CANNABIS has been removed from the most stringent schedule of the international drug conventions in a historic vote in Vienna, today.
The United Nations’ Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) today voted on the World Health Organization (WHO) proposals at its 63rd Session this morning.
Twenty seven countries voted in favour of the first of five WHO recommendations, namely; to remove cannabis from Schedule 4 of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (SCND), whilst there were 25 votes against, with one abstention.
Most of the European and Western nations including the UK, France, Spain, Austria, Australia, Canada and the US voted in favour with the Ukraine abstaining.
Hungary voted against the recommendation, along with China and others.
On January 24, 2019, the Director General of the WHO sent a letter to the Secretary General of the United Nations recommending, among other things, that cannabis and associated substances be rescheduled in the international drug control framework.
Addressing the CND today Gilles Forte, of the WHO, said its suggestions were designed to help recognise the medical and scientific benefits of the cannabis plant.
Schedule 4 is the strictest category outlined in the 1961 SCND, meaning cannabis is currently treated in the same way as heroin, severely restricting scientists who want to investigate the plant in the search for potential therapies.
Potential To Support Research
Therefore today’s positive vote has the potential to boost research and support efforts to open up more global markets to cannabis.
Speaking last year Ethan Russo, MD, a neurologist and Director of Research and Development of the International Cannabis and Cannabinoids Institute welcomed the proposals.
He said: “Governments have an obligation to translate provision of the treaties in their national legislation so this definitely will have an impact and all countries will have to modify the position on THC in their legislation.
“It is gratifying that the World Health Organization has recognised the scientific fact that cannabis and its derivatives have demonstrable therapeutic properties and can be the base for safe and effective medicines,” he said.
The motion to remove cannabis extracts and tinctures from the international conventions was defeated by 27 votes to 24 with two abstentions.
A further vote recommending that cannabidiol (CBD) should be removed from drug conventions was also lost with only six for, four abstentions and 43 votes against.
However, many members nations in favour of supporting these two later recommendations considered them to be badly worded, and subsequently abstained or voted against.
The UK representative said its decision to vote for the rescheduling of cannabis was based on the ‘scientific evidence in relation to its therapeutic benefits’ and aligns with UK changes to allow for medical cannabis use.
However the UK voted against the CBD motion as it conflicted with domestic legislation, as THC is a controlled substance in UK law.
The Recommendations Voted On Today
1. Cannabis and cannabis resin: remove from Schedule IV (keep in Schedule I) as it is not ‘particularly harmful’ (for example: use is not associated with a significant risk of death).
2 ‘Extracts and tinctures’: remove from the Conventions as it is a complicated term to interpret, covering preparations that have psychoactive properties as well as those that do not. Effectively this will be replaced by a new entry in Schedule III of the 1961 Convention referring to pharmaceutical preparations of cannabis that do not pose a risk to public health.
3. Delta-9-THC/dronabinol: delete from the 1971 Convention Schedule II and move to the 1961 Convention, Schedule I (with cannabis and cannabis resin). Previously considered a pharmaceutical preparation, it primarily refers to the main psychoactive component of cannabis. This will be a similar approach as for coca leaf/cocaine and opium/morphine.
4. THC isomers: delete from the 1971 Convention Schedule I and move to the 1961 Convention Schedule I, based on current knowledge.
5. Cannabidiol (CBD): add a footnote that products containing predominantly CBD and not more than 0.2% Delta-9-THC are not under international control. They are explicitly excluded as there is no relevant risk to public health.
What Are The International Drug Conventions?
There are three United Nations treaties that together form the international law framework of the global drug control regime
-The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961, as amended by the 1972 Protocol;
-The Convention on Psychotropic Substances, 1971,
-The Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and
Psychotropic Substances, 1988.
What Is Their Purpose?
The purpose of these treaties is to establish internationally control measures with the aim of ensuring that psychoactive substances are available for medical and scientific purposes, while preventing them from being diverted into illegal channels.