UN drug chief says recreational cannabis legalization breaches international drug control treaties


Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

Could UN drug conventions be overdue for an update? According to the president of the narcotics enforcement agency of the United Nations, President Cornelis P. de Joncheere, drug conventions are not in alignment with the ever-evolving legal cannabis landscape.

Joncheere raised his concerns at a presentation recently hosted by the International Narcotics Control Board’s (INCB). The President emphasized the fact that global policy developments – including cannabis and synthetic drugs – are in violation of the outdated drug conventions. 

“We have some fundamental issues around the conventions that state parties will need to start looking at,” said Joncheere, whose predecessor Viroj Sumyai has stepped up as president of the Thai Cannabis Corp. “We have to recognize that the conventions were drawn up 50 and 60 years ago.” Sumyai feels that next year would be a suitable time to reconsider drug conventions, stating that problems must be dealt with by means of “new alternative instruments and approaches.”

An overview of the 2019 INCB report

Based on the recently published INCB report for 2019, recreational cannabis infringes international drug control treaties; a common claim from the Board. Something that makes the INCB’s latest report different is the fact that “human rights” issues have been discussed more than ever before.

The INCB, which is based in Vienna, is the primary independent and quasi-judicial monitoring body for the enactment of U.N. drug conventions. Next year, the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs celebrates its 60th anniversary. A requirement of the INCB involves recommending ways in which international drug treaties can be adhered to. 

“[The INCB] remains concerned at the legislative developments permitting the use of cannabis for ‘recreational’ uses,” reads an excerpt from the foreword. “Not only are these developments in contravention of the drug control conventions and the commitments made by States parties, but the consequences for health and well-being – in particular of young people – are of serious concern.”

Various geographical locations were spotlighted in the INCB report, including North America, where “measures to decriminalize or legalize cannabis are proliferating.” The report sparks concern regarding increasing consumption; stimulated predominantly by the legal sale of edibles. 

Over in Europe, the INCB says that “an increasing number of European countries” have either officially launched a medical market or, at the very least, are considering it. Reportedly, “steps [are] underway toward the legalization of the non-medical use of cannabis that included the legalization of the cultivation, distribution and use of cannabis for such purposes, notably in the Netherlands and Luxembourg.”

As a country that is gearing up to host a “recreational [cannabis] legalization referendum,” it’s not surprising that the INCB is paying close attention to New Zealand, too. According to the INCB, “any and all legislative or regulatory measures aimed at the legalization of cannabis for non-medical purposes are inconsistent” with international drug control treaties. The Government of New Zealand has been asked to collaborate with the Board to make sure its legal markets are compatible with the drug control conventions.

Increased use of illicit cannabis spotlighted in 2019 INCB report 

More people are consuming cannabis illegally, according to the 2019 INCB report. Back in the year 2000, “total licit production” was 1.4 tons. This figure climbed to 289.5 tons in 2018, based on data featured in the report. INCB reporters claim that, due to a rise in legal medical/scientific cannabis cultivation and a lack of standardized manufacturing processes, they are still confirming data with the associated Governments to ensure it is consistent.

“More and more countries have started to use cannabis and cannabis extracts for medical purposes, as well as for scientific research,” the report states. However, up until 2018, just a segment of the cannabis utilized for research purposes was reported by the United States; and nowhere else in the UN.

Although the INCB has its concerns regarding the legalization of recreational cannabis, industry experts feel that there is still an opportunity for international drug conventions to be updated. Independent expert on U.N. drug policy, Kenzi Riboulet-Zemouli, is one of those people. 

“Having the head of the INCB suggesting that the conventions are not fit for the challenges of the 21st century is already breaking a strong taboo. It is possible and feasible for the international community to update international law,” Riboulet-Zemouli said during an interview with Marijuana Business Daily. “Taboo is the only reason why there has not been any discussion about a new, a different or another drug treaty since 1988. Now that this taboo has been broken, perspectives will open.”

Hopefuls felt confident that some clarity would be established during the 63rd session of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) in Vienna; an event that ran from March 6-8. Unfortunately, a discussion regarding the World Health Organization’s (WHO) rescheduling of cannabis was postponed until December, signifying that more needs to be done to clarify cannabis policies. Zemouli says that the “divide between governments will increase” if WHO’s recommendations on cannabis are rejected by the CND in December.