The International Narcotics Control Board has warned that the Australian Capital Territory’s decision to legalize recreational cannabis use flouts United Nations treaty statutes.

The INCB is an independent, quasi-judicial expert body associated with the UN, dedicated to monitoring enforcement of restrictions on narcotics around the world. It has raised concerns that the ACT’s decision puts Australia in contravention of at least three international conventions it has signed up to.

It wrote to Australia’s UN mission in Vienna, and The Australian has obtained a copy of the letter. The mission has passed the letter on to the Department of Foreign ­Affairs and Trade and the ­Department of Health for closer examination.

The INCB suggested the ACT government’s move to legalize cannabis appears to be in legal breach of the 1961 convention on narcotics drugs, the 1971 convention on psychotropic substances, and the 1988 UN convention against illicit traffic in narcotic drug and psychotropic substances.

“The board wishes to reiterate that the legalisation and regulation of cannabis for non-­medical use, including in small quantities, would be inconsistent with Australia’s international legal obligations,” it wrote.

It is worth noting that the INCB raised almost identical concerns about Thailand’s decision to liberalize its cannabis laws and to commence domestic medical marijuana cultivation. An Australian blog called Macro Business branded the UN, and by extension the INCB, an unrepresentative swill of wealthy bureaucrats, pointing out that it has no jurisdiction over state and territory laws, and urging it to “take a hike”.

The INCB has previously been critical of the liberalization of cannabis laws in the U.S., Canada and Uruguay, but to little avail. Cannabis is legal at a federal level across Uruguay and Canada, while many U.S. states have legalized marijuana and many presidential candidates are keen to legalize it federally.

The ACT houses the nation’s capital, Canberra, and it has a population of 420,000. Last month it passed a landmark bill that legalizes recreational cannabis use and allows residents to grow their own at home. The INCB has been unable to derail liberalization in other countries, but its warning could embolden those at a federal level that oppose the ACT’s decision.

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