medical cannabis to treat chronic pain

America Shouldn’t Bargain With the UN – 1961 Treaty Shows Why


Have you ever heard the idiom, ‘be careful what you ask for’? It is often used to describe not foreseeing the unintended consequences of pursuing a particular strategy. It is an idiom the U.S. should take to heart more often, particularly when dealing with the United Nations (UN). In fact, America should never attempt to bargain with the UN on anything. A 1961 treaty recently brought to light shows exactly why.

The treaty in question is known as The Commentary on the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. It stipulates, among other things, that signatories to the treaty make every effort to prevent the illegal proliferation of drugs within their borders. Guess what is on the UN’s list of illegal drugs? Marijuana.

Marijuana is federally illegal in this country. But that hasn’t stopped the UN from flexing its muscles. In its most recent edition of the annual Convention report, the UN’s International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) has directly called out the U.S. for passively allowing states to legalize recreational and medical cannabis.

A Showdown for Sure

If the expected rhetoric generated by the report comes to fruition, a showdown between UN and U.S. officials is likely to ensue. Can the international body force this country to abide by treaty obligations in any meaningful way? If so, what can the UN actually do? And if not, an inability to enforce the treaty would pretty much strip the UN of any perceived enforcement power in the future.

Americans should pay close attention to what happens with this issue over the next several months. There are many in the current administration sympathetic enough with the UN that they would be willing to respond favorably to enforcement efforts. That could mean Washington taking on states with legal cannabis programs.

The good news is that action against the states isn’t likely to happen. The bad news is that there will undoubtedly be some repercussions anyway. The issue needs to be resolved one way or another. If the U.S. wants to assert its sovereignty in this matter, withdrawing from the treaty seems the only logical recourse.

Not Much Flexibility

It doesn’t appear as though the INCB is willing to exercise any flexibility here. They don’t seem to want to distinguish between medical cannabis and recreational marijuana. There seems to be no attempt to recognize the fact that, at least according to the folks at, the majority of patients use medical cannabis to treat chronic pain, followed by cancer symptoms and PTSD.

A UN willing to flex its international treaty muscles against America for turning a blind eye to state-legal marijuana might be willing to flex its muscles on other treaties, too. That could be problematic in a lot of different ways. So now the question is this: state-legal marijuana aside, how much leeway should this country give the UN in shaping our national policy?

The UN’s Best Interests

We like to think of the UN as a benevolent organization that only seeks the best interests of the entire world. But the organization’s history speaks for itself. The UN looks out for its own best interests first. If those interests conflict with the interests of countries that have mistakenly signed on to its treaties, so be it.

America really has no business striking bargains with the UN. We are about to find out why. One way or the other, we are going to pay a price for not meeting the obligations of a 62-year-old treaty that we never should have signed on to in the first place.

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