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Cannabis rescheduled in UN-CND vote – but it did not go far enough

Cannabis rescheduled in UN-CND vote – but it did not go far enough
Dr Jerrol Thompson an infectious disease specialist

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by Dr Jerrol Thompson
CEO of the Medicinal Cannabis Authority

Cannabis and cannabis-related substances have for over 60 years been placed in the most stringent schedules of three International drug Treaties. Under the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs as amended by the 1972 Protocol, Cannabis was placed in both Schedule I and a special Schedule IV (drugs considered to have absolutely no medicinal value). In a second 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances (a synthetic cannabis compound, dronabinol was placed.

A third Convention in 1990 restricting trade and criminalizing personal possession was signed by SVG in 1994. The UN Agency, Commission on Narcotic Drug (CND) governs these conventions and is mandated to meet once a year to decide on the scope of regulatory rules & control by placing substances in Schedule-1 (most stringent), Schedule-II or Schedule-III, the least.

In 1961 in a long contentious five-year global battle, the USA and Canada led the international prohibition of Cannabis supported by China and African nations. India led the fight against that treaty supported by Russia (Soviet Union) and South America.

In January 2019, The World Health Organisation (WHO) after many years of isolation from the Cannabis debate by its powerful sister UN-agency, CND, was finally asked, by nations seeking reform, to make recommendations based on medical research to change the scope of control of cannabis-related substances.

In September 2019, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, in the 74th Session of the UN General Debate, said:

“St. Vincent and the Grenadines has established a well-regulated, export-oriented medical cannabis industry. This industry seeks to marry the latest scientific and pharmaceutical knowledge on cannabis with the long-standing expertise of our traditional cultivators of the plant. In defining the parameters of our medical cannabis sector, St. Vincent and the Grenadines has taken great effort to scrupulously comply with international law while taking into account the specific needs and characteristics of our country, culture, and people. Undoubtedly, the rapidly shifting medical and legal landscape will eventually require the international community to revisit the longstanding treaties governing the use and trade in cannabis. In the interim, it is crucial that the enforcers and interpreters of these international agreement refrain from a brand of hardline orthodoxy that disproportionately affects small states while accommodating the disdainful disregard of the law by more powerful nations”

This was an unprecedented yet timely speech from any leader at the UN, however, it would take almost two years before CND’s 40 member nations were allowed their long-anticipated vote on December 2nd 2020.

The recommendation to delete cannabis and cannabis resin from Schedule IV of the 1961 Convention, but to maintain it in Schedule I of the 1961 Convention: The Commission passed this by 27 to 25 votes. (Schedule IV includes narcotic drugs designated as having absolutely no known medical benefit or medical use. Clearly an antiquated, outdated view which has long been discredited. However, the narrow margin was quite surprising. While it acknowledged medical benefits of cannabis and opened cannabis for greater legal medical research, the vote still left Cannabis in Schedule-I and subject to all the levels of national and international controls of the 1961 Treaty.

The other four main WHO recommendations were not so successful, most were narrowly defeated as paradoxically the USA, Canada, Europe and South America now led the push for approval while Russia, SE-Asia and African nations voted No, a reversal of 1961.

Recommendation to move dronabinol and its stereoisomers (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), which are man-made psychoactive cannabis, from the 1971 Convention to Schedule I of the 1961 Convention, which already included cannabis was rejected, 23 votes to 28.

Recommendation to delete extracts and tinctures of cannabis (commonly used by indigenous & Rastafari communities) from Schedule I of the 1961 Convention was rejected 24 to 27.

Recommendation to add a footnote to Schedule I of the 1961 Convention to read “Preparations containing predominantly cannabidiol (CBD – a popular non-psychoactive compound) and less than 0.2 per cent of THC, are not under international control”: CND surprisingly rejected this 6 to 43.

Lastly, a recommendation to add certain preparations of dronabinol to Schedule III of the 1961 Convention: was deemed rejected.

The SVG-Medicinal Cannabis Authority has been tracking the WHO recommendations and CND-INCB developments all year.

While MCA applauds Recommendation-I (Removal from S-IV), as a very progressive development for SVG, it was hoped that Cannabis would have been shifted from the stringent Schedule I to II or III. Many will be disappointed by the other rejections, suggesting extreme global polarization and suspicion that only Western countries and Big-Pharma might benefit and dominate.

In 2021 the USA may make serious moves towards Federal legalization, however, the CND vote did not go far enough and still imposes significant restrictions. SVG presses on with the establishment of a well-regulated export-oriented industry and hopes to make 2021 a very positive year.