United Nations approves WHO recommendation to reschedule cannabis in historic vote

Tune in at 1 p.m. PT on Wednesday for a live discussion at MJBizCon 2020 on the global ramifications of the historic UN vote on cannabis reprogramming.

CND President Mansoor Ahmad Khan of Pakistan leads the historic vote at the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs on Wednesday, December 2.

The United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) on Wednesday accepted a recommendation from the World Health Organization (WHO) to remove cannabis and cannabis resin from Annex IV of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.

The historic vote in Vienna could have far-reaching implications for the global medical cannabis industry, ranging from regulatory oversight to scientific research on the plant and its use as a medicine.

The long-awaited approval of Recommendation 5.1 had a slim majority in favor with 27 votes in favor, one abstention and 25 votes against.

The CND, the United Nations' main drug policy-making body, rejected the remaining five recommendations.

The approval of Recommendation 5.1 has great symbolic significance for medical cannabis, as it could help drive medical cannabis legalization efforts around the world now that the CND tacitly recognizes the drug's medical utility.

"The medical cannabis wave has already accelerated in recent years, but this will give it another boost," Martin Jelsma, director of the drugs and democracy program at the Netherlands-based Transnational Institute, told Marijuana Business Daily.

"And for those countries that basically reflect UN programming in their national legislation, it can lead to national disqualification and remove obstacles to using cannabis for research and medical purposes."

The vote could encourage countries to re-evaluate how cannabis is classified on their own narcotic lists, which could pave the way for more research on medical marijuana and its use as a treatment for a variety of ailments and conditions.

How countries voted to reprogram cannabis from Recommendation 5.1

What should not be expected is a relaxation of international controls governing medical cannabis.

"While the measure does not totally free the plant from the control of the treaty, it is a giant step towards the normalization of cannabis in medicine, especially, but also in our societies in general," independent researcher Kenzi Riboulet told MJBizDaily- Zemouli from CND Monitor.

"It has taken decades of efforts to remove cannabis from Schedule IV, with implications that will slowly but surely play out for decades to come."

The drugs on Schedule IV of the 1961 treaty, where, as of Wednesday, cannabis was found alongside heroin, are a subset of those already on Schedule I.

Schedule I, which includes fentanyl, already requires the highest levels of international control.

The lists of the international drug control conventions classify drugs considering their medical utility against the possible harm they could cause.

Only the 53 current member states of the CND had a chance to vote, but the decision applies to all signatories to the international drug control conventions.

WHO went far enough?

Some cannabis advocates argue that the WHO did not go far enough with Recommendation 5.1, as cannabis does not have a risk profile comparable to that of the other Schedule I drugs.

But considering how difficult cannabis reform has been at the UN level, the removal of Annex IV is a step that researchers and companies will celebrate.

The long-due decision comes some 60 years after cannabis was first included in the stricter category of the 1961 Single Convention, one of three treaties that are the cornerstone of the international system. drug control.

The WHO cannabis recommendations were first revealed in January 2019 as part of a complex package of six cannabis-related proposals.

Member States took almost two years to analyze the implications of accepting or rejecting the proposals.

Other recommendations

After approving Recommendation 5.1 on Wednesday, member states proceeded to vote on the remaining five proposals:

  • Recommendation 5.2 to move the THC from the 1971 convention to the 1961 treaty did not achieve the approval of the body, with 23 votes in favor, two abstentions and 28 votes against.

  • Recommendations 5.3 and 5.6 were linked to the approval of recommendation 5.2. Because 5.2 was rejected, those two recommendations were rejected without a vote.

  • Recommendation 5.6 sought to include certain pharmaceutical preparations with THC in Schedule III of the 1961 treaty

  • Recommendation 5.4, a proposal to remove “cannabis extracts and tinctures” from the 1961 treaty, was rejected by 24 votes in favor, two abstentions and 27 against. But according to the WHO explanation of the recommendation, it is simply intended to eliminate a duplication and does not seek to "lower the level of control of any cannabis-related substance or reduce the scope of control."

  • Recommendation 5.5 was rejected by six votes in favor, four abstentions and 43 against. This recommendation represents a missed opportunity to clarify the confusing legal status of CBD preparations with traces of THC. The proposal was worded ambiguously, and WHO's responses to questions from Member States on this recommendation over the past two years added confusion.

Some countries that voted against certain proposals did not do so because they wanted to cast a vote against cannabis or as a way to question the science behind the recommendations.

The representative of Canada acknowledged that Recommendation 5.5 "was supported by scientific evidence and that the CBD does not meet international control criteria under the drug conventions that address the risk of abuse and dependence."

Canada recalled the concern of several Member States about the use of a "footnote" to clarify this situation.

"Canada suggests that the WHO recommendation would likely receive greater support if it were reformulated to align with the structure and purpose of the convention," the representative said.

Although the meeting was held in a hybrid format with a possible virtual presence, the representatives of the countries that are current members of the CND can only cast votes in person in Vienna.

Alfredo Pascual can be contacted at


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