The United Nations International Narcotics Control Board is not a "punitive" body, its Australian member has said, as the group is drawn into the fracas over the ACT's legalisation of cannabis.
The board warned Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Health Minister Greg Hunt the ACT laws put Australia at odds with its international obligations, in a letter sent last month.
The laws - which allow adults to legally possess up to 50 grams of the drug, and cultivate two plants per person or four plants per household - fly in the face of the 1961 convention, which requires state parties to limit the use of narcotic drugs exclusively to medical and scientific purposes, the board said.
Almost 200 countries are signatories to the treaty, including countries like the US and Canada, which have also legalised cannabis.
But the letter prompted Mr Hunt to unleash on the ACT government, describing it as "irresponsible" and "insensitive" to pursue the laws, which he claimed would put the Tasmanian poppy industry at risk.
Tasmania produces more than half of the world's raw material for pain relief like morphine and codeine each year under strict supervision from the International Narcotics Control Board.
The board can impose sanctions on nations that flout the convention, including reducing quotas of drugs a country can legally export, or enforcing an embargo on drug imports and exports.
But Professor Richard Mattick, who is the Australian member of the board, said it was "supportive, not punitive".
"This is really a treaty between countries - the board is there to simply monitor the treaties," Professor Mattick told The Canberra Times.
"The board is not important; what's important is how the country decides to respond.
"The issue for the board is simply to bring attention to the concern for the country. It's up to the country concerned to respond about how it's complying or attempting to comply."
Professor Mattick, who is also from the University of NSW's National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, said the board was in "constant dialogue with countries all the time" about their compliance with the international treaties.
Ordinarily, these discussions are private, and Professor Mattick would not be drawn on the specifics of Mr Hunt's concerns.
The letter contained no threat though, and only sought information.
"We don't really want to get into publicly discussing government policy. All we're required to do and all we have done is say the laws allowing cannabis for recreational consumption is not consistent with the treaty. Thereafter it's up to the country to respond," Professor Mattick said.
"The relationship is one of trust and cooperation. The board is not trying to be punitive or difficult. The basic message is that this would contravene the 1961 treaty, that's the beginning and end."
However Professor Mattick said the treaties did not require drug use or possession to be treated as a criminal offence.
Professor Mattick also said the treaties clearly advocated for proportional responses to criminal acts.
"That does not have to include a criminal sanction," he said.
"If you look at the treaty ... you'll find a clear indication countries can choose to refer someone who's dependent for treatment or refer casual users to more information."