The United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs last week took decisions that will change the way cannabis is internationally regulated – including removing it from the most dangerous category of drugs. In America, the House of Representatives dropped cannabis from the controlled substances list and facilitated reduced cannabis convictions and arrests.
Both decisions are intended to open the way to research into the medicinal properties of cannabis and to promote the safety through regulation of a burgeoning array of cannabis products, and to somewhat decriminalise the use of cannabis.
The US Senate is expected to kill the bill, in which case the federal government will continue to lag behind reality on the ground – 36 US states and the District of Columbia have legalised medical cannabis, NPR points out, while 15 states and the District of Columbia have legalised cannabis for adult recreational use.
UN commission reclassifies cannabis
In reviewing a series of World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations on marijuana and its derivatives, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CNC) zeroed-in on the decision to remove cannabis from Schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs – where it was listed alongside deadly, addictive opioids, including heroin.
UN News reported on 2 December 2020 that the CND’s 53 member states voted to removed cannabis – where it had been placed for 59 years – from the strictest control schedules, that even discouraged its use for medical purposes.
With an historic vote of 27 in favour, 25 against, and one abstention, the CND has opened the door to recognising the medicinal and therapeutic potential of the commonly-used but still largely illegal recreational drug.
Moreover, according to news reports, the decision could also drive additional scientific research into the plant’s long-heralded medicinal properties and act as catalyst for countries to legalise the drug for medicinal use, and reconsider laws on its recreational use.
Back in January 2019, UN News continued, WHO unveiled six recommendations regarding the scheduling of cannabis in UN drug control treaties. While the proposals were originally set to be voted on during the CND’s March 2019 session, many countries had requested more time to study the endorsements and define their positions, according to news reports.
Among WHO’s many points, it clarified that cannabidiol (CBD) – a non-intoxicating compound – is not subject to international controls. CBD has taken on a prominent role in wellness therapies in recent years, and sparked a billion-dollar industry.
Currently, more than 50 countries have adopted medicinal cannabis programmes while Canada, Uruguay – and 15 US states – have legalised its recreational use, with Mexico and Luxembourg close to becoming the third and fourth countries to do so.
Where they stand
After voting, some countries made statements on their stances.
Ecuador supported all of WHO’s recommendations and urged that cannabis production, sale and use have “a regulatory framework that guarantees good practices, quality, innovation and research development”.
The United States voted to remove cannabis from Schedule IV of the Single Convention while retaining them in Schedule I, saying it is “consistent with the science demonstrating that while a safe and effective cannabis-derived therapeutic has been developed, cannabis itself continues to pose significant risks to public health and should continue to be controlled under the international drug control conventions”.
Voting against, Chile argued among other things that “there is a direct relationship between the use of cannabis and increased chances of suffering from depression, cognitive deficit, anxiety, psychotic symptoms, among others”. Japanstated that the non-medical use of the plant “might give rise to negative health and social impacts, especially among youth”.
World Health Organization – Cannabis recommendations
The recommendations were the outcome of a multi-year review process conducted by the Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD), an independent scientific advisory body to the WHO. Based on scientific assessment, potential health risk and therapeutic benefit, the ECDD recommended the appropriate scheduling of psychoactive substances within the international drug conventions – 24 January 2019.
House approves decriminalising marijuana; Bill to stall in Senate
The House of Representatives approved decriminalising marijuana at the federal level on Friday 4 December 2020. It is the first time Congress has acted on the issue, wrote Deirdre Walsh for National Public Radio – NPR.
The vote was largely along party lines – 228-164. Five Republicans and the lone independent member joined Democrats to pass the bill, and six Democrats voted no.
Branded as the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, or MORE Act, the bill removes cannabis from the list of federally controlled substances and facilitates cancelling low-level federal convictions and arrests related to marijuana.
However, the legislation is not expected to pass in the Republican-controlled Senate.
NPR reported that the bill is a way for Democrats to send a message about their outlook on drugs in a nation where more cities and states already have become more accepting. It creates an excise tax on cannabis sales and directs the money to be targeted to communities adversely affected by the so-called war on drugs.
The bill specifically adds incentives for minority-owned businesses to help them enter the cannabis market, which has exploded in recent years given the relaxation in controls in some places within the United States.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, a Democrat who sponsored the bill, said he thought Washington shouldn't stay so far behind parts of the nation.
"Federal action on this issue would follow the growing recognition in the states that the status quo is unacceptable. Despite the federal government's continuing criminalization of marijuana, 36 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical cannabis. Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis for adult recreational use."
Many other House Democrats who have advocated for federal action also said it was long overdue. They maintain the federal prohibition on research on marijuana and current sentencing laws related to many marijuana possession arrests have unintended consequences — largely felt in poor and minority communities, continued NPR.
Republicans strongly denounced the measure, saying criminals should not be released early.
Some opponents also said federal decriminalisation would contribute to more death and injury from impaired drivers using marijuana.
Although the marijuana bill is expected to die this year in the Senate, Democrats could vote on a similar bill in the next session of Congress. President-elect Joe Biden does support decriminalisation. But control of the Senate is still unclear, depending on two runoff races that will determine the majority in January.
Read the full NPR article via the link below.
UN News release – UN commission reclassifies cannabis, no longer considered risky narcotic
World Health Organization – Cannabis recommendations
NPR story – House Approves Decriminalizing Marijuana; Bill To Stall In Senate