If we miss this chance, then we may not have another window of opportunity, on the world stage, for many years
What are you doing this December? If you are a cannabis user or a sympathizer to the potential of the plant as a medicinal aid or a sustainable material, then we strongly recommend you head for Vienna to make your voice heard at the International Cannabis Policy Conference, December 7 -9th.
Why? Because next month the Austrian capital is going to be the focus of drug policy decisions, to be voted on by UN member states, that will affect the world’s stance on cannabis for the next decade. In the same week, and just down the road from the ICPC, the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), is holding a session regarding cannabis policy. At this session they will receive the scheduling recommendations of the World Health Organisation (WHO) on CBD and cannabis.
This is significant because it is the last meeting of Member State countries, focusing on cannabis policy, before a UN session in March where Cannabis Treaty scheduling and the 2019-2029 plan of action will be debated and voted on. So it’s now or never for external stakeholders to contribute to the debate and the organisers of the International Cannabis Policy Conference want to rally the cannabis scene with a resounding call: “NOW is the right time to show up!”
Hana Gabrielová, a member of the cannabis policy think tank FAAAT, which is organising the conference organisers, says, “This is a historical moment for the cannabis movement and what happens in the next few months could have a significant impact on the future of cannabis policy at a global level. In the first week of December this issue will be right under the noses of UN members and we have to show them that there are many reasons for change.”
The conference is a magnet for people involved – or who want to be involved – in pushing for an alteration to the UN policy of cannabis prohibition that has been dogmatically pursued since the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and without scientific background. Delegates will include scholars, NGOs, officials and civil servants from UN agencies and governments and of course representatives from the European hemp and cannabis scene.
“If we miss this chance,” says Hana, “then we may not have another window of opportunity, on the world stage, for many years. We have been living in an era of prohibition since the 1961 convention, which has been an obstacle to advancing the regulation of cannabis. However, times are changing. The World Health Organisation began its critical review process two years ago (following the 2016 UNGASS meeting) and since then more countries have legalised cannabis for medical and also recreational use. The classification of cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug, and its strict control, no longer fits the reality of the world we are living in today.”
To understand what a pivotal moment the 2019 meeting could be, we should first take a quick look back in history to a convention that was drafted by the UN – almost 60 years ago. The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961 is the reason why cannabis remains illegal across many parts of the world today.
It was an international treaty that extended the control of existing substances, coca and opium (and their derivatives such as cocaine and heroin) to include cannabis. Once on that blacklist, a list signed up to by UN members, cannabis became an international public enemy number 1, quashing reasonable debate and, with few exceptions, changes to national laws allowing its use.
Within the Single Convention, Article 36 binds parties to adopt and enforce measures against the “cultivation, production, manufacture, extraction, preparation, possession, offering, offering for sale, distribution, purchase, sale, delivery on any terms whatsoever, brokerage, dispatch, dispatch in transit, transport, importation and exportation of drugs contrary to the provisions of this Convention.” In other words this Article provided a catch all provision for prohibitionist policy regarding cannabis.
The 1961 Single Convention set n international agenda that would focus on the eradication of drugs. This atmosphere was crystallised through the rhetoric and actions related to the ‘War on Drugs’, a policy aggressively promoted by President Richard Nixon in the early 1970s and a succession of US presidents until it slowed during the presidency of Barack Obama.
However, in the past four years, we have seen changes that could not be imagined at the beginning of the decade and the 2018 legalization pronouncements in California, but more significantly in Canada, a G7 nation, could provide the tipping point. With just these two blocs accounted for, 77 million people now have the legal right to consume cannabis medically and recreationally.
Back then there were high hopes for a significant change in policy and although this did not materialise, one of the big positives was that there was a shift in consensus to taking a more health related approach to drug issues.
The debate should also be seen within the context of the UN’s Sustainable Development goals as set in 2015, which were designed to ‘end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all.’ The growing of hemp, its sustainable credentials and the prospect of its use for the production of thousands of products fits into this brief. The cannabis policy think tank FAAAT, also involved with the Vienna Conference, will present UN delegates with a report on the links between cannabis policies and the UN Agenda for Sustainable Development.
As Hana says, the world is a very different place today to the one it was when the Single Convention was hatched, however as an internationally binding treaty its effects are still felt, shackling policy makers in countries around the world. An example of this is illustrated by current moves by the German Government to ease medical cannabis laws.
At the recent EurAm business conference in Prague, Florian Rister (Vice CEO of Deutscher Hanfverbrand, the biggest legal advocacy/business organisation in Germany) told delegates that medical cannabis production and purchase will be controlled by the BfArM (Ministry responsible for narcotic drugs) within the guidelines of the 1961 UN Single Convention. This would mean automatic obstacles to supply the market with cannabis derived products from outside the country.
However, as ever with cannabis policy, sands are in a constant state of flux. Counter balancing the positives of legalisation successes at US state and nation level, is a hefty bloc of staunch anti-reformists on the international stage including Russia, China and Saudi Arabia, not to mention the ASEAN countries – who are resistant to any change to current UN attitudes.
Into this negative mix there is also the spectre of populism that currently hangs over the international debate. In September, Donald Trump went out on a publicity seeking limb to host a meeting with UN members called ‘The World Drug Problem’ in which he spoke of building a drug free future and the eradication of drug addiction. While this has been observed as being a departure from UN policy consensus at this moment in time, it serves as a reminder that drugs policy is an easy point scoring opportunity for the right wing and in particular, populist leaders such as Trump, Rodrigo Duerte in the Philippines and the incoming Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, who once tweeted that legalising marijuana would only benefit ‘traffickers, rapists, and hostage takers’.
So it feels as if we are at the doorstep of history with legalization sweeping the globe, but the 2019 UN session is crucial in taking the world through that door. Now, more than ever, is the time to stand up and be counted. The International Cannabis Policy Conference is a chance for the world’s cannabis community to put on their business face and engage with policy makers from the UN and with their governments at national level.
UN delegates will be in Vienna that week of December and they will have an eye on this conference. Each of them has received an invitation to attend, and they will all be sent a policy document prepared by FAAAT. But they also need to see that people are hungry for that change to cannabis policy.
For many years the cannabis community has been fighting for recognition, for normalisation, for the right to be able to consume cannabis without fear of legal retribution. We have complained that our voices have not been heard. Well now is the time to shout louder than ever – not in anger but in encouragement. It’s very easy to light up a spliff, hit the vape, burn up another bowl and sit back into the couch feeling confident that someone else is doing that shouting for us. Yes they are, but they need to hear your voice too.
Vienna, December 7 -9th. International Cannabis Conference. Mark the date and make a difference!
By Che Capri
Image – Cannabis conference