UN Redesignating Cannabis

The UN is the latest governing body in line to deschedule cannabis

For the first time in history, a report by the World Health Organization’s Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) has prompted the United Nations to initiate an in-depth review of the international drug classification of cannabis. The committee, comprised of veteran health experts, has been instrumental to the enactment of international drug control policies.


The current era of punitive cannabis policies could soon be phased out on the international stage
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The Expert Committee has recommended the descheduling of cannabis products, including cannabis resin, cannabis extracts and tinctures, THC, and THC isomers. In line with the outcome of the last ECDD meeting, the WHO have relayed formal recommendations to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres through a letter from WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Gheyebresus. The Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, was a key facilitator of cannabis legalisation in Portugal during his time as the Prime Minister. If the recommended policies are adopted (as envisioned by experts) the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs will adopt the recommendations and the official reclassification will be announced this month.

Currently, the United Nations continues to abide by the same resolution on cannabis use that it adopted in 1961, which placed cannabis on Schedule I and Schedule IV of the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. This classification puts the risk levels associated with marijuana use on par with those associated with the use of hard drugs like heroin and cocaine.


The inside story of the ECDD’s recommendations

The ECDD recommends that the medical benefits of cannabis are explored without current limitations
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During the last ECDD meeting, Dr. Ghebreyesus revealed that “The evidence presented to the Committee did not indicate that cannabis plants and cannabis resin were liable to produce ill-effects similar to these other substances that are in Schedule IV of the 1961 Convention of Narcotic Drugs. The inclusion of cannabis resin in Schedule IV may not appear to be consistent with the criteria of Schedule IV”.

In light of the unprecedented surge of interest in the medicinal derivatives of cannabis, the committee reviewed the benefits and drawbacks of medical cannabis. They found that products such as CBD, tinctures and extracts are effective medication for various ailments, including pain, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and many other conditions. The committee found reasons to recommend that cannabis products be rescheduled to a classification that allows for their use, and also prevents the negative effects of its abuse. The committee also reckoned such recommendations would pave the way for research and developments that would lead to further explorations of cannabis for medical purposes.

The recommendation of the World Health Organization implores the UN Secretary General to see to the removal of cannabis and cannabis resin from Schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, a class of drugs with “particularly dangerous properties”. But they do not recommend unrestricted access to the substance - the committee recommends that the drug be placed in Schedule 1, which is the least restrictive classification. According to the committee, the recommendation for the drug to placed in Schedule 1 is borne out of fears for “the adverse effects associated with long-term cannabis use, including increased risk of mental health disorders, such as anxiety, depression and psychotic illness. Regular cannabis use is particularly problematic for young people, because of its effects on the developing brain.”


What the redesignation means for the Australian cannabis industry

As a member of the United Nations and a signatory to the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, Australia is bound to comply with resolutions on drug use adopted by the international body, and might be held liable under international law if it fails to do so.

If the UN finally adopts the WHO’s ECDD recommendations to reclassify cannabis, then the Australian government is obliged to follow suit. Australia has always complied with the UN resolutions on drug use, and this latest resolution could compel the country to relax its cannabis laws in the very near future. For instance, the government may be obliged to license companies and health practitioners to produce and distribute cannabis products for the treatment of a wider array of health ailments as per the EDDC’s recommendations. Currently the Australian government has approved the sale of only one cannabis product which treats epilepsy in children. If the Australian government enacts cannabis use reforms based on the benefits of cannabis recognized in the EDDC’s recommendations, landmark changes can be expected for Australia’s current marijuana laws.