VIENNA (Reuters) - The head of a body monitoring compliance with international drug control conventions expressed concern on Thursday about the health and other implications of moves by several U.S. states to legalize marijuana.
Residents of Oregon and Alaska voted last month to allow the recreational use of marijuana, in a sign of its growing social acceptance in the United States. Washington state and Colorado legalized the drug in 2012.
Marijuana remains classified as an illegal narcotic under U.S. federal law but President Barack Obama’s administration has given individual states leeway to frame their own rules.
Lochan Naidoo, president of the Vienna-based International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), said “legalization for recreational use is definitely not the right way to go”.
“We do know about the damage that cannabis does to the brain,” Naidoo, a South African doctor, told Reuters in a telephone interview. “I’m not sure how well people are going to be able to protect their children.”
Naidoo said many countries looked to the United States for leadership on such issues, especially developing states with fewer prevention and treatment resources.
Legalising recreational use of marijuana, which Naidoo said would increase its availability and consumption, is also not in line with the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, he added.
The INCB is an independent, quasi-judicial body charged with promoting and monitoring the convention.
While individual U.S. states never signed the convention, the federal government needs to be able to comply with its provisions, which include ensuring implementation “in all its territories”, Naidoo said.
Asked whether the United States was violating the convention, he said it was not fully compliant but that he believed it was “making attempts to try and get back into compliance”, adding that most countries already were.
There are conflicting views around the world on how best to tackle the drugs issue. Critics question the efficacy of “wars” on drugs and urge some legalization to try to undermine criminal gangs in Latin America and elsewhere that thrive on trafficking.
In a move closely watched by other nations debating drug liberalization, Uruguay’s parliament last year approved a bill to legalize and regulate the production and sale of marijuana - the first country to do so.
Some other countries have decriminalized possession and the Netherlands tolerates the sale of marijuana in “coffee shops”.
Editing by Gareth Jones