Is The United Nations Finally Coming Around About Cannabis?
Under the leadership of previous United Nation's Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's regime, member states which legalized or even considered legalizing cannabis were called out and admonished for violating decades-old international drug treaties. Under the current leadership of Sec-Gen António Manuel de Oliveira Guterres, who was instrumental in decriminalizing all drugs in his native Portugal when he was Prime Minister, his regime is adopting more progressive views about cannabis. Despite this, the UN World Health Organization remains ambivalent on the subject.
The 40th World Health Organization (WHO) Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) met from June 4-7 in a specially convened session to evaluate the public health harms and therapeutic value of cannabis and its related substances.
According to a WHO news release, it was the first time the WHO ECDD reviewed cannabis and cannabis-related substances to consider the appropriateness of their current scheduling within the 1961 and 1971 International Drug Control Conventions. Substances under control are regulated by the International Drug Control Conventions, which restrict international production and trade of these substances. Cannabis and cannabis resin is currently placed under the strictest level of international control alongside substances like fentanyl analogs and heroin.
The Committee conducted preliminary reviews of cannabis-related substances that are currently subject to international control and determined that there was enough new robust scientific information about their public health harms and therapeutic value to re-evaluate their current level of international control. Four separate booklets published on the topics contained examinations of cannabis (e.g., marijuana) and cannabis resin (e.g., hashish); Extracts and tinctures of cannabis (oils, edibles, liquids); Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), e.g., dronabinol and Isomers of THC.
The ECCD also conducted a critical review of preparations considered to be pure cannabidiol (CBD), a significant component of the plant that is successful in the treatment of some forms of childhood epilepsy. The ECDD recommended that preparations considered to be pure cannabidiol (CBD) should not be placed under international drug control as the substance was not found to have psychoactive properties, and presents no potential for abuse or dependence.
Saying that CBS is non-psychoactive is a common and slightly misleading mischaracterization. While CBD does have minimal psychoactive properties, its effects are non-intoxicating.
While the Isomers of THC study booklet was blank due to lack of information, the remaining studies found cannabis to be relatively safe. However, currently no UN committee will publicly endorse such findings.
The next ECDD took place in November 2018. The Committee conducted full critical reviews of cannabis and related substances. The meeting was also an opportunity to review several New Psychoactive Substances (NPS), e.g., synthetic cannabinoids and fentanyl-analogous, as well as medicines such as Tramadol and pregabalin.
Doctors often prescribe Tramadol as an anti-inflammatory; however, it is actually a narcotic with potential for abuse. However, the WHO reported that the drug should not be placed under control. Meanwhile, cannabis is a non-narcotic, natural anti-inflammatory and a viable alternative to Tramadol.
The more recent meeting in November included reviews of cannabis and its numerous components. The Director-General is currently investigating the expert committee's recommendations. Those recommendations will be communicated to the world body once the endorsement is formalized.
For now, it is remarkable that the world body that is bound by international treaties which ban cannabis is even considering endorsing any aspects of the plant. The UN habitually takes a cautiously adverse, censored approach to proponents of marijuana.
In 2011, High Times magazine was stripped of its accreditation by the United Nations Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit (MALU) under the direction of former Chief, Isabel Broyer, who deemed the nature of the publication inappropriate.
In 2016, under MALU's Acting Chief Tal Mekel, temporary accreditation was granted to the publication, specifically for the special session of the UN General Assembly on the world drug problem (UNGASS).
Currently, cannabis publications are still not accepted for media accreditation by the UN, despite there being several drug committees to monitor, such as the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) and the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND).
The internal conversations around cannabis at the world body are finally, albeit slowly evolving.
"Cannabis is a much more complex plant than many think – it is made up of at least a couple of hundred compounds, some of which have psychoactive properties, some less, and some of which seem to be showing some therapeutic value (such as cannabidiol)," says Daniela Bagozzi Senior Communication Manager of the WHO's Access to Medicines, Vaccines and Pharmaceuticals department, via email from Geneva, Switzerland. "In view of that, the WHO needs to look at the evidence and potential for harm, abuse, and dependence as well as for possible therapeutic uses."
While UN critics speculate that the organization's slow response to organizing an in-depth cannabis review is the result of legalization being in direct violation of international drug treaties, Bagozzi disagrees.
"Whatever the WHO ends up recommending, it has nothing to do with whether countries legalize cannabis or not, as these are national decisions. At the international level, it’s the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) and the UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) that decide whether a substance should be controlled or not," she says.
At the International Cannabis Policy Conference (ICPC), this month at the UN Headquarters in Vienna, Austria, participants who were hoping for a big reveal regarding potentially rescheduling the legal status of the plant, were sorely disappointed, according to Green Entrepreneur contributor Javier Hasse.
People flew in for the conference from across the globe, only to discover that after nearly three years of review, the WHO is still not ready to officially endorse cannabis. During the ICPC, the spokesperson for the WHO announced that the outcome of the Critical Review of Cannabis would be kept confidential for the time being.
Michael Krawitz, senior advisor to FAAAT think tank feels that “The WHO has been answering many questions about Cannabis legalization, which is not within their mandate. I hope the WHO shows courage and stands behind their work on Cannabis. This decision to withhold the results appears to be politically motivated.”
For now, the world will have to wait for the WHO to stop waffling and finally make some formal decisions about weed.