The United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) is still planning to vote on changing international cannabis laws this December, regardless of the coronavirus pandemic.
In 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) conducted a review into international marijuana prohibition laws and recommended the CND re-evaluate cannabis' classification as one of the most dangerous drugs in the world. Currently, the UN classifies cannabis as both a Schedule I and a Schedule IV drug, according to the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (1961). The Schedule IV classification is the equivalent to the United States' Schedule I category. It's reserved for extremely dangerous and addictive drugs, and lumps in weed with over a dozen deadly opioids, including heroin and fentanyl.
The WHO Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) recommends that cannabis flower and resin be moved from Schedule IV to Schedule I. This category, which includes cocaine and prescription opioids, is still strictly controlled, but this reclassification would make it easier for UN member nations to authorize medical marijuana research.
The ECDD also recommends that the CND remove all low-THC CBD products from every drug schedule, making them completely legal. The organization has also recommended that lab-created THC-based medicines like Marinol or Sativex be placed in a less restrictive drug category. Another recommendation suggests the CND completely remove cannabis extracts and tinctures from Schedule I of the 1961 treaty, as some of these extracts contain no THC and are not psychoactive.
The prospect of ending nearly a century of global cannabis prohibition seems to have terrified some UN member nations, particularly Russia, Indonesia, and the US. The CND met in March to vote on the proposed recommendations, but instead chose to put off the vote until this December, since many member nations seemed unprepared to vote on such an extreme policy change.
During the session, CND Chair Mansoor Ahmad Khan said “it became clear that some delegations do not have a clear understanding on the implications and consequences of the recommendations, while others were already prepared to vote,” according to Marijuana Business Daily. To resolve the issue, the CND proposed to hold three “topical” meetings this summer to address “open questions with regard to the implications and consequences of, as well as the reasoning for the recommendations.”
There are concerns that the meetings this summer, or even the final vote in December, could be delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the CND just advised member nations that the schedule is still on track. In a new letter, the agency proposed holding virtual meetings in the event that coronavirus-related travel restrictions are still in effect.
The letter explains that these topical meetings will now focus primarily “on the exchange of views among Member States regarding, implications arising from economic, social, legal, administrative, and other factors and the ways of addressing them if any of these recommendations are adopted,” Marijuana Business Daily reports. These meetings are expected to be completed before October, which could potentially allow the ECDD to revise its recommendations to address member nations' concerns.
Although the process is moving forward, the outcome of the final vote remains uncertain. Insiders believe that around a third of all member nations are firmly opposed to any measure of cannabis reform, and will vote against rescheduling regardless of the logic of the recommendations. Another third of the member nations are reportedly still considering the implications of these changes, and the remaining third are reluctant to support the measure on their own.
One can only hope that this summer's meetings will help member nations see the wisdom in ending the global prohibition of cannabis.