The Convention on the Rights of the Child Treaty was ratified in 1989 and remains the most universally endorsed human rights treaty globally. The CRC is specific about the legitimate right all children have to be protected from the use of illicit drugs. Four articles within the CDC speak directly to this:
Article 3: “In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration”;
Article 6: “Every child has the inherent right to life and that Member States shall ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child”;
Article 27: “Recognize the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development”;
Article 33: “States Parties shall take all appropriate measures, including legislative, administrative, social and educational measures, to protect children from the illicit use of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances as defined in the relevant international treaties, and to prevent the use of children in the illicit production and trafficking of such substances.” Three UN member state countries are not party to the CRC, they are Somalia, South Sudan, and the United States.
The human rights of children, as stated in the CRC, are being ignored by the Canadian government under drafted legislation in Bill C-45. Marijuana legalization is being carried out in contradiction to the outcome of a special session (UNGASS), held at the United Nations in April of 2016, at which time the existing UN drug conventions achieved majority support.
The proposed legislation violates children’s rights under international law, specifically in permitting “home-growing” and the smoking and use of marijuana in the homes where children reside. Growing marijuana indoors poses health problems as it provides conditions for the growth of toxic organisms.
The proposed legislation allows individuals 18 years of age and older to possess up to 30 grams of marijuana and 12 years of age and older to possess up to 5 grams. Given the mountain of evidence that now exists that substantiates the risks associated with marijuana use by the young setting these age limits is not only in violation of international law but also is against the findings of evidence based science. Nora Volkow of the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported in 2015 that research shows the earlier a teen first uses drugs, the likelier they are to become addicted to them or to become addicted to another substance later in life.
The government of Canada has not conducted an impact assessment on youth in relation to their proposed new drug policies. Policy changes of such enormity as proposed should not be passed into law prior to an exhaustive assessment being conducted and shared with the Canadian public.
Concerns over drug use and harm to children are recognized by public health agencies worldwide. A 2007 report compiled by the UNICEF Malaysia Commission, warned: “Drug abuse by a family member will have a significant and enduring impact on the family dynamics and functioning. Families encounter great stress, conflict and anxiety as a consequence of trying to protect the family member from the dangers and harms associated with drugs.”
In Colorado, where legalization of marijuana is an ongoing experiment, children are being hospitalized after being exposed to marijuana and are suffering severe health complications, even death. Youth are also the most at risk for marijuana impaired collisions and fatalities. The Australian Institute of Family Studies found that the factors most commonly associated with the occurrence of child abuse and neglect were domestic violence, parental substance abuse, and mental health problems.
In November of 2016, international experts, led by Pope Francis and Queen Silvia of Sweden, gathered to develop a global view of the current drug epidemic. They issued a statement calling for support for the UN treaties governing licit and illicit drugs and to reject drug legalization. Legalization was referred to as a “hopeless, mindless strategy” that would consign more people, especially the disadvantaged, youth, the poor and mentally ill, to misery or even death while compromising civil society, social stability, equality and the law.
Countries strongly committed to the UN drug conventions and who spend significantly on prevention have the lowest rates of use. Canada under a de facto legalization regime is on the brink of breaching numerous conventions has one of the highest. The correct path should be clear.
Pamela McColl, author of On Marijuana: A Powerful Examination of What Marijuana Means to Our Children, Our Communities, and Our Future, is with Smart Approaches to Marijuana.