    But surely as Marajuana is now legal, its use isnt “Misuse” and trafficing in it isnt “Illicit traffic”.

  • Thank you, Spodula. If it isn’t illegal, then the treaty (apparently) hasn’t been violated. Furthermore, who cares anyway. Let the UN complain and ignore them like we do with everything else.

    Also, “leaves”? Nobody gets high off the leaves in 2012.

  • As to the comments of Matt (his third point), fissile, weapons grade nuclear material is heavily regulated in the US. Good luck trying to get your own private atomic bomb – our government does a good job enforcing prohibition in this case. Prohibition can work for some things, but doesn’t work for others. While some of you may want blanket legalisation for all recreational drugs, and argue against people who want it all to be illegal, I know plenty of people that support marijuana legalisation, but think that methamphetamine, heroin, and cocaine should continue to be illegal. If you want marijuana legalisation, those people can be your allies.

  • “the U.S. is a signatory to a U.N.-drafted 1961 treaty ”

    So . . . what?

    This is a “UN-drafted” treaty, not drafted by the U.S. at all. Even more significant, Eric Holder never signed it.

    So Holder has absolutely no obligation even to respond to this silly request – let alone obey it.

  • John,

    It looks like the US signed and the Senate approved the treaty. It’s the law of the land. Holder is required to uphold it.

  • John – the question is not if the Attorney General has signed it – the question is if the Senate of the United States ratified it and what the treaty requires for the treaty to go into effect.

  • Can the US repudiate the treaty?

  • John – so what you are saying is that US attorneys are free to ignore ratified agreements with other countries and international bodies they do not agree with? Or are you trying to say that he has to honor only treaties drafted by US?

    If yes, then US should stop to pressure other countries to follow international agreements favorited by US. Anything else makes US look very hypocritical. (I’m not saying that US is hypocritical, I’m saying that attitude expressed in your comment makes US look like that.)

  • Bill P.–

    Congress can repudiate anythng it wants, either directly, or indirectly through restrictions on executive authority, except for provisions of the U.S. Constitution.

    (1) Repudiating some treaties would be unwise if it caused a shooting war or trade war, but nobody would go to war on us in this case. They could cite our repudiation of this treaty as reason to repudiate it themselves, but that would be good policy anyways.

    (2) I would favor a six-month notice period before repudiating a treaty. Many of them already include a six-month notice provision.

    (3) We should call for modification of this treaty in line with the second clause of our 21st Amendment, that we will continued to ban *export* of intoxicating substances to other countries in violation of their internal laws.

  • As I suspected – a sense of irony (or, even, humor) is often suppressed in the legal profession.

  • AAAA – But it this way: suppose the people of the United State petition their Government to change a law. The Government then replies: “We’re sorry, but we’ve already promised foreign powers that we will govern you in this manner, and we can’t break our promise.”
    What would be your reaction? Surely it would be: “The government is supposed to be our servant, not our master. It has no mandate to make promises to us, but it cannot make promises to foreigners about how we will be governed.”
    Making promises to foreigners about how those foreigners will be treated is, of course, a different matter.

  • No UN, no problem.

  • No US money, no UN.

  • This is what happens when we outsource our sovereignty.

    Sorry, folks, this is no longer under your control. Report to the General Secretary’s office immediately for your spanking.

  • Spodula: It still violates Federal law even if it doesn’t violate State law.

  • AMcA, it’s called “ratifying a treaty” and it’s pretty much the exact opposite of outsourcing our sovereignty, seeing as how it is a domestic democratic process to agree to a proposal.

  • The treaty does have a clause in it allowing withdrawal. The President simply has to give notice to the UN.

    I’m not sure if it’s his unilateral decision or Congress has to be involved, but asking him to do it can’t hurt.

  • The answer is in the text “adopt such measures as may be necessary to prevent the misuse of, and illicit traffic in, the leaves of the cannabis plant.”

    Since it is now legal it is no longer illicit. If it is used responsibly it is not being misused.

    Case closed.

  • Also note only “the leaves of the cannabis plant” are being specified. This leaves us with seeds and flowers/buds.

  • This is just my non-expert reading, but it sounds like a country can legalize it, with the proviso that they have to deal with their locals who are helping smuggle it into places that don’t allow it. (kind of like paragraph 2 of the 21st Amendment)