UN removes Cannabis from Schedule IV restrictions
After a long battle with the UN, they have finally made the decision to reclassify Cannabis, marking its shift from the most harmful category of drugs to the least. Chay Morris discusses the optimism of such a move and potential future of the drug industry.
The UN’s decision to downgrade the classification on Cannabis is a ‘gateway’ to a more progressive attitude on drugs as a whole, and this is only a good a thing.
Way back in January 2019 the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) submitted several key recommendations which formed the basis of the decision last week by the Committee on Narcotic Drugs (CND) to remove Cannabis and Cannabis Resin from Schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs – where it had been held for nearly 60 years alongside the likes of Heroin. This is the strictest schedule, which even discourages medical purposes. The CND’s panel voted 27-25 with 1 abstention, in favour of this change, meaning Cannabis and Cannabis Resin now only exists in Schedule I with substances that are not considered “particularly harmful“.
The Schedules consider harm vs medical benefits of a substance and this decision suggests a changing understanding of the dangers and health benefits of Cannabis and its derivatives. Yet the delays to the panel’s deliberation, and the fact that all other recommendations relating to other derivatives of the plant were rejected highlights the difficulties the Scheduling framework has differentiating between medical and recreational uses and the continued controversy surrounding Cannabis. Despite this limited progress, it may lead to new research and funding for medical purposes and is exciting news for the ‘budding’ Cannabis industry. How much the growing economic value factored into the decision is hard to know but it’s interesting that this week the US House of Representatives also passed a motion to legalise Cannabis federally.
It may lead to new research and funding for medical purposes
So, what comes next? Well, the direct impact of this change will be hard to quantify but the historical influence of the UN in shaping norms and normative values has been considerable. Additionally, nations who have signed the 1961 Convention have an obligation to align their national policies with the CND’s decision. However, violating it is not particularly unusual with some states taking a regressive and deeply unsettling stance including the death penalty for possession, and others being far more relaxed with over 50 countries legalising it for medical use, and some even for recreational use such as Uruguay and Canada. In any case, we should celebrate this change as something long overdue. If the relaxation of regulation continues the future might see a much better system with many drugs legalised and regulated helping us to overcome issues such as, the discriminatory nature of current legislation against race and class; see improvements to users health through education on the subject; or end the abuses in the illegal drug industry by regulating its sources and supply.
Those who argue for strict policies towards Cannabis point out the cost to society, friends and family the rare, but serious negative effects, that Cannabis can have. They are right to question this, but Cannabis has proven to be considerably less dangerous in its recreational form, and offer more medical benefits, than many things we take for granted as ‘individual choice’ (hello lockdown booze runs). The fact that Cannabis is still considered any more harmful, immoral, or just plain grimy, than these other substances in our lives is an issue worth tackling. In terms of the 1961 Convention, when it was drafted, Cannabis had no industry to lobby for its exclusion compared to the likes of tobacco or alcohol, substances that have been continuously shown to be extremely harmful. Thus, the current legal placement of substances is often arbitrary, economic or political, rather than about safety.
The current legal placement of substances is often arbitrary, economic or political, rather than about safety.
The UN’s decision is a good step forward and changing the direction of liberalising policies is hard. The future of drug legislation could be wonderfully progressive and even if this small change only leads to advances in medical treatments then the next step might see states ending the injustice of harsh punishments. Something private prison companies might not appreciate but which is certainly okay with me. Perhaps you don’t share my optimistic predictions, but you might be surprised that the state of Oregon has recently decriminalised the carrying of small amounts of hard drugs as well as legalised psychedelic mushrooms for medical purposes, which is arguably the start of a whole new chapter in drug legislation.