Uruguay is a signatory to the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs which requires that all signatories criminalize the manufacturing and possession of drugs, including marijuana. However Uruguay has taken steps to legalize the drug back in 2012 and the liberal law is coming into full effect this year. Despite that, the United Nations hasn't reacted to the new law and hasn't tried to punish Uruguay.

Why isn't Uruguay facing any penalties from the UN? A similar question could apply towards Canada once they legalize cannabis as well.

  • The Wikipedia article itself already provides a decent answer: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… In short, the board which "enforces" (encourages? recommends?) compliance with the convention has very limited powers.
    – Peter
    May 8 '17 at 7:43
  • @Peter a few years ago I remember the Netherlands claiming that they cannot legalize marijuana because they're obliged not to by the UN. Was this a lie then? May 8 '17 at 11:28
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    @JonathanReez I would rather call it a "convenient excuse". But this is going into discussion-territory.
    – Philipp
    May 8 '17 at 14:37
  • Might be worth a secondary question, using the same logic for Uruguay, why wouldn't Colorado or any legalizing state face the same penalties?
    – Twelfth
    Nov 22 '17 at 20:36
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    @Peter Whatever ultimate power is available, the first step of making speeches or non-binding condemnations doesn't seem to have happened. @ Twelfth CO isn't a signatory, and the US does have a national law.
    – user9389
    Nov 22 '17 at 21:02

Quite simply, that’s not how international law works. Being illegal or forbidden under some treaty or customary rule does not mean that doing it carries specific sanctions in any sort of automatic fashion. So there is no contradiction between the Dutch position that legalizing marijuana is impossible under current law and Uruguay actually doing it without facing UN sanctions.

Note that sanctions or retaliation would also not necessarily come from the UN. Other states could register their opposition or take measures. Some treaties even explicitly provide for these sorts of penalties.

Incidentally, the Netherlands likes to present The Hague as « the city of international law » with the ICJ, the ICC, and a bunch of specialised institutions. So they like to be the “good student” when it comes to international law.

  • More than wanting to be a good student; the development and implementation of international law is a Dutch constitutional requirement.
    – MSalters
    Nov 23 '17 at 14:36
  • @MSalters That's pretty much a country's way to want something and such constitutional requirements are actually not uncommon. The word I used however is “like”, i.e. the Dutch communicate more than others around this topic, and your comment is a case in point.
    – Relaxed
    Nov 27 '17 at 8:59

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