With the legalization of cannabis in Canada, the United States, and Uruguay, the future of international drug control treaties is now in doubt, as these changes are violate the treaties.
Professor Wayne Hall, who made world headlines after publishing a review of 20 years of cannabis research in 2014, published a paper in the scientific journal Addiction that outline a cautious approach to policy reform. His suggestions revolve around trialing and evaluating the effects of incrementally more liberal drug policies is decriminalization is going to continue to expand.
The majority of member states of the United Nations endorse these international drug control treaties, which prohibit the non-medical use of cannabis, amphetamines, cocaine, and heroin. These treaties are designed to reduce illegal access to prohibited drugs while also facilitating access to these drugs for medical and research purposes.
However, critics have stated that these treaties have failed to effectively handle non-medical use of illegal drugs while also defending policies that conflict with UN human rights treaties through the incarceration of large numbers of drug users.
In his paper, Hall suggests policies that nations could adopt in order to address the harm that certain illegal drugs cause to users and others. This would include completely changing some treaties or allowing for “flexible interpretations” of treaty provisions by members of the UN.
Cannabis is the strongest candidate for national policy experiments on a variety of ways to regulate its sale and use. This is already occurring in the U.S., Uruguay, and Canada. Thorough evaluations of these experiments could be useful for other nations in how they may decide to legalize cannabis in the future.
For drugs such as ecstasy, LSD, and other psychoactive substances, the most imperative regulatory challenge would be ensuring that the manufacture and sale of these substances meet the standards of consumer safety, and that consumers are informed about the risks of using these drugs.
Hall suggests a mitigated form of prohibition for opioids, which would expand treatment for opioid dependence, reduce some of its serious medical complications, and reduce imprisonment of opioid users.
Unfortunately for cocaine and amphetamines, Hall doesn’t have any quick fixes. Policies for stimulants need to be improved to reduce the demand and offer more effective treatments for stimulant users. Prohibition may minimize their use, but it’s not sufficient, and regulation through a modified prescription system is unlikely to curtail harmful use.
When it comes to drugs and drug regulation, much of the world is changing. It makes sense the policies, both nationally and internationally, must adapt to change with it.