UC Irvine Journal of International, Transnational, and Comparative Law


There is a crack in everything — that’s how the light gets in

Leonard Cohen, Anthem

In an era often characterized as one of growing convergence of the laws

governing criminal activities in different countries, the issue-area of cannabis

policy undergoes processes of fragmentation and polarization. Some countries

continue to criminalize all forms of medical and recreational uses of

cannabis. Others have sought to “separate the market” for cannabis from

that of other drugs by decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of

marijuana, authorizing its use for medical purposes, and establishing

administrative measures for taxing and regulating the commercial sale of the

drug. This Article explores the causes and consequences of the decline of the

transnational legal order of cannabis prohibition. It shows how the erosion

of the regulatory capacities of this transnational legal order reflects deepseated

political conflicts over the legitimacy of prohibition norms in this field.

It analyzes the ways in which conflicting regulatory approaches become

institutionalized as a consequence of the structural mismatch between the

actors framing the meaning of cannabis prohibition norms at the

international level and the actors implementing these norms in national and

local contexts. Finally, the Article shows how this transnational legal order

has created path-dependent trajectories of legal change that continue to shape

domestic drug policies.