The UN Is Reclassifying Cannabis

The World Health Organization has announced a scientific consensus on medical cannabis

On January 24, 2019, the WHO (World Health Organization) Experts Committee on Drug Dependence recommended that whole-plant cannabis and cannabis resin should be removed from Schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention, and reclassified to Schedule I.


United Nations may soon reschedule cannabis
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What does “rescheduling” mean?

If WHO recommendations would be adopted, potential medical benefits of cannabis, along with its limited harm, would be recognized at the international level. Consequently, no government could refer to International treaty obligations as a reason to keep medical cannabis illegal. Moreover, governments would be obliged to ensure the adequate availability of marijuana for relief of pain and suffering of patients in their nations.

The decision to include cannabis and cannabis resin in Schedule IV of the Single Convention resulted from the politically motivated, biased approach to marijuana in many Western nations, not on scientific grounds. In the past decades, patients and researchers around the world realized the medical benefits of cannabis, but patients have continuously been prevented from legal access to the drug.

Medical cannabis advocates were repeatedly requesting WHO to fulfil its mandate under the Single Convention and perform a fair scientific review of marijuana in order to propose correction of the drug’s status under the Single Convention. 

In November 2016, WHO started the review process in several stages. It was finalized on February 1, 2019, with the issuance of recommendations to the UN (United Nations) Committee on Narcotic Drugs.


Implications of this change for New Zealand

If WHO recommendations are adopted, it will demonstrate that the world’s major governing bodies misinterpreted harms and medical benefits of marijuana for decades. A growing number of nations are reforming their cannabis policies. A shift at the UN could result in nations repealing their cannabis prohibition laws, even though legalization for non-medical for non-scientific reasons would still be contrary to global conventions.

Next, by March, the WHO recommendations will go before the UN’s Commission on Narcotic Drugs. Fifty-three member nations will vote on accepting or rejecting them. Many countries that have opposed cannabis policy reforms, such as China and Russia, may oppose the change in cannabis reclassification. On the other hand, countries like Canada and Uruguay, which have legalized marijuana, are likely to back the reform. 

It is unclear how New Zealand will vote. While New Zealand has historically remained strict with cannabis policy, the reality is that the country is now looking at cannabis positively. Recently, in December of last year, the New Zealand government legalized medical cannabis. Soon after this law reform, the government announced that it would hold a recreational cannabis referendum during the 2020 general election. It will be interesting to see how the New Zealand government will direct its UN representative on the proposed WHO recommendations to change marijuana’s status under International law.

Additionally, the WHO made recommendations to reclassify THC isomers from the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances to Schedule I of the 1961 Convention. Also, recommendations have been made to add some cannabis and THC preparations to Schedule III of the 1961 Convention. Doing this would exempt these preparations from many control measures, granting easier access to patients. The WHO also recommended that CBD (Cannabidiol) preparations containing no more than 0.02% of THC are not subject to International control.

However, these recommendations don’t aim to change the prohibition of cannabis for recreational purposes.


Cannabis’ current classification
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Final words -- How cannabis reclassification could affect other countries, especially New Zealand?

The reclassification of cannabis may do many things in favour of cannabis advocates. Since an increasing number of states in the United States and countries around the world are looking forward to cannabis legalization, reclassification of the drug may speed up the process.

In New Zealand, reclassification can form a solid foundation for the upcoming referendum on cannabis. The referendum has already seen huge support from the public, as well as many prominent political parties. Now, if the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs reclassifies the drug, the referendum is more likely to gain support for cannabis legalization. 

Similarly, for other nations that are planning to legalize medical and recreational cannabis within their jurisdiction, reclassification is certainly going to bring the expected revolution.