Patients who can benefit from medical cannabis and those who facilitate its access will be keeping close watch on a key United Nations vote next week.
On Dec. 2, 53 member countries of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs will vote on whether weed should be rescheduled internationally to allow more sanctioned access and research, based on a series of recommendations from the World Health Organization’s Expert Committee on Drug Dependence.
If at least some of them are passed, the liberalization of cannabis’s status would give countries a stronger mandate to increase medical programs and research on home soil. However, a yes vote — on recommendations released nearly two years ago — could either be delayed or rejected, as many countries including Canada have not voiced unequivocal support for the changes.
At the top of that list is recommendation 5.1, which would remove cannabis and cannabis resin from schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. This would implicitly acknowledge its medical value as substances on schedule I and IV — weed, desomorphine, heroin and ketobemidone — are considered particularly liable to abuse, to produce ill-effects and have little or no therapeutic use.
The WHO committee says presented evidence doesn’t indicate that cannabis produces ill-effects similar to other schedule IV substances, and that preparations have shown promise in the treatment of pain and other conditions including epilepsy. Deletion from schedule IV would pave the way to more extensive medical research.
Following this potential reform, cannabis would still remain a schedule I substance to acknowledge harms related to its wide usage in society.
Other recommendations would remove THC and related isomers from the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances, an international treaty designed to widen the scope of banned substances and crack down on trafficking. Recommendation 5.5 would remove CBD preparations with 0.2 per cent THC or less from international control, but concerns have been raised that the method of measurement hasn’t been clearly defined.
On Wednesday, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs received a statement signed by numerous advocacy groups from around the globe, urging the UN to vote yes in support of patient access to medicine.
“Patients around the world are counting on you to seize the opportunity offered by WHO to update the treaties, doing all you can to ensure access to all useful medicines. Including cannabis medicines,” reads the note signed by NORML Canada and Medical Cannabis Canada. “Adopting WHO’s recommendations would lead to better medications being developed and more tools for doctors to alleviate suffering while simultaneously reinforcing the UN’s relevance.”
A yes outcome is hardly set in stone. According to researcher Kenzi Riboulet-Zemouli, 25 of the voting countries have indicated support for recommendation 5.1 with 17 countries clearly indicating dissent. The 5.5 measure regarding a non-scheduling THC threshold is not likely to pass with 30 members indicating dissent. Only South Africa and Switzerland have shown clear support for all the recommendations.
Map of legal status of cannabis last updated Nov. 27, by Jamesy0627144 via Wikimedia Commons