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Toking Up at the UN

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
The Gospel According to St. Matthew

Now that most of the world’s problems are close to being resolved (except for the treaty regulating global trade in conventional arms) the United Nations can begin to focus on non-violent internal affairs in member nations such as the United States. (The United States, Russia and China have, until now, refused to sign the treaty, the United States because of, , among other things, opposition from the NRA that fears the treaty might be used to undermine the beloved second amendment and Russia and China that refuse to sign because of concerns about language banning the sale of weapons to human rights violators. They believe it is too subjective since one country’s human rights’ violator is another country’s freedom fighter. Negotiators convened on March 18, 2013 to try to reach final agreement on the treaty.) Thus it was that those who live in places like Colorado and Washington found themselves the focus of its attention.

The United Nations’ attention to Colorado and Washington came about as a result of the 2012 election when voters in those states, heedless of the consequences for the rest of the world, voted to approve the use of recreational marijuana. Responding to the election results, on November 29, 2012, Raymond Yanss, the head of the United Nations’ International Narcotics Control Board, weighed in on the election results. In an interview with the Associated Press, Mr. Yans was quoted as saying that he thought Attorney General Holder should take all necessary steps to overrule the will of the voters. In a statement released by the UN Information Service on November 15, 2012, Mr. Yanss said: “these developments [the election results] are in violation of the international drug control treaties, and pose a great threat to public health and the well-being of society far beyond those states”. (Mr. Yans is Belgian. In Belgium marijuana is illegal but possession of up to 3 grams or one female plant, or use in one’s home is tolerated. Presumably such a small amount does not “pose a great threat to public health and the well-being of society far beyond [Belgium]”). Whereas Mr. Yanss said that the election results threatened public health and well being “of society far beyond those states,” others had a slightly different reaction to the election. They believe that gradual legalization of the drug throughout the United States may eventually reduce the black market trade for the drug in Latin American countries that are now affected by the drug wars, eventually, perhaps, bringing them to a close.

The foregoing notwithstanding, it was good of Mr. Yans, as a representative of the United Nations, to share his thoughts with the voters in those two states. Indeed, his thoughts may help Attorney General Eric Holder, who seems to be temporarily paralyzed, decide how to address the will of the voters in those two states.

The timing of what we next learned about goings on in the U.N. was purely a coincidence and does nothing to diminish Mr. Yanss’ concerns. On March 4, 2013, scarcely four months after Mr. Yanss chastised Colorado and Washington voters for legalizing the use of marijuana, Joseph Torella, the U.S. ambassador for management and reform at the United Nations, weighed in on the use of alcohol. His concern was not the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution kind of concern, a concern that manifested itself in adoption of that amendment. His concern was its use at the United Nations during negotiations. According to reports, budget negotiations can be tense at times and to relieve the tension some members of the negotiators known as the Group of 77 have discovered that one way to relieve tensions is to drink quite a bit of alcohol prior to and during the meetings of the committee. (A casual observer would be tempted to wonder whether the U.S. Congress might get a good bit more done with budget negotiations if its members were inebriated. They could hardly do worse drunk than they do when sober.) According to one report in Slate, a meeting of the United Nations budget committee last December was accompanied by so much alcohol consumption that one negotiator became ill. Commenting on the meeting one of the participants said: “There has always been a good and responsible tradition of a bit of alcohol improving a negotiation, but we’re not talking about a delegate having a nip at the bar.” Addressing his colleagues, Ambassador Torella suggested that those who participate in budget negotiations at the United Nations should undertake their tasks when sober. He suggested that: “As for the conduct of negotiations, we make the modest proposal that the negotiation rooms should in future be an inebriation-free zone.” He should probably also suggest that the use of marijuana would not be considered an acceptable substitute for using alcohol. Just in case.

Christopher Brauchli

Christopher Brauchli

Christopher Brauchli is a columnist and lawyer known nationally for his work. He is a graduate of Harvard University and the University of Colorado School of Law where he served on the Board of Editors of the Rocky Mountain Law Review. He can be emailed at For political commentary see his web page at

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