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In a historic victory for cannabis, the UN removes cannabis from list of most dangerous drugs in the world. On Wednesday, December 2nd, the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) voted to remove cannabis for medicinal purposes from its list of controlled substances.

UN Reclassifies Cannabis as a Less Dangerous Drug

Based in Vienna, Austria, the CND includes 53 member states. At their latest session, they considered a number of recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO). One of them was the reclassification of cannabis and its derivatives.

The WHO recommended removing cannabis from Schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. Under this ruling, the UN listed cannabis alongside addictive substances like opioids and heroin.

Ultimately, the UN's decision to remove cannabis from its list of the most dangerous drugs is a symbolic victory. The reclassification does not require countries to loosen their restrictions on the drug. However, many countries seek guidance from these global conventions and mirror their laws.

How We Got Here

In 2019, the WHO first made headlines by releasing recommendations to change the classification of cannabis. However, not everyone was in favor of this change. Deliberation by member states led to delays in the Commission's vote.

Initially, the proposal was set to be voted on during their 62nd session in March 2019. However, many member states asked for additional time to study the endorsements and clarify their positions.

During the 63rd session, the Commission continued with its deliberations of the issue. They decided to set the vote date for their reconvened session in December 2020.

During intersessional meetings in June and September, the member states were allowed to address questions to the WHO, the International Narcotics Control Board, and UNODC.

How Countries Voted

During the latest reconvened session, the Commission voted with a 27 to 25 result to reclassify cannabis. Ukraine abstained from voting. Countries that voted in favor include the United States and many European nations. China, Nigeria, Egypt, Pakistan, and Russia were against the reclassification.

A delegate from China said that despite the reclassification, China would strictly control cannabis “to protect from the harm and abuse.”

Chile, who voted against the reclassification, stated that “there is a direct relationship between the use of cannabis and increase chances of suffering from depression, cognitive deficit, anxiety, psychotic symptoms, among others.”

Japan worried that the recreational use of cannabis “might give rise to negative health and social impacts, especially among youth.”

A delegate from Britain mentioned that the reclassification was “in line with the scientific evidence of its therapeutic benefits” but stated that the government would still support strong controls for the drug since it presented “serious public health risks.”

Ecuador supported all the WHO’s recommendations and hoped 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 and keep it in Schedule I.

The U.S. added that 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.”

Some countries even had a change of heart throughout the build-up to the vote. For instance, France was initially against reclassification. Ultimately, they voted in favor of reclassifying cannabis.

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Member States Reject 4 WHO Recommendations

Member states voted to reject 4 recommendations made by the WHO about cannabis and its derivatives.

  • The Commission rejected by 23 votes to 28 with 2 abstentions the recommendation to add dronabinol and its stereoisomers (delta-9 THC) to Schedule I of the 1961 Convention.
  • The Commission decided by 24 votes to 27 with 2 abstentions not to delete extracts and tinctures of cannabis from Schedule I of the 1961 Convention.
  • The Commission decided by 6 to 43 votes and with 4 abstentions not to add a footnote to Schedule I of the 1961 Convention that read “preparations containing predominantly cannabidiol and not more than 0.2% of delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol are not under international control.”
  • At the beginning of the session, the Commission rejected adding certain preparations of dronabinol to Schedule IV 1961 Convention.

What’s Next?

The UN’s historic vote could change the face of cannabis research and medical use. The reclassification could boost medical cannabis legalization efforts around the world. However, it’s still a minor victory in the effort to fully legalize cannabis.

The reclassification removes cannabis from Schedule IV to Schedule I of the 1961 Convention. Critics argue the WHO didn’t go far enough. Schedule I includes drugs with a higher risk profile like fentanyl. Is it really fair to compare a synthetic opiate that’s 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine to regulated cannabis? The fact that the UN removes cannabis from list of most dangerous drugs is a step in the right direction nonetheless.

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