A United Nations commission has voted to reclassify cannabis as a less dangerous drug, recognizing the plant’s medical value and paving the way for new therapeutic use of the drug internationally.
The vote 27-25 of the Vienna-based United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs was based on World Health Organization (WHO) 2019 recommendations, which provides technical expertise on drugs at the United Nations. The decision removes cannabis and cannabis resin from Schedule IV of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961, where it has been listed alongside drugs such as heroin as having little or no medical or therapeutic value.
However, the vote does not remove cannabis or related products from the list of drugs requiring strict international controls.
The United States, Canada, Mexico and the United Kingdom were among the countries that voted to approve the measure; countries like Russia, China, Brazil and Japan voted against. Morocco was the only country in the Middle East and North Africa region to support reclassification.
The 1961 convention was established strengthen international cooperation to end drug abuse through two methods of intervention. The first restricts the use, possession, sale and distribution of drugs for scientific or medical purposes, while the second provides for collaboration to intercept and demoralize drug traffickers.
the United Nations System to classify controlled drugs, lists 250 substances into four “schedules” or categories, according to their health risks, dangers, dependence and medical value. Schedule IV, on the cannabis list for decades, is reserved for the most dangerous substances that have “extremely limited medical or therapeutic value”.
Now, however, with this vote reclassifying cannabis as less dangerous, the United Nations commission “has opened the door to recognizing the medicinal and therapeutic potential of the commonly used but still largely illegal recreational drug” internationally. A said in an article on voting.
A Press release from an international group of drug policy organizations welcomed the changes, which they say will further push the international community to invest in cannabis-based medicines.
“This is good news for the millions of people who use cannabis for therapeutic purposes and reflects the reality of the growing market for cannabis-based drugs,” the statement said.
However, advocates have also said the changes don’t go far enough as cannabis will remain on Schedule I along with more serious drugs like heroin and cocaine. This despite the WHO finding that cannabis was not as harmful as the other drugs listed in the same schedule.
Cannabis and its derivatives are still subject to strict international controls, and the vote of the commission against the other four cannabis-related measures, including one aimed at removing cannabis extracts and tinctures from the list of substances most subject to abuse, show that broader international legalization is still far from being completed.
But the trend is in that direction, and this latest vote certainly helps.
The movement to legalize medical marijuana is gaining ground
While supporters have a lot of work to do to improve international access to medical marijuana, recent developments suggest the movement is gaining momentum.
In January, Uganda the ministry of health has issued guidelines for the cultivation of medical marijuana, aligning the country with other African nations like Zambia, Lesotho and Zimbabwe which are relaxing restrictions on the cultivation of medical marijuana.
Earlier this year, Thailand, which severe drug penalties, Became the first country in Southeast Asia legalize the use of medical marijuana for patients. And at the end of November, the Thai government plans announced to enable the use of cannabis – without its most addictive elements, such as flowers – in cosmetics and cooking.
On November 26, the Mexican Senate voted overwhelmingly to legalize marijuana, and Canada legalized marijuana in 2018. The United States did not legalize marijuana at the federal level, but four other states voted to legalize it in the 2020 election, bringing the total to 15 .
This week, the United States House of Representatives is set to resume the Marijuana Opportunities, Reinvestment and Deregistration Act (PLUS), who will be the first time federal decriminalization of marijuana has been considered by either house of Congress. If passed, the bill, sponsored by Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, will also be clear marijuana convictions, who have long disproportionately plagued communities of color.