The United States is Not High on the U.N.’s List

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I think one of the major purposes of this blog is to look at how domestic issues touch upon, and are influenced by, international law. This topic is no exception. One of the biggest social and criminal issues is the legalization of pot. Now, the U.N. has added their opinion to the mix.

The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) has issued a warning to the United States against the increased legalization of pot by individual States. The INCB is a body of the U.N. in charge of overseeing drug treaties and the member states to those treaties. They believe the increased “legal highs,” those from the legal use of medical marijuana, are only aiding the illegal drug trade.

The INCB’s criticism comes from a perspective that the U.S.’s increased legalization is outside the treaties’ rules. Their strongest criticism went to Washington State and Colorado, where limited amounts of pot can be used for recreation. Raymond Yans, President of the INCB, said the increased legal use is “under[mining] the humanitarian aims of the drug control system.” He went on to say that Attorney General Holder re-assured him that the federal laws banning cultivation and possession will remain in force. Yans also stated he was awaiting the federal government’s response to the the states, now up to 18, who have legalized marijuana, most in medical form.

There will be a global summit in Vienna next week to discuss the marijuana issue, as well as the global problem of other drugs.

Normally, this topic is a domestic issue, often seen as a generational dispute. This, however, adds an international dimension. The feel I received from Mr. Yans is if the federal government does not curb the legalization, then they might issue sanctions of some sort. I can see the concern. While the use of pot might be a domestic issue, the origin of the drugs, and the labor used to produce it pushes it to an international level.

-How do you feel about the potential violation of international law by states such as Colorado and Massachusetts’s legalization?

-Should individual citizens votes count more than an international body?

-Should the federal government take into account the international perspective of the problem?

Article Source: The Guardian UK


  1. How would legalizing marijuana help international illegal drug trading? What “public health” threat would come from legalizing marijuana? The “problem” the article speaks of is that marijuana is becoming more socially acceptable, meaning less jurisdictions are finding reasons to keep it banned. Individual votes should definitely count more than an international body in this situation because the issue involves domestic freedoms.
    As for the international trade argument, if marijuana were legal to possess and grow across the entire country, this would not be an issue at all. All marijuana could then be grown domestically, effectively ending its illegal importation. Moreover, the federal government can institute a tax similar to tobacco products. Legally packaged marijuana can be regulated for quality so that there will be no danger of it being laced with narcotics. Our country already allows and regulates the use of some drugs, such as alcohol. I do not see how marijuana is any different, and I am not a marijuana user. I sincerely hope that the United States does not give into pressure from the INCB to restrict the freedoms of its citizens.

  2. The federal government should ignore the “international perspective” of the problem. I don’t remember international courts really having much power – I believe George W. Bush was found guilty of war crimes. I don’t see how legalizing marijuana undermines humanitarianism. Last I checked, limiting freedoms does that. I wonder who is paying whom here to keep marijuana on the black market essentially. The US needs to move away from the UN…Wilson was a wise man.

  3. The United States is never bound to pay any attention to the international perspective. Under certain circumstances, there are good reasons for cooperating with the UN, however, I agree with Rich that this particular issue is solely domestic. U.S. lawmakers and judiciaries, without the aid of the UN, will eventually solve the question pertaining to the legalization of marijuana. The U.S. should not comply with any UN sanctions, nor give any deference to the UN in such regard, for U.S. states are empowered to write their own legislatures. I understand that the trafficking of illegal narcotics affects the international community as a whole, but until the U.S. starts exporting its legally grown marijuana to other countries, the legalization of marijuana in the U.S. does not strike me as an international topic.

    Personally, I do not think that marijuana should be legalized in any state in the U.S., though I realize that nationwide legalization is inevitable.

  4. The comment regarding former President Bush raised some concerns. It was my understanding that George Bush and other members of the government that he worked with were found guilty of war crimes, but not by the International Criminal Court. Rather, the case was tried by a Tribunal of Conscience in Malaysia in absentia, meaning none of the defendants were even present.


    The hearing took all of one week and they were found guilty. Shocking. The United Nations Secretary General pursuant to UN Resolution 808 stated: “A trial should not commence until the accused is physically present before the International Tribunal. There is a widespread perception that trials in absentia should not be provided for in the statute as this would be inconsistent with Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which provides that the accused shall be entitled to be tried in his presence.”

    The tribunal also noted that the verdict was declaratory in nature with no kind of power and that their only legal option now would be to recommend to the Chief Prosecutor of the ICC to prosecute. He has chosen not to.

  5. The treaty that the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) is referring to is the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961. ( This is not a self executing treaty which means that the United States must implement its own laws to carry out the provisions in the treaty. The United States passed the Controlled Substance Act of 1970 (CSA) which was designed to fulfill the treaty obligations. Article 35 and 36 of the Single Convention are prefaced with language that has these obligations subject to the constitutional limits of each party. This means that if there is anything in the treaty that would conflict with our constitutional rights, the US isn’t going to pass laws to implement those aspects of the treaty no matter how angry the INCB is going to get. The other side of this is that Federal Law will trump State law if there is a conflict and right now, CSA is federal law. In my view then, the US isn’t going to do anything to change the CSA to make it more stringent because we are the U.S., no one is going to boss us around. What may happen will be the Federal courts will interpret these State laws as conflicting with CSA and are therefore invalid. My question is what is the latest with the Federal courts interpreting State laws legalizing marijuana as a violation of CSA?

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