The United Nations’ Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) has voted to remove cannabis from Schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs – where it is currently grouped alongside much more dangerous drugs like heroin and fentanyl.
This long awaited decision marks an important shift in the perception of cannabis among the international community. Not only does it suggest that the harms of cannabis have been overstated by governments, it also acknowledges the therapeutic properties of cannabis.
While the move will not directly affect drug laws in any of the UN’s 53 member states, it will no doubt help reform movements around the world as many countries look to international conventions for guidance, including the UK.
The Commission for Narcotic Drugs voted on a number of recommendations made by the World Health Organization to reclassify cannabis and its derivatives. Most of the focus was on one key recommendation, however – the recommendation to remove cannabis from Schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.
Schedule IV is for the most dangerous drugs known to man, with “particularly dangerous properties and little or no therapeutic value” (e.g. heroin, carfentanil).
The vote, which was originally due to take place in 2019 but was delayed twice, took place in Vienna, Austria. It came after the WHO recommended that cannabis be removed from Schedule IV and that CBD-rich cannabis preparations containing less than 0.2% THC, such as tinctures and extracts, be removed from scheduling altogether.
The decision was not popular with all member states of the UN – most notably, China, Egypt, Pakistan and Russia strongly opposed the move.
A recommendation to add cannabis derivatives such as dronabinol and THC to Schedule I, the lower lever, did not pass as it failed to garner enough support.
The result of this vote will have a trickle down effect – although it could be quite slow-moving. First, we will likely see amendments to the three international drug treaties that govern cannabis. These are: The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961, The Convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1971 and the 1988 Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.
Once this is done, countries will be freer in establishing their own cannabis regulations, with the possibility for forward-thinking countries to work together more closely.
The country everyone will be watching, however, is the United States. Historically, the U.S is the most influential player when it comes to international drug laws. They were, after all, the original instigators of the devastating war on drugs, which spread around the globe and continues to this day.
Tellingly, the U.S (and a number of European nations) supported the rescheduling of cannabis in the CND vote, suggesting that they may be open to rescheduling cannabis on a national level in the coming years.
If the U.S did this, then you can count on scores of other countries following suit – including the UK.
The CND has voted to accept the WHO’s recommendation to reschedule cannabis. Thus, cannabis will be removed from Schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.
While this vote does not mean cannabis is suddenly going to be legalised around the world, it could be a watershed moment in the global cannabis movement.