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World Health Organization recommends the reclassification of cannabis for international treaties

Feb 4, 2019

The World Health Organization has recommended the cannabis plant and its resins be officially rescheduled under international drug treaties.

WHO is recommending that whole-plant marijuana, as well as cannabis resin, be removed from Schedule IV⸺the international version of the United States’ Schedule I classification⸺from the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961.

Steph Sherer, President and Founder of Americans for Safe Access stated in a Press Release how the international organization’s decision could have a positive impact on pot-politics in the United States.

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“We are extremely pleased that the World Health Organization has finally recognized the therapeutic potential of cannabis and its derivatives as a safe and effective medicine. With an international rescheduling or descheduling [sic], the U.S. government can no longer use the excuse that cannabis has no medical value,” Sherer stated.

The WHO recommendations on cannabis

What does “Rescheduling” mean?

In a statement dated January 24, 2019, the WHO Expert Committee on Drug Dependence recommended that whole-plant marijuana and cannabis resin be removed from Schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention, and rescheduled to Schedule I.

In common vernacular, this means that whole-plant marijuana and cannabis resin would be removed from Schedule IV under the 1961 treaty (also known as the Single Convention), and reclassified as Schedule I.

By recommending the removal of marijuana from the list of Schedule IV drugs, which includes such drugs as heroin and LSD, the WHO ECDD recognizes the limited harm and potential medical benefits of marijuana.

Pharmaceutical-grade pot containing THC would be placed in Schedule III of the Single Convention.

The WHO ECDD also officially recommended that delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, more commonly known as THC, and its isomers be completely removed from a separate 1971 drug treaty and instead be added to Schedule I of the 1961 Single Convention.

Additionally, the WHO ECDD recommended to include some cannabis and THC preparations to Schedule III of the 1961 Single Convention, thus exempting them from specific control measures established by the Convention. It would help patients in need of medical marijuana by increasing access to those particular pot-preparations.

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In the Americans for Safe Access Press Release, Dr. Pavel Pachta, International Cannabis and Cannabinoids Institute’s International Regulatory Affairs Director and former Deputy Secretary of the International Narcotics Control Board, argues that these recommendations show that the WHO ECDD is simply keeping up with the times.

“These recommendations were inevitable and their adoptions by the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs would enhance public health globally,” Dr. Pachta stated. “We do not expect the [Commission on Narcotic Drugs] would vote against these recommendations as they came from scientific experts and based on rigorous scientific view.

Source: Sonya Yruel/Drug Policy Alliance

What do the WHO recommendations mean for marijuana?

If the WHO officially adopts the ECDD recommendations, it would mark a significant move forward in international medical marijuana policy. Unfortunately, the recommendations do not address cannabis-use for recreational purposes.

Specifically, governments could no longer refer to the international WHO’s Schedule IV classification of marijuana as a justification for the prohibition of medical marijuana.

Sherer argues that this recommendation will now remove the Single Convention as ammunition in the anti-cannabis argument in the United States.

“It is now incumbent that our government change legislation at the federal level to eliminate barriers to research and access for patients throughout the country,” Sherer said. “It is time our government stepped up to provide relief for patients that have been suffering for years throughout the U.S.”

Additionally, in accordance with the provisions of the Single Convention, governments would have to ensure “adequate availability” of marijuana for the relief of suffering for patients in their country.

With the ECDD’s recommendations now available, the issue will be put to a vote. In March 2019, the NCD will meet in Vienna, Austria for their sixty-second session. There are 53 States in the NCD and a single majority of the members both present and voting are required to approve any recommendation by the WHO.

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Ethan Russo, MD, a Neurologist, and Director of Research and Development of the ICCI is hopeful that if these recommendations are passed, that global access to cannabis for medical purposes will allow for greater research opportunities.

“It is gratifying that the [WHO] has recognized the scientific fact that cannabis and its derivatives have demonstrable therapeutic properties and can be the base for safe and effective medicines,” Russo stated. “It is now incumbent upon governments of the USA and other nations to eliminate the barriers to research on cannabis and allow its free commerce across state lines and international frontiers.”


*Header image source: Sonya Yruel/Drug Policy Alliance

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