At the end of January a letter arrived on the desk of Mr Antonio Guterres, the Secretary General of the United Nations. The contents of this three page letter could have dramatic consequences for the legal status of cannabis in the yes of international law.
The letter was written by Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) and it detailed a summary of its review regarding t he potential medicinal benefits of cannabis and how this affects its classification as a prohibited substance.
To cut a long story short, for the first time the WHO has recognized that cannabis is legitimate as a medicine and goes even further by proposing that ‘any preparations considered to be pure cannabidoil (CBD) should not be scheduled within the International Drug Control Conventions.’
While the WHO recommends that the United Nations should adopt this position, it is up to UN members to decide on the matter when cannabis treaty scheduling and the 2019-2029 plan of action will be debated and voted on this March.
Nevertheless, the WHO recommendations are significant. By adopting this position, the WHO is overturning a stance that it has held since 1961 (reflecting the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs) which has seen cannabis classed as a Schedule IV and Schedule I drug, which puts it on a par with heroin. In line with its recommendations, the WHO proposes ‘a more rational system of international control surrounding cannabis and cannabis related substances that would prevent drug-related harms whilst ensuring that cannabis-derived pharmaceutical preparations are available for medical use.’
It is also welcome news considering that there were some fears that the WHO would back away from what is quite a controversial policy change proposal in light of cannabis ‘inclusion on a list of banned substances that has shaped the international drugs debate for so long. The WHO decision had originally been expected in December 2018 when the WHO met with the UN Commission of Narcotic Drugs (CND) in Vienna, but was delayed because, it declared, it wasn’t yet in a position to publish its statement, as reported by Weed World in issue 139.
A contributing factor in the WHO proposal has been the involvement of external stakeholders in the debate. One of these has been for the For Alternative Approaches to Addiction Think tank (FAAAT), which organized the International Cannabis Policy Conference in Vienna (Weed World issue 139) and is the publisher of The Crimson Digest. The latest volume, which is available to view on the organization’s website, dissects the WHO recommendations in detail, and points out that this is the ‘first time that the WHO has fulfilled its mandate to independently and methodologically assess substances for international control, in the case of cannabis.’
Farid Ghehioueche, head of advocacy for FAAAT, which has lobbies for policy change, told Weed World, “This announcement really was better than we had expected, although there is still a long way to go as the UN has to vote for this and needs a majority decision to pass. Regardless of the vote, we are optimistic in many ways as these recommendations reflect a general trend of countries going further to establish the use of cannabis for medical and scientific purposes. Many countries are in the mood for change and this is hugely positive as it reflects the reality of the world today and the place of cannabis within it.”
The international cannabis community, not to mention thousands of medical patients around the world who have been introduced to cannabis as a treatment for a range of conditions, will be hoping that UN members will recognize this new reality. A vote against the recommendations could mean another 10 years of international policy that is rooted in a time when scientific evidence of cannabis’ medical potential didn’t even exist. A vote for the recommendations on the other hand could usher in a new and potentially very exciting era indeed….
By Che Capri
Originally published in Weed World Magazine issue 140