Last year, we helped a client take a hard look at an issue related to cannabis and the World Trade Organization (WTO). It was a fascinating project and WTO lawyers took preliminary interest in the issue. We were told that cannabis had not come before the WTO in any formal or informal context to that point, whether for market access or other issues. Moreover, there were no WTO working groups related to cannabis, no real reports, no recommendations and no “disciplines.” As far as we know, all of that is true today.
What exactly is the WTO and what does it do? The WTO is a multilateral organization governing trade among nations, based on obligations its member states undertake through various treaties. The WTO is the largest international economic organization in the world. It’s also kind of new, having formed via the the Marrakesh Agreement in 1994. According to that Agreement, the purpose of the WTO is “the substantial reduction of tariffs and other barriers to trade and… the elimination of discriminatory treatment in international trade relations.” The WTO administers a complex legal regime regulating international trade, and WTO member countries must abide by these rules. Otherwise, they can be