America has a historically complicated relationship with Russia. World War allies. Enemies in the Cold War era. Ronald Reagan imploring Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall. Trump and Putin and whatever the heck is going on there. But it’s not only the USA and Russia that maintain an interesting relationship. Canada, it turns out, is now in Russia’s sights, all over the legalization of cannabis. Our northern neighbors, as most people are now aware, are legalizing recreational marijuana on the national level starting October 17th. This date was pushed back from this summer when they were originally scheduled to legalize (changing national law took longer than predicted). Russia isn’t a fan of the impending changes: they issued a rebuke stating that Canada is deliberately breaching international law.
In a statement, Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said,
“We expect Canada’s partners in the G7 to respond to its ‘high-handedness’ because this alliance has repeatedly declared its adherence to the domination of international law in relations between states.”
The above is a reference to previous agreements – countries have signed treaties designed to squash the drug trade, limit the production and sale of recreational drugs, and reserve marijuana for medicinal and scientific purposes.
In their criticism of Canada, Russia further cited the UN General Assembly Special Session on the World Problem of Drugs, a session that took place two years ago on April 21, 2016. The final document – which Canada supported – involved several principles designed to aid international drug control.
Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs further added,
“Russia strictly abides by these principles and intends to consistently introduce them in practice within the boundaries of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs and other relevant international venues.”
The Perspective of the UN
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) criticized Canada as well. The UNODC was established in 1997 and operates throughout the world. It is the result of a merger between the United Nations Drug Control Program and the Centre for International Crime Prevention, describing itself as “the global leader in the fight against illicit drugs and international crime.”
When speaking about Canada, UNODC went on record to state they
“regret the Canadian legislature’s decision to legalize cannabis for non-medical use. As noted by the International Narcotics Control Board in its statement of 21 June, this decision contravenes the provisions of the drug control conventions, and undermines the international legal drug control framework and respect for the rules-based international order.”
As for Canada, they’re undeterred and still set to legalize this fall. They’re not the only country to legalize recreational marijuana on the national level: Uruguay was the first to do it.
The US, of course, has legalized recreationally in a handful of states. State’s rights have given the likes of Colorado, Oregon, Nevada, etc. the ability to choose to legalize even though pot is still illegal in the eyes of the Federal Government.
That makes it difficult for Russia to condemn the USA for their pot stance. Russia can criticize America for allowing its states to legalize if they want, but all Uncle Sam can do is shrug his shoulders and point to the US Constitution.
Cannabis Law in Russia
Across the pond, cannabis laws vary by country. In Russia, it remains totally illegal, although it’s not a crime from a formal stance if you’re caught with less than 6 grams (rather, it’s an administrative violation of the law that will result in a fine).
In practice, however, you never know what might happen. The law prohibits production, possession, transportation, and storage of marijuana. If caught, depending on how much weed you have, you might be let off by a crooked cop, you might be made an example of (by a crooked cop), you might be fined, or you might be sentenced to correctional labor. If you have a lot of weed, expect a lot of punishment.
The laws are so strict in Russia that it’s difficult to find dealers in city limits. By contrast, dealers are practically Starbucks in some areas of the US. In Colorado, long before recreational legalization was even a pipe dream, it was never hard to find a dealer. A stroll down Colfax Avenue (deemed the “longest, wickedest street in America” by Hugh Hefner) introduced you to several dealers, whether you were interested or not. Even if you were walking to church with your pastor.
Russia did, however, allow medical marijuana into their country for the World Cup. People couldn’t bring it in willy-nilly; they had to go through the political hoops in order to secure permission. They’re also allowing in cocaine and heroin, though people will likely have a much more difficult time proving they’ve been prescribed those drugs for medicinal reasons.
Russia may have called out Canada on their cannabis law, but this is far from the most contentious issue between these two countries. Recently, Canada removed several Russian diplomats, a decision made in response to a nerve agent attack for which some believed Russian’s government responsible.
In a statement, Canada’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Chrystia Freeland, said,
“The nerve agent attack in Salisbury, on the soil of Canada’s close partner and ally, is a despicable, heinous and reckless act, potentially endangering the lives of hundreds. Canada is today taking action against seven Russian personnel. We are expelling four members of Russia’s diplomatic staff, serving either at the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Canada or the Consulate General of the Russian Federation in Montréal. The four have been identified as intelligence officers or individuals who have used their diplomatic status to undermine Canada’s security or interfere in our democracy. For similar reasons, three applications by the Russian government for additional diplomatic staff in Canada will now be denied. All of these steps have been taken pursuant to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.”
In the closing of the press release, Freeland added, “This is part of a wider pattern of unacceptable behavior by Russia, including complicity with the Assad regime, the annexation of Crimea, Russian-led fighting in eastern Ukraine, support for civil strife in Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova and other neighboring countries, interference in elections, and disinformation campaigns.”
In other words, Russia’s gripe with Canada – the cannabis complaint – finds itself taking a backseat. There are more important things going on.