Politics

Jane Philpott, Bill Blair in New York to attend UN talks on war on drugs

Health Minister Jane Philpott and Bill Blair, the MP leading the Liberals' strategy on the legalization of marijuana, head to New York Wednesday to join the United Nations General Assembly in three days of meetings to scrutinize and reform treaties signed 18 years ago to stem the global drug trade.

Canada remains signatory to global treaties that criminalize marijuana despite legalization pledge

Health Minister Jane Philpott and Bill Blair, the former Toronto police chief who is the Liberal government's point man on legalizing marijuana, will participate in a UN special session on the world drug problem in New York this week. (Canadian Press)

Health Minister Jane Philpott and Bill Blair, the MP leading the Liberals' strategy on the legalization of marijuana, will be in New York Wednesday to join the United Nations General Assembly for three days of meetings to scrutinize and reform treaties signed 18 years ago to stem the global drug trade.

The UN special session comes at a contentious time for Canada, whose plan to legalize recreational marijuana is in direct breach of three previously adopted global treaties.

The purpose of the meeting is to review the progress and implementation of the UN's 2009 Political Declaration and Action Plan on drugs, a follow up to a 1998 declaration, and assess ongoing challenges in combating the world drug problem.

In his address to the General Assembly, Werner Sipp, the president of the International Narcotics Control Board, said there has been remarkable successes in the implementation of the declaration, however some targets have not yet been met.

But the international war on drugs has also been deemed a failure by many for the high cost of enforcement, issues around incarceration and the violence associated with countering drug cartels.

The Liberals plan to legalize and regulate the sale of recreational marijuana could put Canada at odds with international treaties. (Pawel Dwulit/Canadian Press)

Philpott told CBC's Susan Lunn that Canada wants to have an approach to drug policy that is firmly grounded in evidence, respects human rights and that is driven by a public health lens that includes maximizing education and minimizing harm.

But Philpott said Canada expects to discuss the plan for marijuana legalization at the UN meetings because many countries have shown an interest in Canada's progress on the matter.

UN General Assembly will meet to scrutinize and reform treaties signed 18 years ago to stem the global drug trade 2:22

Blair to work with provinces, cities

The government has proposed to set up a task force to work collectively with the federal, provincial and municipal governments on the policy, and will seek input from experts in health, substance abuse and policing to develop a system of marijuana sales and distribution within Canada. 

Blair, who is parliamentary secretary to the minister of justice and is the government's point man on its legalization effort, said the federal, provincial and territorial task force will be assembled shortly, and will be engaged in consultations across the country.

"It's a great deal of work. It's important to do it right. And so, we're looking at regulations with respect to production, distribution, the retail and consumption of marijuana and we want to make sure that it's based on the best evidence and the best advice from experts," Blair told reporters on his way to the airport Tuesday.

"It's really a comprehensive drug policy," said Philpott, "and that's the way Canada wants to address these concerns. I think it puts us in a very good position internationally."

Global treaties

The policy, however, would be in direct breach of all three international conventions regarding global drug control currently adopted by Canada. Each convention criminalizes the possession and production of marijuana:

  • Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961; as amended by the 1972 protocol.
  • Convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1971.
  • Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances of 1988.

Canada will need to prove that legalizing marijuana will not negatively affect the global push to end illicit drug use, or decisions will need to be made regarding international obligations.

Philpott is aware the Canadian policy could face some tough criticisms at the UN meeting, but said the focus should be placed on looking for common ground in battling the worldwide problem.

"What I think we need to just be talking about at the UN is the fact that our objectives are similar — that we want to make sure our citizens safe, and we want to make sure that they are healthy," she said.

This week's UN special session will give member states the opportunity to commit to a new plan of action. 

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.