One of the key reasons why I saw tremendous value in passing I-502 had little to do with what would actually happen here in Washington, but with what would happen across the globe:
The United States is again in violation of international law. That is a strong statement and one that reminds us of the invasion of Iraq, Guantanamo bay, water-boarding, rendition, and the strong international legal arguments made about these situations.
But in this case the violation will be hailed by many as a positive step.
On 6 November various ballot initiatives were voted on in the US, from abolishing the death penalty to allowing assisted suicide, to legalising gay marriage. Three had the clearest potential to render the US in breach of international law if they succeeded. With the votes in Colorado and Washington which established a legally regulated framework for non-medical production and sale of marijuana, that breach has now occurred.
The laws in question are the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and the 1988 UN drug trafficking conventions (which has a longer, duller title). Alongside one other treaty (which deals with synthetics) these form the bedrock legal foundation of the global drug control regime. Most countries follow them very closely, including the US.
The United States doesn’t just follow these treaties, they’re very aggressive about ensuring that other countries follow them as well. A good example of this effort is how we’ve been expanding our military presence in West Africa, as a way of stopping smuggling from South America to Europe. Despite the fact that this trafficking doesn’t start, travel through, or end in the United States, American taxpayers are paying to stop it. America’s drug war has long been more than just an attempt to keep Americans from obtaining drugs, it’s been an effort to stop drug trafficking globally, and marijuana has always been part of that.
With that in mind, it’s also important to remember that marijuana use was legal and socially acceptable in many parts of the world before the US stepped in with pressure. And now, people are starting to point that out:
NEW DELHI: What two American states, Washington and Colorado, have decided to do – legalize recreational use of marijuana – was the norm in India until 1985. All cannabis derivatives – marijuana (grass or ganja), hashish (charas) and bhang – were legally sold in this country. As a matter of fact, most state governments had their own retail shops to sell these drugs. India has known, consumed and celebrated ganja, charas and bhang for millennia.
Their consumption was never regarded as socially deviant behaviour any more than drinking alcohol was. If there was any bias against ganja or charas, it was that these were often viewed as the poor man’s intoxicant by the upper classes. But come Holi, these prejudices would melt away as rich and poor savoured the joyous high of bhang. Even now, despite a legal ban, recreational use of these drugs is widespread in India.
Keeping marijuana legal was actually an enlightened view. It is now medically proven that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol. In fact, the good weed has medical uses (as many as 19 US states have legalized marijuana for medical purposes). However, moderation is the key. While excessive and sustained consumption of alcohol can cause severe liver damage leading to death, excessive use of marijuana too can cause some damage, mainly to our sensory abilities. In moderation, marijuana is a gentle mood-altering relaxant.
So, if there is a rational policy towards intoxicants and we allow the sale and consumption of liquor, there is no good reason to not similarly allow sale and consumption of marijuana, hashish and bhang. For years, India has held this position. For 25 years since 1961, it has withstood American pressure to keep marijuana legal. Which brings us to the story of why it was banned in India.
Since 1961, the US has been campaigning for a global law against all drugs, both hard and soft. Given that ganja, charas and bhang were a way of life in India, we opposed the drastic measure. But by the early ’80s, American society was grappling with some drug problems and opinion had grown against the “excesses” of the hippie generation. In 1985, the Rajiv Gandhi government buckled under the pressure and enacted a law called the Narcotic Drugs & Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act.
The rest of the world has been understandably sheepish about challenging a policy that they’ve known was dumb, but was so aggressively sought by the country with the world’s most powerful military. Thanks to the voters here and in Colorado, that sheepishness might finally be wearing off.