A favourite argument used by the UK and other Governments is that national laws and policies are governed by international opinions and treaties; they tend to choose which opinions they listen to on the basis of which opinions they agree with - such is the nature of politicians - challenging the rulings of European Courts when considered not to be in the interest of the country (British Beef Bans, banning of razor wire around prisons etc).
The treaty which concern us, as far as cannabis is concerned, and the treaty upon which the UK Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 is based, is the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs 1961. The principle of this treaty is that the possession, use, trade in, distribution, import, export, manufacture and production of drugs is exclusively limited to medical and scientific purposes.
The spirit of the treaty was to completely eradicate the cultivation and use of cannabis within thirty years; many consider it fortunate that this aim was not achieved. This failure applies to all the drugs which are listed in the schedules of the treaty; despite the "War on Drugs" there are more hard drug addicts worldwide than ever before. The measures adopted to eradicate cannabis (as well as the opium poppy and coca leaf) were ones of repression. This was emphasised in the 1988 Vienna Convention against the Illicit Traffic of Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, which provided for international co-operation, extradition and the confiscation of assets; this resulted in the UK the Drug Trafficking Offences Act. The problem with these conventions is, in our opinion is that cannabis has been misrepresented and mis-classified within the treaties.
In the Single Convention cannabis is included in Schedule 1, alongside natural opium and semi-synthetic opium (morphine, heroin), opiates, derivatives of coca (cocaine), pethidine, methadone. Cannabis is also included in Schedule 4, substances deemed to be particularly dangerous and with an extremely limited or no therapeutic value. The main criteria of classification within the 4 schedules is based on medicinal value and use.
In the Vienna Convention cannabis is included in schedule 1, that is drugs causing serious risk to public health, whose therapeutic value is doubtful or nil; other drugs in this schedule include LSD25, and DMT.
Most governments including that of the UK, would be reluctant to withdraw from these treaties. Yet although the treaties prohibit the use of cannabis everywhere, many countries and their police forces turn a blind eye to at least the locals who smoke cannabis, choosing not to prosecute for small amounts - Holland, Spain, Italy, Switzerland and now Germany. Britain, however, using a somewhat random system of cautioning first and even second time offenders in some parts of the country, fine or imprison people for traces elsewhere.
The recent introduction of urine tests for cannabis both inside and outside of Her Majesties Prisons takes this to the ridiculous. One can be punished for having consumed cannabis weeks ago (it stays in the blood that long), possibly even through passive smoking.
Cannabis is mis-classified within these conventions. Rather than destroy the whole agreement there exist Articles to allow for the reclassification of substances within or between the schedules. Article 3 of the UN Single Convention allows the schedules to be amended.
In order to legalise cannabis we must persuade the various parties to these international agreements to consider correcting this misrepresentation of cannabis, recognise that cannabis has many medicinal and therapeutic properties, and to address the situation and remove cannabis from the schedules
Since the 20th century, most countries have enacted laws affecting the legality of cannabis regarding the cultivation, use, possession, or transfer of cannabis for recreational use. Many jurisdictions have lessened the penalties for possession of small quantities of cannabis, so that it is punished by confiscation or a fine, rather than imprisonment. Punishment focuses more on those who traffic and sell the drug on the black market. Some jurisdictions/drug courts use mandatory treatment programs for young or frequent users with freedom from "narcotic" drugs as goal. A few jurisdictions permit cannabis use for medicinal purposes. There are also changes in a more restrictive direction as in Canada, Denmark, Netherlands or United Kingdom and drug tests, more or less mandatory, are more common than before in many countries. Some countries allow the sale through drug companies. However, simple possession can carry long jail sentences in some countries, particularly in East Asia, where the sale of cannabis may lead to a sentence of life in prison or even execution.
In the Netherlands, the national drug policy has officially four major objectives:
To prevent drug use and to treat and rehabilitate drug users.
To reduce harm to users.
To diminish public nuisance by drug users (the disturbance of public order and safety in the neighborhood).
To combat the production and trafficking of drugs.
It is a pragmatic policy. Most policymakers in the Netherlands believe that if a problem has proved to be unsolvable, it is better to try controlling it instead of continuing to enforce laws with mixed results. By contrast, most other countries take the point of view that drugs are detrimental to society and must therefore be outlawed, even when such policies fail to eliminate drug use. This has caused friction between the Netherlands and other countries about the policy for cannabis, most notably with France and Germany. As of 2004, Belgium seems to be moving toward the Dutch model and a few local German legislators are calling for experiments based on the Dutch model. Switzerland has had long and heated parliamentary debates about whether to follow the Dutch model, most recently deciding against it in 2004; currently a ballot initiative is in the works on the question. In the last few years certain strains of cannabis with higher concentrations of THC and drug tourism have challenged the current policy and led to a re-examination of the current approach.
Netherlands has a high anti-drug related public expenditure, the second highest drug related public expenditure per capita of all countries in EU (after Sweden). 75% is law enforcement expenditures including police, army, law courts, prisons, customs and finance guards. 25% is health and social care expenditures including treatment, harm reduction, health research and educational including prevention and social affairs interventions.