Dec 4, 2020
United Nations Commission Reclassifies Cannabis

The United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) has voted to remove cannabis and cannabis-related substances from its Schedule IV list. The drugs listed on Schedule IV, such as heroin, are highly addictive, highly liable to abuse, and rarely used in medical practice.

Cannabis and cannabis-related substances have for many years been included in the schedules of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961 as amended by the 1972 Protocol (Schedule I and IV: cannabis and cannabis resin; Schedule I: extracts and tinctures of cannabis), as well as in the Schedules of the Convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1971 (Schedule I: tetrahydrocannabinol (six isomers of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol); Schedule II: dronabinol and its stereoisomers (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol)). The inclusion in a specific schedule determines the control measures that states parties are required to apply to the respective substances.

In January 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) made a series of recommendations to change the scope of control of cannabis and cannabis-related substances. After intensive considerations, CND took action on these recommendations.

WHO 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 decided by 27 votes to 25 and with one abstention to follow this recommendation. Cannabis and cannabis resin will accordingly be deleted from Schedule IV of the 1961 Convention. They remain in Schedule I of the 1961 Convention and thus remain subject to all levels of control of the 1961 Convention.

Under the international drug control conventions, the CND is mandated to decide on the scope of control of substances by placing them in the schedules of the conventions. Each convention includes a number of schedules, which entail different control regimes. The Commission takes its decisions usually once a year based on recommendations by the WHO, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) and states parties to the conventions.

Following a critical review of cannabis by the Expert Committee on Drug Dependence, WHO submitted in January 2019 to the Commission eight recommendations on cannabis and cannabis-related substances. Following its decision 62/14 to postpone the voting to provide states with more time to consider the recommendations, the Commission conducted a dialogue, including two intersessional meetings, with representatives of WHO, INCB and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime to address open questions.

Recalling its mandate to vote on scheduling recommendations as laid out in the international drug control conventions, the Commission decided in March 2020 (CND Decision 63/14) to continue considerations of the recommendations, bearing in mind their complexity, in order to clarify the implications and consequences of, as well as the reasoning for, these recommendations. The Commission also decided to vote at its reconvened sixty-third session in December 2020, in order to preserve the integrity of the international scheduling system.

During summer 2020, the Commission held topical meetings on all of the recommendations. These meetings were conducted virtually to allow for the participation of experts from capital. The meetings were attended by over 600 experts from more than 100 member states. The topical meetings were followed by an intersessional meeting, giving other stakeholders, such as intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, the possibility to share their views.

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