A United Nations commission has decided to classify cannabis as a less dangerous drug, recognize the medicinal value of the plant and pave the way for further therapeutic uses of the drug on an international level.
The vote between 27 and 25 votes by the Vienna-based UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs was based on the recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO) from 2019, which provides the United Nations with technical expertise on pharmaceuticals. The decision removes cannabis and cannabis resin from Appendix IV of the 1961 Uniform Convention on Narcotic Drugs, in which it was classified as having little or no medical or therapeutic value alongside drugs such as heroin.
However, the vote will not remove cannabis or related products from the list of medicines that require strict international controls.
The United States, Canada, Mexico and the United Kingdom were among the countries that voted to approve the measure. Countries like Russia, China, Brazil and Japan voted against it. Morocco was the only nation from the Middle East and North Africa to support the reclassification.
The 1961 Convention was created to strengthen international cooperation to end drug abuse through two methods of intervention. The first restricts drug use, possession, sale, and distribution to scientific or medical purposes, while the second sees collaboration to intercept and demoralize drug traffickers.
The UN system for classifying controlled drugs lists 250 substances in four "schedules" or categories according to health risks, hazards, addiction and medical value. Appendix IV, as listed for decades, is reserved for the most dangerous substances that are of "extremely limited medicinal or therapeutic value".
UN classification system for controlled drugs.
European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction
Now that this vote has made cannabis less dangerous, the UN Commission has "opened the door to recognize the medicinal and therapeutic potential of the widely used, but still largely illegal, recreational drug," the UN said in a message on The Election.
A press release from an international group of drug policy organizations welcomed the changes, which are intended to give the international community a greater incentive to invest in cannabis-based medicines.
"This is welcome news for the millions of people who use cannabis for therapeutic purposes and reflects the reality of the growing market for cannabis-based medicines," the statement said.
However, proponents also said the changes don't go far enough as cannabis continues to be listed under Appendix I along with more serious drugs like heroin and cocaine. This despite the WHO's finding that cannabis was not as harmful as other drugs listed on the same schedule.
Cannabis and its derivatives remain subject to strict international controls, and the Commission's vote against the other four measures related to cannabis, including a measure to remove cannabis extracts and tinctures from the list of the most vulnerable substances, shows that greater international legalization is in need There is still a long way to go.
But that is the trend and this latest vote is certainly helping.
The movement to legalize medical marijuana is taking off
Thai health officials plant cannabis seedlings in a medical marijuana greenhouse outside of Chon Buri, south of Bangkok, on October 8, 2020.
Mladen Antonov / AFP via Getty Images
Although advocates are busy to improve international access to medical marijuana, recent developments suggest that the movement is gaining momentum.
In January, the Ugandan Ministry of Health issued guidelines for growing marijuana for medical purposes, to bring the country in line with other African nations, including Zambia, Lesotho and Zimbabwe, easing restrictions on the cultivation of medical marijuana.
Earlier this year, Thailand, which has imposed harsh drug sentences, became the first Southeast Asian country to legalize the use of medical marijuana for patients. And in late November, the Thai government announced plans to allow the use of cannabis – minus its addicting elements like flowers – in cosmetics and in cooking.
On November 26, the Mexican Senate voted overwhelmingly in favor of legalizing marijuana, and Canada legalized marijuana back in 2018. The US didn't legalize marijuana federally, but four other states voted to legalize marijuana in the 2020 election, which one did Total number equal to 15.
This week, the U.S. House of Representatives will be taking up the Marijuana Opportunities, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which marks the first time either of the two Houses of Congress has considered federal decriminalization of marijuana. If passed, the bill, sponsored by Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, will also repeal marijuana convictions that have long plagued color communities disproportionately.
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