United Nations Just Says No to U.S. Legalizing Pot

U.N. agency wishes Colorado and Washington State would put the weed genie back in the bottle.

If you think the United Nations has more pressing disasters to counteract than the decriminalization of marijuana, raise your lighter in the air. (Photo: Photo:David McNew/Getty Images)

Nov 28, 2012· 2 MIN READ
is a Los Angeles-based writer whose work has appeared Atlantic, Back Stage, The Christian Science Monitor and The Hill.

After years of waging an international war on drugs, the United States now finds itself facing criticism from the United Nations because two of its states have voted to liberalize their individual narcotics laws. Despite investing millions trying to wipe out marijuana production in countries like Mexico, America is coming under fire for softening its own cultivation policies.

Moreover, that policy shift is inspiring pot activists abroad to step up their push for decriminalization.

Raymond Yans, president of the U.N.’s International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), recently called the votes to decriminalize pot in Colorado and Washington State “a great threat to public health and the well-being of society far beyond those states.”

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He’s got a point—at least in the fact that the Colorado and Washington votes are reverberating beyond their borders. Activists in British Columbia, the Canadian province north of the Evergreen State, are taking stock of marijuana decriminalization campaigns south of the border and working to replicate that success.

B.C. pot activist Dana Larsen, who leads a group called Sensible BC, recently withdrew a petition to decriminalize pot so he could spend the next 10 months organizing volunteers and gathering support in order to raise the chances of decriminalization. His inspiration, he said, was what happened south of the border, a sentiment echoed by other Canadian activists.

To further complicate the Obama administration’s point of view, municipalities in Michigan and Vermont also passed pro-marijuana ballot initiatives on Election Day.

“The drug war has been going on in the world because of the United States,” Greg Williams, a British Columbia-based marijuana decriminalization advocate recently told Canada’s CBC. “So if they begin to soften, and it begins to crumble there, it will change around the world very quickly.”

Washington State’s Initiative 502 and Colorado’s Proposition 64, both of which were voted into law on November 6, decriminalized pot possession and established a taxation structure. Both states are holding off on implementing the voter-mandated reforms while waiting to see what the federal government plans to do about enforcing national marijuana prohibition laws. In his first term, President Obama was seen as tough on weed.

To further complicate the Obama administration’s point of view, municipalities in Michigan and Vermont also passed pro-marijuana ballot initiatives on Election Day.

“These developments are in violation of the international drug control treaties,” insisted Raymond Yans of the U.N.’s International Narcotics Control Board in a statement issued November 15.

Yans, whose organization has no enforcement authority in the United States, argued that the successful referendums sent the wrong message. “Such a development could result in the expansion of drug abuse, especially among young people, and we must remember that all young people have a right to be protected from drug abuse and drug dependency.”

He later told the Associated Press that he hopes United States Attorney General Eric Holder “will take all the necessary measures” to ensure that marijuana possession and use remains illegal throughout the United States.

For years, Canada has feared a liberalization of its pot policies would complicate its relationship with America and disrupt trade between the countries. But some of Canada’s politicians are seeing the changes in Washington State and Vermont, both border states, as signs of a shift in drug policy.

“One of the big concerns that people had were it’s going to thicken borders with the [United] States,” Justin Trudeau, a member of Parliament and a candidate for the leadership of the opposition Liberal Party, told the CBC, speaking of proposed pot decriminalization in Canada.

“Well, now two states and possibly more eventually are already looking at it; so I think there’s going to be a big shift. And the thing with taxing and regulation is it keeps marijuana out of the hands of our kids better than having pushers on street corners.”

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