On April 6th, officials from Mexico and Canada held a teleconference with U.S. drug policy reform advocates and journalists to discuss and compare approaches to cannabis legislation. The conversation came two weeks ahead of the UN General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem (UNGASS), the first global meeting on the topic in nearly two decades.
There is unprecedented discussion about changing cannabis policies in America’s northern and southern neighboring countries. Canada is likely to become the next country to legalize and regulate cannabis, after Uruguay became the first country to do so in 2013. And Mexican officials held a series of meetings across the country to discuss opportunities and obstacles to legalization following a supreme court ruling that gave four plaintiffs the right to grow and consume cannabis. (Cannabis Wire’s interview with a lead lawyer in the case.) And medical cannabis measures have been introduced. (See this page for all Cannabis Wire global coverage.)
“[Former Toronto police chief Bill Blair] has moved forward with establishing a task force of expert policymakers, as well as provincial and territorial bodies, to work with the government to put policies in place going forward as we move beyond prohibition,” said Nathaniel Erskine-Smith of Canada’s House of Commons, in reference to Blair’s role in cannabis legalization in Canada.
Erskine-Smith emphasized the issues of importance for legalization in Canada, the priority being “to make sure that we don’t over commercialize the market,” which would lead to increased use. Other focus areas included: personal grow limits, limiting youth access, rules for impaired driving, public consumption, product testing, and restricting advertising.
He suggested Uruguay’s focus on public health in legalization could be a good model for Canada, and that he hoped regulations would be in place by the end of 2017.
Donald MacPherson of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition suggested that the movement toward reforming cannabis policies in a handful of countries should result in conversations about updating global drug treaties. These treaties form the foundation of the Controlled Substances Act in the U.S., and similar legislation in other countries, that put cannabis in Schedule I alongside heroin, indicating that it has a high potential for abuse and no medical value.
“With Uruguay, the U.S. and soon Canada legalizing cannabis, in our opinion, which is in breach of the treaties, it is time that the UN create a process to talk about treaty reform coming out of the UN meeting,” MacPherson said.
Aram Barra, one of the plaintiffs in the supreme court case in Mexico that won the right to grow and possess cannabis, said that the ruling “accepts that the prohibitionist policy for cannabis unconstitutional, as it is disproportionate and unnecessarily affects the fundamental rights of people.”
He noted that it allows other individuals to pursue a similar case, and that it opened debate in the country.
Senator Laura Angélica Rojas Hernández of Mexico said that the conversations about legalization focused mostly on the American models, and there was a consensus on an alternative to “criminalization and incarceration” but that people are still in disagreement on remaining details.
While cannabis was most discussed during the teleconference because it is the only drug up for consideration for legalization and regulation, the conversation covered questions of public health and human rights in the current drug war context, which will both be focus areas during UNGASS.