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WHO Takes First Steps To Reclassify Medical Cannabis Under International Law

It could still be a long wait, but patients in the United States may not be dependent on the Drug Enforcement Administration to reclassify marijuana.

The World Health Organization (WHO) Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) recently met and initiated the first steps in a long process that could lead to the rescheduling of medical marijuana under international law, and has committed to hold a special session to discuss medical marijuana in the next eighteen months.

“In order for cannabis to be rescheduled, the United Nations General Assembly would vote on a recommendation made by the CND.”

Eighteen months may seem like a long time, but discussions regarding the potential rescheduling of cannabis have been stalled for years, and the process could result in fundamental changes in the way medical marijuana research and regulations are handled in the United States and around the world.

The ECDD is a very influential committee whose recommendations are made to the Secretary General of the United Nations, who can then bring the recommendations to a vote by the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND). In order for cannabis to be rescheduled, the United Nations General Assembly would vote on a recommendation made by the CND.

If approved by the UN General Assembly, those changes would then be reflected in the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which currently lists cannabis as a Schedule I and IV substance, meaning a substance with a high risk of abuse, produces ill effects, and has no potential therapeutic benefit.

Under the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which was ratified in 1961 and is signed by 185 of the 193 countries that make up the United Nations, including the United States, member countries are responsible for passing and enforcing their own drug laws, but the Single Convention is regarded as the standard for international drug laws. Many lawmakers point to the Single Convention as the primary obstacle in the United States’ inability to reschedule cannabis.

According to an extract from the 38th Expert Committee on Drug Dependence that convened from November 14-18 in Geneva, the committee recognized an increase in the use of cannabis and its components for medical purposes, the emergence of new cannabis-related pharmaceutical preparations for therapeutic use, and that cannabis has never been subject to a formal pre-review or critical review by the ECDD.

Over the next eighteen months, the committee has requested pre-reviews for cannabis plant matter, extracts and tinctures, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD), and stereoisomers of THC.

This pre-review is a preliminary analysis used to determine if a more in-depth critical review will be undertaken by the ECDD, and will represent the first new scientific guidance on marijuana to the United Nations since 1935, when cannabis was first classified as a Schedule I/IV substance by the Health Committee of the League of Nations.

Rescheduling at the international level would have major ramifications for US policy on medical cannabis, as all too often politicians cite the Single Convention as the reason Congress cannot move towards rescheduling cannabis. So while this may seem like a long, drawn out process, it could ultimately remove that final roadblock, making it well worth the wait.

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