Last week’s vote, by the United Nations (UN) Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), to accept a World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation to remove cannabis and cannabis resin from Schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, marks a significant step towards increasing access to medical cannabis worldwide.
The same vote saw countries from around the world reject another recommendation (5.5) to schedule medical CBD, leaving it outside of treaty controls.
“The medical cannabis wave has accelerated in recent years already, but this will give it another boost,” Martin Jelsma, drugs and democracy program director at the Netherlands-based Transnational Institute, told Marijuana Business Daily.
The vote could lead to countries re-classifying cannabis and potentially result in the increased use of medical marijuana for a wider range of conditions.
53 member nations of the UN’s CND met last week, in Vienna, to vote on six World Health Organization recommendations for changing the way that international law deals with cannabis and related substances.
Those recommendations outlined the protocols for internationally regulating the medical use of different parts of the plant, including cannabis as a whole, cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
In a significant move, the CND voted 27 in favour, 25 against, and one abstention, to reclassify both cannabis and cannabis resin for medicinal purposes from Schedule IV to Schedule I, removing them from being regulated alongside more dangerous narcotics.
According to the UN, in reviewing the recommendations, the CND zeroed-in on the decision to remove cannabis from Schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs – opening the door to recognizing the medicinal and therapeutic potential of cannabis.
Russia, China and Pakistan were among those nations that opposed the reform.
At the same time, the United States, UK, Colombia and Germany were among the 43 countries that voted against another recommendation (5.5) to schedule medical CBD, which would have added a footnote to the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, setting a THC threshold for “predominantly” CBD preparations.
In a statement, from the Delegation of the European Union, on the rejection of recommendation 5.5, the EU highlighted how; “the establishment of the 0.2% THC limit is not supported by scientific evidence and the proposed wording does not exclude divergent interpretations concerning the calculation of that limit.”
The statement went on to detail how the EU considered, “that there is no justification for the differentiated treatment of cannabidiol compared to other non-psychoactive cannabinoids. The recommendation, as it has been drafted, does not offer the necessary legal certainty and does not constitute a proper solution for cannabidiol.”
As a result the 12 EU Member States voted against the insertion of the footnote in order to preserve the current legal framework.
The EU delegation stated that they would welcome further consultation with all relevant stakeholders on a recommendation on the appropriate level of the international control for cannabis preparations with low THC content, while ensuring the protection of public health and welfare.
The U.S. delegate said they rejected the CBD recommendation “on legal and procedural grounds.”
“Cannabidiol has not demonstrated abuse potential, and it is not our position that cannabidiol should be or is under the control of the international drug conventions,” the delegate said. “…We believe the member states are capable of determining for themselves what should be considered a ‘pure’ cannabidiol preparation for domestic enforcement purposes based on analytical capacity, abuse liability, and prioritization of prosecutorial resources.”
Other recommendations that failed to pass were the removal of extracts, tinctures and THC isomers from Schedule I status, as well as removing delta-9 THC from its status as a Schedule II substance.
The UN CND was only voting on cannabis and its derivatives that are used for medicinal purposes. Recreational marijuana, hemp and its derivatives, and CBD added to food, topicals and dietary supplements were not subject to last week’s vote.
CBD medicinal products, such as Epidiolex, were up for vote because these medications can contain up to 0.2% THC. The World Health Organization recommendation proposed that these medications be exempt from CND’s purview—specifically, that “preparations containing predominantly cannabidiol (CBD) and not more than 0.2 per cent of delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol are not under international control.”
As such, the hemp and CBD industries in the U.S. and elsewhere are largely unaffected by the vote.
This vote by the UN is the second critical stage to advancing legal changes on cannabis and hemp in all the Industrialized Nations that strictly comply with UN Law.
The UN vote doesn’t mean that member nations are cleared to legalize marijuana, as it still remains under the separate Schedule I of the international drug control system. But advocates say it demonstrates an evolution in how the international community views cannabis policy, as it formally recognizes the medical value of the plant and it could promote further research into its therapeutic potential.
The decision will help to advance new guidelines and laws towards making medicinal cannabis and hemp fully compliant and legal both domestically and globally. The ruling also opens up the potential for banking, insurance, and commodity trading industries to build infrastructure for long-term industry success.
“The vote of the United States to remove cannabis and cannabis resin from Schedule IV of the Single Convention while retaining them in Schedule I is consistent with the science demonstrating that while a safe and effective cannabis-derived therapeutic has been developed, cannabis itself continues to pose significant risks to public health and should continue to be controlled under the international drug control conventions,” the U.S. delegation said in a statement.
“Further, this action has the potential to stimulate global research into the therapeutic potential and public health effects of cannabis, and to attract additional investigators to the field, including those who may have been deterred by the Schedule IV status of cannabis,” the country added.
Ecuador supported all of WHO’s recommendations and urged that cannabis production, sale and use, have “a regulatory framework that guarantees good practices, quality, innovation and research development”.
The vote was also well received by patient advocate groups campaigning for reductions in medical cannabis restrictions, “After six decades since its placement into the strictest international category, and three years of review, the UN has finally made the decision to recognize the therapeutic value of cannabis,” Steph Sherer, president and founder of Americans for Safe Access and the International Medical Cannabis Patients Coalition, said in a press release. “This is a momentous occasion for cannabis advocates everywhere who have been fighting for this change for many years.”
The move has been met by support from Cannabis industry leaders. “Cannabis, is no longer illegal considered a dangerous narcotic, and worldwide cannabis and CBD markets will exponentially expand the previously predicted market potential by 1000 fold. This promotes the advancement of Hemp and CBD products to become a worldwide accepted commodity.” Said Todd Davis, CEO of U.S. CBD Company Endexx.
“We welcome the rescheduling of cannabis, as this recognizes the positive impact cannabis has today for thousands of suffering patients,” says Dirk Heitepriem, Canopy Growth’s vice president of government and stakeholder relations for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. “We hope this will empower more countries to create frameworks which allow patients in need to get access to treatment.”
Author: Matthew Driver, Senior Analyst