Russia Leads Anti-Drug Bloc’s Condemnation of Canadian Cannabis Legalization

    Canada’s legalization of cannabis, which took effect in October, was never going to please everyone.

    In a statement at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime session in early November, Russia accused Canada of violating international drug-law agreements and undermining the UN’s—and especially Russia’s—vision for a “drug-free society.”

    Mikhail Ulyanov, the Russian Federation’s representative to the UN in Vienna, condemned the legalization and commercialization of cannabis in Canada–or, as Ulyannov somewhat hyperbolically called it, the “free flow of narcotic drugs in Canada.”

    Ulyanov characterizes Canada’s cannabis policy as a “blatant violation… of its international obligations undertaken upon acceding to the UN drug control conventions,” including the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961, the Convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1971 and the UN Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances of 1988—the three of which he calls the “cornerstones of international drug control system.”

    The Russian representative sees Canada, and presumably other jurisdictions, such as Uruguay, as operating outside of “international legal obligations” and practicing a “high-handedness.

    Ulyanov made an accompanying statement on behalf of 50 member states, reaffirming the convention agreements that Canada is accused of violating. This group of nations—the most populous being China, Indonesia, Pakistan and Nigeria—is the anti-drug bloc of the UN.

    Russian fears that the creation of the “biggest commercial drug market in the world” will “inevitably facilitate the increased inflow of this substance to other countries.” Japan and South Korea, which are also among the nations represented by Ulyanov’s statement, have threatened their nationals with punishment if they use cannabis in Canada.

    Russia’s own national drug policy is deeply moralistic. As noted by Mikhail Golichenko of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, state attitudes are exemplified by a line from the 1961 UN convention: “addiction to narcotic drugs constitutes a serious evil for the individual and is fraught with social and economic danger to mankind.” The repressive drug policies that result contribute to the country’s growing HIV epidemic.

    Russia’s UN statement also proposes to block the election of states to the Commission on Narcotic Drugs that do not “impeccably comply with their international obligations and have no intention to play in the Commission the role of the Trojan horse.”

    Battle lines are now clearly drawn for the 62nd Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, which will convene in March 2019 to determine the next 10 years of the UN’s “Integrated and Balanced Strategy to Counter the World Drug Problem.”

    Russian flag on the grass photograph by Marco Verch

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