Editor’s note, March 6: the decision to delay was formally adopted.
This week, the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) was set to hold a significant vote to reclassify cannabis as a medicine, a historic change to international drug control treaties drafted nearly sixty years ago. But that vote isn’t happening, according to a draft decision reviewed by Cannabis Wire.
The draft reads that the CND “recalls its mandate to vote on scheduling recommendations… bearing in mind their complexity, in order to clarify the implications and consequences of, as well as the reasoning for these recommendations; and decides to vote at its reconvened 63rd session in December 2020 in order to preserve the integrity of the international scheduling system.”
The CND Chair’s draft decision, tabled during an informal meeting last week, needs to be formally adopted by the CND this week.
The CND’s more than fifty member states will convene this week in Vienna, Austria for the 63rd Session, during which a handful cannabis-related changes to drug treaties are up for debate, ranging from rescheduling cannabis and cannabis resins, to adding a footnote that cannabidiol (CBD) preparations with less than .2% THC are not scheduled.
This discussion began with a recommendation in January 2019 from the World Health Organization (WHO) that cannabis be rescheduled in such a way that it is considered a medicine.
Today, cannabis and cannabis resin are on both Schedule IV and Schedule I of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotics Drugs. Schedule IV, the most restrictive, is for substances with little or no medical value. Specifically, the WHO’s Expert Committee on Drug Dependence recommended cannabis and cannabis resin be removed from Schedule IV, and be listed only on Schedule I. (This is the opposite of the US scheduling system, in which Schedule I, where cannabis sits, is the most restrictive.)
The WHO committee also made other recommendations, which Cannabis Wire previously reported. Another significant one relates to “cannabidiol preparations,” or CBD. They already took a position in 2018 that pure CBD doesn’t warrant regulation. This latest recommendation is to put that position into effect by adding a note under the cannabis and cannabis resin entry under Schedule I that “Preparations containing predominantly cannabidiol and not more than 0,2% of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol are not under international control.”
Martin Jelsma, the program director for drugs and democracy at the Transnational Institute (TNI), told Cannabis Wire, “After politically tense and lengthy informal negotiations these past weeks, everything points to that there will not be a vote on any of the WHO recommendations this coming week.”
Jelsma added, “Several countries pushed hard to vote on and accept at least recommendation 5.1, the deletion of cannabis and resin from Schedule IV of the Single Convention, but in the end agreed to a compromise to postpone all, in return for a clear timeline for taking a vote within a year.”
Steve Rolles, a senior policy analyst for Transform Drug Policy Foundation, tweeted today, “There has been significant debate amongst member states- particularly regards removing cannabis from schedIV, which would formally acknowledge medical uses,” adding that if the “situation appears confusing and politically messy – that’s because it is.”
Still, a noteworthy shift is underway with regard to the global conversation about cannabis as medicine. Last Thursday, during the launch of the 2019 Annual Report of the UN International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), which is in charge of drug treaty compliance, INCB President Cornelis de Joncheere referenced this week’s discussion and suggested the times, and the evidence, have changed since 1961.
He said, “Next week, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs will be discussing the classification of cannabis and that is one expression of countries and of state parties to have a re-look at whether the classification of cannabis is appropriate as it was made in 1961 … We’re almost 60 years further down the road, so medical evidence has evolved and therefore that will be on the agenda based on the scientific evaluation by the World Health Organization.”
Just last year, in its 2018 annual report, the INCB wrote that there is “often little or no scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of many of the purported medical uses of cannabis.”
While the US position has not yet been made public, the US Food and Drug Administration opened a public comment period last year to gather input prior to sharing with the UN the US position on the WHO recommendations. (Read Cannabis Wire’s coverage of the FDA comment period.)