IMPERFECT INTERNATIONAL TREATIES
INTERPRETED FLEXIBLY ARE LIKELY TO BE
BETTER THAN NO TREATIES
Imperfect international drug control treaties that are
implemented intelligently and humanely are more likely to
reduce drug-related harm than no international treaties.
My commentators seem to agree that the future of the in-
ternational drug control system is put at risk by the legali-
zation of recreational cannabis use. They differ on whether
this a good thing.
Bewley-Taylor  sees beneﬁts in nations exploring
‘legally grounded’ alternatives to the treaties. He acknowl-
edges that Canada’s behaviour towards the treaties is
important, because it is a G7 nation with a long history
of respecting international law. He argues against Canada
withdrawing from the treaties after legalizing cannabis.
He suggests it consider forming alliances with like-minded
states to develop a treaty that would regulate the
international trade in cannabis. This still runs the risk of
encouraging more states to ignore the treaties.
Wodak  welcomes the breakdown of an international
drug control system that he sees as ‘broken beyond repair’.
He doubts that new treaties can be negotiated and so ar-
gues that nations should move unilaterally towards regu-
lated systems of drug supply. He offers few details on how
this may happen, apart from decriminalizing all drug use
and allowing experiments with the regulated sale of less
harmful illicit drugs that are acceptable to drug users and
the community. His call for regulated drug markets sounds
most plausible for cannabis; it is much less plausible, or po-
litically feasible, for the opioids, given recent disastrous US
experiences with liberal opioid prescribing [3,4].
Caulkins  argues that we risk replacing an imperfect
international system with a much worse option: no inter-
national drug treaties. He sketches how this could create
a 21st-century version of the 19th-century international
opium trade in which Britain and the United States facili-
tated the opium trade in China. Critics of the treaties need
to be reminded that they developed from opium treaties
that were an imperfect attempt to reduce the illicit interna-
tional trade in opium . Caulkins’ arguments for preserv-
ing the treaties are rarely heard above the loud chorus of
scholars who want to abolish them. I agree that ﬂawed
treaties are better than no treaties. That is why I argued
for a continuation of the system while mitigating its ad-
verse effects on those who use illicit drugs.
I also agree with Carpentier et al.  that the drug
treaties do not justify the draconian polices that some
states have implemented in their name. I welcome
statements by United Nations agencies [United Nations Of-
ﬁce on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Commission on Narcotic
Drugs (CND) and International Narcotics Control Board
(INCB)] that compulsory addiction treatment, capital
punishment of drug offenders and the extra-judicial murder
of drug users in the Philippines are not required by the
treaties. Nonetheless, until recently the international
system was slow to condemn egregiously inhumane na-
tional drug policies. It has also been slow to support poli-
cies that reduce drug-related harm such as methadone
maintenance treatment (MMT), needle and syringe
programmes (NSP) and heroin-assisted treatment. It is en-
couraging that UN agencies now support diversion, NSP
and methadone treatment. Stronger UN advocacy for
public health-orientated interpretations of the treaties is
essential if we are to avoid the international system falling
Declaration of interests
Keywords Cannabis legalization, drug and narcotic
control, drug policy, international treaties, marijuana use,
University of Queensland, Centre for Youth Substance Abuse Research,
Herston, Queensland, Australia
Submitted 8 March 2018; ﬁnal version accepted 14 March 2018
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© 2018 Society for the Study of Addiction Addiction, 113,1224–1230