Legalization of Marijuana and the Conflict with International Drug Control Treaties

50 Pages Posted: 15 Mar 2016

Date Written: January 2016


The present system of worldwide drug control is based upon three international conventions: the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs as amended by the 1972 Protocol, the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances, and the 1988 Convention Against Illicit Trafficking of Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. These treaties require participating nations to limit and even criminalize the possession, use, trade, and distribution of drugs outside of medical and scientific purposes, and work together to stop international drug trafficking. This paper argues that the recent move toward legalization of use, possession, and sales of marijuana in the United States (U.S.) and other foreign nations is in conflict with international treaty obligations. While each state in the U.S. has its own drug laws and controlled substances acts, the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution places international treaties on the same legal footing as federal law. Under this argument, Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Washington D.C., as well as Uruguay and The Netherlands’ legalization of marijuana for recreation use, allowance of possession and sales, is in contravention of U.S. federal law and international treaties. Finally, this paper will also look at Portugal’s 2001 decision to decriminalize all drug use to answer the question as to whether the international drug treaties place a “firm limitation” on the legal, “non-medical” sale of schedule drug or truly obligate countries to penalize drug use.

Keywords: Marijuana Legalization, International Conventions

Suggested Citation

Panicker, Biju, Legalization of Marijuana and the Conflict with International Drug Control Treaties (January 2016). Chicago-Kent Journal of International and Comparative Law, Vol. 16, No. 1, 2016, Available at SSRN:

Biju Panicker (Contact Author)

Arizona Summit Law School ( email )

One North Central Ave.
14th Floor
Phoenix, AZ 85004-4414
United States

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