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Medical Cannabis removed from schedule 4 of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs

two pots of medical cannabis on a desk where someone is writing

Drug Science notice of support for joint NGO statement ‘Towards science-based scheduling of Cannabis sativa and other controlled herbal medicines’.

Furthermore, Drug Science is especially pleased with this result as it was our cannabis pre-review and presentation to the expert committee in 2016 that initiated this whole process that has, at last, led to this long-overdue outcome. You can read that report here

Drug Science fully supports the following statement submitted by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). Specifically, Cannabis Sativa and its derivatives should be scheduled based on the current scientific understanding of the harms and medicinal value of this drug. This includes the recent recommendations by the World Health Organisation (WHO), which have been accepted by this United Nations (UN) vote.

On the 2nd December 2020, a pivotal vote by governments on the scheduling and scope of control of medical cannabis under international law took place at the 63rd reconvened session of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (UNODC). This vote was in response to recommendations made by the Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD), an independent expert committee convened by the WHO, after a multi-year review process.

The WHO cannabis scheduling recommendations were:

  1. Remove cannabis and cannabis resin from Schedule IV but remain in Schedule I of the 1961 Convention.

  2. Dronabinol and its stereoisomers (delta-9-THC) removed from to Schedule II of the 1971 Convention and placed in Schedule I of the 1961 Convention.

  3. THC (six isomers) removed from to Schedule I of the 1971 Convention and placed in Schedule I of the 1961 Convention.

  4. Remove extracts and tinctures of cannabis from Schedule I of the 1961 Convention.

  5. Cannabidiol (CBD) products containing predominantly CBD and not more than 0.2% Delta-9-THC are not under international control.

  6. Preparations containing delta-9-THC (dronabinol), produced either by chemical synthesis or as a preparation of cannabis, that are compounded as pharmaceutical preparations with one or more other ingredients and in such a way that delta-9-THC (dronabinol) cannot be recovered by readily available means or in a yield which would constitute a risk to public health, be added to Schedule III of the 1961 Convention.

The outcome of the review and subsequent recommendations to update the scope of control of cannabis and cannabis-related substances for medical purposes was originally presented by the WHO to the UN in January 2019. The review was highly anticipated and much needed to reflect the increased role of medical cannabis throughout UN member states.

Drugs are classified according to the UN Conventions of 1961 and 1971, and within each convention, drugs are categorised into schedules. Drugs should be classified into schedules using an evidence-based approach, according to their therapeutic value and risk to public health. Consequently, the schedule of a drug will have implications on the scope of control under international law, affecting trade and access to the drug. The scheduling of cannabis severely impacted the access and availability of cannabis for medical and scientific purposes, hampering research and patient reach. We are pleased to learn that medical cannabis is no longer in schedule 4 of the UN conventions.

The MAPS submitted a statement detailing support for the WHO recommendations on cannabis rescheduling prior to the vote on 2nd December 2020. This was co-signed by Drug Science and 54 NGOs across 33 countries, bringing together scientists, researchers, public health specialists, doctors, nurses and caregivers. The MAPS statement reiterates the importance of evidence-based policy that is also shaped through a human rights perspective. The statement reaffirms the stark reality that it has been nearly 60 years since the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961 and the current approach to drug scheduling is not fulfilling the desired aim of “protecting the health and welfare” of humankind. The classification of cannabis in the 1961 and 1971 Conventions was outdated and built upon insufficient and biased evidence, whilst failing to take into consideration new credible evidence relating to medical cannabis.

Drug Science is in full support of the statement made by MAPS. It’s an injustice to prevent access to medical cannabis to the patients who need it. Drug Science welcomes the acknowledgement of the rights of indigenous people to plants, including cannabis, that have been used in traditional medicine for centuries.

This marks a momentous achievement in the modernisation of the conventions, ensuring that an evidence-based approach to the control of scheduled drugs with medicinal value is appropriately managed. Importantly, the access and availability of medical cannabis have been significantly improved, drastically enhancing the quality of life of those patients in need. With these recommendations accepted, it offers hope that the conventions can modernise and adapt to appropriately regulate other natural traditional medicines including psilocybin, mescaline and DMT.

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