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ADVANCED CANNABIS SCIENCE: Marijuana at the United Nations

On April 19–21, a United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) will take place in New York City to discuss global drug policies. A road map for updating international cannabis policy could be on the agenda.

Current international policies regarding cannabis are outdated. Marijuana remains on Schedule I of the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, as amended by the 1972 Protocol. This category includes drugs like heroin that have “high potential for abuse.” Although Schedule I states that drugs in the category have “no currently accepted medical use in treatment,” this has clearly been proven false in regards to cannabis.

It was hoped that the General Assembly would receive a recommendation from the UN’s Committee on Narcotic Drugs (CND) to change the scheduling of cannabis. The CND makes recommendations on the scheduling of substances based on “critical review” reports from the World Health Organization’s Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD). However, at a policy meeting of the committee in Geneva in November to discuss cannabis, as well as other substances, the ECDD didn’t make any such recommendation, and will continue to review information for their next meeting, in two years.

It’s vital that the UN take up this issue. Today, more than two-thirds of the population of the U.S. and its territories live in regions with medical cannabis laws. More than 2.5 million people worldwide are legally using medical cannabis; Canada, Israel, Netherlands, Czech Republic, Croatia, Mexico, Chile, Uruguay, Romania, Germany, Jamaica, Australia, Italy, Columbia and Switzerland all have national medical cannabis programs, and dozens of other countries are reviewing similar legislation.

Administration of medical cannabis distribution programs is hampered by the UN’s international drug treaties. Many medical cannabis programs (including those in the U.S.) are arguably in varying degrees of conflict with the treaties.

At least one key U.S. official hinted at change. William Brownfield, Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, has requested the UN to “accept flexible interpretation” of the UN drug control conventions. “We’ll call for pragmatic and concrete criminal justice reform in areas such as alternatives to incarceration, or drug courts and sentencing reform,” he stated in March.

Millions of patients who use cannabis as an effective therapy for numerous conditions face arrest and the risk of criminal prosecution because of domestic policies based on the UN Single Convention on Narcotics. That treaty, more than any other, has been used by governments across the globe to derail or greatly restrict attempts to reform national medical cannabis laws and research.

At the Medical Cannabis and Cannabinoids conference in Prague in March 2015 (see Freedom Leaf Issue 6), representatives from 13 countries met and established the International Medical Cannabis Patient Coalition (IMCPC, which now includes 39 member countries). IMCPC issued a declaration addressing UNGASS 2016 that called on the UN to take the following actions:
• Recommend that increased attention and resources be given at the national and international level to treatment with medical cannabis and cannabinoids, and its research, in particular.
• Invite all countries to secure stable, safe, economically available access to medical cannabis and its derivatives to everyone who is indicated medically for such treatment.
• Require that the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on the Drug Problem request that governments either exclude cannabis from the 1961 UN Convention with no other actions, or prepare, debate and accept a Special UN Convention on Cannabis that would be based on scientific evidence, human rights and the well-being of societies.

Many advocates will be traveling to New York to participate in this landmark moment for cannabis reform at the United Nations. There’s real hope that the next shift to end prohibition will not be in a single state or country, but worldwide.

Jahan Marcu is Freedom Leaf’s Science Editor and Director of R&D for Green Standard Diagnostics.

This article appears in the current print issue of Freedom Leaf Magazine