On May 1, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland appeared before the Canadian Senate’s Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade (AEFA) to discuss the international dimensions of Bill C-45 to regulate cannabis. She acknowledged that regulating cannabis would entail “contravening certain obligations related to cannabis under the three UN drug conventions,” adding that, “we have to be honest about that.” Asked about the ‘inter se’ proposal, whereby like-minded nations can negotiate amongst themselves to contract out of certain provisions of the treaty, Minister Freeland replied that the government had discussed the ‘inter se’ concept and that it was worth thinking about: “We are definitely open to working with treaty partners to identify solutions that accommodate different approaches to cannabis within the international framework.”
Last month, in the course of studying Bill C-45, the Senate’s foreign affairs committee received a brief from the Vienna-based International Narcotics Control Board (INCB, the UN drug treaty monitoring body), basically arguing that derogating from the cannabis provisions would be impossible. The document, dated 13 April 2018 and available on the AEFA website, indicates it was authored by the Chief of the Convention Evaluation Section of the INCB Secretariat, Paul Rabbat, but was submitted to the Senate “as a statement of the Board’s policy.” The INCB has previously made clear its view that the UN drug treaties do not allow for the legal regulation of cannabis for non-medical uses. And we quite agree on that point, as we highlighted in our Senate testimonies last month.
The reality is that Canada and other jurisdictions are planning to regulate non-medical uses of cannabis despite the fact that the drug treaties expressly forbid doing so. The INCB, for its part, could attempt to facilitate a constructive dialogue about these very real treaty tensions. But if the brief submitted to the Committee is any indication, the INCB has chosen the route of bluster and intimidation, warning that Canada’s cannabis regulation, if implemented, may have “serious negative ramifications for the integrity of the international legal drug control framework” and calling for Canada to “reconsider the adoption of Bill C-45.”
If the INCB indeed meant to intimidate Canada against moving ahead with Bill C-45, the brief submitted to the Senate by Mr. Rabbat—supposedly in the name of the entire Board—seems unlikely to do the trick. Instead, the brief’s harsh tone and spurious legal arguments seem more likely to insult than intimidate, and can only serve to erode the INCB’s own credibility.