UNITED NATIONS (TRNS) – Recent state initiatives to legalize the recreational use of cannabis in Colorado and Washington are at odds with U.S. obligations to international drug control treaties, says the independent UN body tasked with monitoring narcotics.
The International Narcotics Control Board’s latest annual report says votes in Colorado and Washington last November to legalize the “non-medical use” of cannabis for persons 21 years and older, impose taxes on the drug and allow its sale at special stores represent a “significant challenge” to U.S. obligations to international drug control agreements.
The INCB says that as a signatory of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the United States is required to take “legislative and administrative measures as may be necessary” to limit the production and distribution of drugs within its territory to scientific and medical purposes.
“The Board stresses the importance of universal implementation of the international drug control treaties by all States parties and urges the Government of the United States to take necessary measures to ensure full compliance with the international drug control treaties in its entire territory.” reads the annual report.
On Wednesday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee the administration had yet to decide how it would respond to the new laws in Colorado and Washington, but said a policy decision would be announced “relatively soon.”
The International Narcotics Control Board report also voices concern about current laws that legalize “medical” cannabis in California and other states. It says California’s lack of an institutional framework to regulate the sale of medical marijuana has led to a spike in the number unregulated dispensaries and increased cannabis abuse.
“The real outcome of such a scheme has been to make cannabis more readily available for recreational purposes.” says the report, noting that 90% of patient registered with dispensaries do not present medical histories associated to medical cannabis use, and that 70% of them are under 40 years of age.
A decision last August by the Los Angeles City Council to enforce a municipal ban on cannabis dispensaries is currently being challenged before California’s Supreme Court. The the INCB says cooperation between state officials and drug enforcement agencies has already led to the closure of nearly half of California’s 1400 cannabis dispensaries.
The INCB report also says that campaigns to promote legalization and decriminalization have decreased the perception of risks associated with the use of cannabis. It notes that the push towards normalization coincides with growing cannabis use amongst teenagers, citing a 2011 study by the University of Michigan and the National Institute on Drug Abuse that found the prevalence of abuse by U.S. high school students increased for the third consecutive year.