Marijuana reform, or decriminalization as it’s called, is not only becoming a very popular subject but is also a sign of the times.
It seems like this is all very new and that everything is happening fast, but decriminalization has actually been going on for over 4 decades. There has been a significant surge in the swiftness of change since 2012, when Colorado and Washington became the first states in America to legalize the recreational use of cannabis, but it was in 1973 when Oregon became the very first state to decriminalize possession. And very quickly within the next five years 8 more states followed suit. Not surprisingly those first states included the likes of Alaska, California and Colorado.(Miss, NY, NE, NC, Ohio) Then, once California became the first state to legalize the medicinal use of cannabis, 23 states quickly followed suit adopting medical marijuana programs by the end of the 90’s. Today, we have 4 states and Washington D.C. that have legalized the use of marijuana. With at least 4 more states voting on legalization this November we will very likely double that number this year.
Just as the tide is turning in America concerning marijuana legalization, so it is across the globe.
Many countries are also experiencing the same discontent with the prohibitionist approach to cannabis use that is beginning to become so prevalent in America. Whether it is simply decriminalizing or legalizing cannabis in some form or another, liberal marijuana legislation is being passed in many countries across Europe and South America.
There are 34 countries that have effectively decriminalized the possession and use of marijuana
The policies generally limit the amount you are allowed to have on your person. The limitations are all over the board, varying greatly from country to country. There are limitations ranging anywhere from small amounts, such as in Belgium where you can only have 3 grams to much larger amounts like the up to 20 plants for personal consumption that residents of Columbia are afforded, to complete disregard by police despite it being illegal. For example, in Cambodia, cannabis can be easily purchased and smoked in public without the threat of arrest. Cannabis use is widespread and there are even many places called “Happy” restaurants that openly offer food cooked with marijuana. There are also many places where marijuana is widely used for religious purposes. In India, it is often used by the Hindu in religious ceremonies and despite it being illegal is is sold in government owned shops in holy cities.
Decriminalization isn’t the only movement towards reform, more and more countries are creating legislation for the use of cannabis. Of the 34 countries that have decriminalized, 11 have medical marijuana programs in place and 4 have legalized the use of marijuana.
Uruguay made history when it became the first country to pass a bill to legalize and regulate the production and sale of marijuana as a whole. Spain, Colombia, Jamaica and Australia all now have some form of legal cannabis. In Spain the laws all pertain to privacy. Whether you are selling cannabis seeds, growing enough for your own personal consumption, or consuming marijuana, as long as you do it in private, it is legal. In Colombia and Jamaica legality is more about the amount you are allowed to have on hand. In Colombia it is legal to possess up to 22 grams and grow up to 20 plants for personal consumption while Jamaica has a limit of cultivation of up to 5 plants for personal use.
Australia has a new medicinal program in place, but like America, individual territories are deciding for themselves and legalizing possession. In both the Capitol Territory and South Australia it is legal to grow up to two plants for personal consumption.
Outside of America you’ll find that the issue of marijuana use is more one of a human rights issue.
In Germany, even though possession of marijuana is illegal (they do have a Medical program) consumption itself is not illegal because there it is considered “self harm” which is not considered a crime. In Jamaica the regulations for cultivation include medical and religious uses as well as for purpose of “natural growth”. Another recent incident as evidence of proof that the global perception of marijuana use is changing, a Supreme Court in Mexico ruled that “prohibiting people from growing the drug for consumption was unconstitutional as it violated the human right to the free development of one’s personality”.
Legalization of cannabis in American states as well as the four countries are beginning to push the boundaries of the international system and continue to challenge both U.S. law and the United Nations drug control regime.
The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (amended in 1971 and 1988) is a treaty that requires participating nations to limit and even criminalize the possession, use, trade, and distribution of drugs outside of medical and scientific purposes, and work together to stop international drug trafficking. The convention basically began the “War on Drugs” that many countries believe has been a significant failure. Nations that participate and pursue any action to legalize non-medical and non-scientific marijuana use violate these international drug-control conventions, actions that would either require revision of the treaties or partial or complete withdrawal of the country from the regime. This unprecedented stand for reform that countries are taking around the world is an indication that there is belief that the UN Drug Conventions are outdated and in great need for amendments and may lead the UN to consider new public health policies. Many leaders that attend the CND (Commission of Narcotic Drugs) in Vienna each year have begun to voice their opinions that it is time to reconsider the conventions and look for ways to update them to reflect current times. At the 2012 session, Juan Manzur, Argentina’s Minister of Health asked: “Hasn’t the time come to start an open debate on the consistency and effectiveness of some of the provisions . . . in these treaties?”. Then a year later in 2013, Diego Cánepa, head of the Uruguayan delegation, declared: “Today more than ever we need the leadership and courage to discuss if a revision and modernization is required of the international instruments adopted over the last fifty years”, and he wasn’t alone in his beliefs- Kofi Annan, Former UN Secretary General, addressed the session stating: “The time to change course has come. The world needs drug policies informed by evidence of what actually works…”
In the Netherlands they employ a sort of “loophole” to avoid violating the treaties that is not unlike what we are currently doing here in America. The legislation provides for legal possession of up to 6 grams by a resident but, marijuana is only to be sold at local “coffee shops”. The Dutch Ministry of Justice applies what they call a tolerance policy, under which law enforcement can set priorities for which offenses are important enough to spend their limited resources on (think Cole Memo). This effectively keeps anti-drug laws in place while limiting enforcement of them. This tolerance policy enables them to reduce public harm, still comply with international drug treaties, and avoid criticism from the International Narcotics Board.
The legalization of marijuana in our neighboring countries is going to be of paramount importance when it comes to the future of marijuana reform in America, after all, we all keep a close eye on each other. Since a country’s decision to legalize marijuana is in conflict with their obligations to the international treaties, it may begin to put pressure on the UN to consider a new amendment to the treaties to enable a more cohesive plan for the nations to continue to work together to stop international drug trafficking.