Canada Moves Closer to Regulating Cannabis for Non-Medical Purposes

Friday, April 27th, 2018

Canada is on track to become the second country and the first G7 member to legalize and regulate cannabis for non-medical purposes (Uruguay enacted cannabis regulation in 2013). The UN drug control treaties expressly disallow the legal regulation of cannabis for non-medical uses. However, according to international drug policy experts at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and the Transnational Institute (TNI), who testified last week before Canada’s Senate, there is a path forward with regard to the country’s drug treaty obligations.

In their remarks before the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade on April 19, John Walsh, WOLA Drug Policy Program Director, and Martin Jelsma, Drugs and Democracy Programme Director at TNI, left no doubt that moving ahead with cannabis regulation will place Canada out of compliance with its obligations under the UN drug treaties. But they also emphasized that Canada has viable options for aligning its impending cannabis law reform with its international legal obligations—pointing in particular to the procedure of inter se modification. Walsh and Jelsma are among the co-authors of Balancing Treaty Stability and Change, a landmark report exploring the inter se option in depth, launched during the March 2018 session of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna, Austria.

Walsh’s overall message to the Committee was one of reassurance regarding the path that Canada is taking, noting that Uruguay enjoys continued good standing in the international community, more than four years after having enacted its cannabis regulation law. Walsh also underscored that time is on Canada’s side, since a number of other countries—including the United States of America—are heading in the same direction of seeking to legally regulate their cannabis markets. As Walsh told the Committee, “Already one in five Americans lives in a state that has voted to legalize, more ballot initiatives are on the way, and public opinion is increasingly in favor of legalization, which has appeal across the political and ideological spectrum.”

Jelsma outlined the rationale and international legal basis for the inter se treaty modification procedure, and described the advantages for Canada and other like-minded countries of taking the coordinated, collective approach required by an inter se agreement, rather than acting unilaterally and in isolation from one another. “An inter se agreement on cannabis regulation would allow a group of countries to modify certain treaty provisions amongst themselves alone and appears as a legitimate safety valve, and perhaps under current circumstances, the most elegant way out for a group of countries to collectively derogate from certain cannabis provisions,”explained Jelsma.

Both expert witnesses made clear that cannabis regulation and the surrounding treaty tensions are not merely technical matters, but rather profoundly moral questions regarding the aims and impacts of drug control policies. At the hearing’s conclusion, when questioned directly about the morality of legalizing cannabis, Walsh took the opportunity to drive the point home. “In my view, legal regulation is responsible, and in that sense an ethical and moral response to a problem that will never be solved, a dilemma that’s always real, but something that can be managed better or worse,” Walsh noted. “I’m persuaded that a regulatory approach is a better approach than simply leaving the market in the hands of criminal enterprise.” 

John Walsh Testifies in the Canadian Senate on Drug Policy as a Moral Issue from WOLA on Vimeo.

Additional Resources:

  • Balancing Treaty Stability and Change examines how countries opting to regulate their cannabis markets can align their new laws with their international legal obligations through the inter se mechanism, whereby a groups of countries agree to modify certain treaty provisions among themselves alone.
  • A March 2018 iPolitics op-ed by Walsh, Jelsma, and other partners on how Canada can pursue cannabis regulation while aligning such efforts with its international legal obligations via the inter se mechanism.
  • A December 2017 iPolitics op-ed by Walsh, Jelsma, and other partners on the current debate in Canada regarding how best to manage the impending mismatch between the country’s domestic cannabis policy and its international drug treaty commitments.
  • A March 2018 report by WOLA and the Brookings Institution on Uruguay’s progress in legalizing and regulating its cannabis market, and lessons that other countries can draw from Uruguay’s experience.

Latest posts

quit smoking

The Pros of Vaping Over Traditional Smoking

Wednesday, July 17th, 2019
Do you want to quit smoking? If you are a smoker who wants to quit, you probably have heard of vaping. Proponents of vaping argue that steaming is better than traditional smoking, but is this true?
Health Benefits

Essential Things You Should Know about CBD Vape Oil

Friday, July 12th, 2019
Why is CBD vape oil causing such a fuss across the globe? It is an extract of the hemp and cannabis plants that is less harsh on your health than nicotine. CBD stands for cannabidiol and studies have shown it has health benefits such as alleviating pain, reducing anxiety, and improving sleep quality. 
View all posts

Latest Videos


Tips to Getting the Right CBD Oil Dosage

Monday, January 22nd, 2018
One of the biggest concerns with medical marijuana is getting the correct dosage of healing cannabinoids. In most oils or dried flowers, it is almost impossible to determine the amount of active ingredients in each dose. Fortunately, there is a better, more precise alternative
View all videos



This site has taught me what marijuana can do. It has got me so fucking high. Thanks for the rolling tips, they really work!
I came across this site by mistake, lol, looking for a good brownie recipe. I LOVE THIS SITE!!! You are now my personal HERO!!!!
I absolutely adore this pot etiquette site. As a college student getting high is a regular part of life. Because of your advice I am now able to eat a brownie before class, and comprehend the material better. Thanxs for an awesome fuckin site.