Medical Marijuana Reclassified Under International Law?

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Medical marijuana could receive a much-needed reclassification under international law before 2018.

The World Health Organization’s Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD), which has played in integral role throughout the years in how marijuana is revered in the eyes of the United Nations, has decided to give some consideration to whether “medical marijuana” should be downgraded from its current classification under the UN Single Convention.

The organization revealed plans last month to hold a special session within the next year and a half to debate this issue, according to a report from Americans for Safe Access (ASA).

This major development was reportedly made known through the distribution of an announcement at the latest Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) meeting in Vienna. The document explains that the 38th Expert Committee on Drug Dependence recognizes “the emergence of new cannabis-related pharmaceutical preparations for therapeutic use.”

“Cannabis has never been subject to a formal pre-review or critical review by the ECDD,” the report goes on to explain. “The Committee requested that the Secretariat prepare relevant documentation in accordance with the Guidance on the WHO review of psychoactive substances for international control to conduct pre-reviews for the following substances: Cannabis plant and cannabis resin, Extracts and tinctures of cannabis, Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), Cannabidiol (CBD) and Stereoisomers of THC.”

What this means is the cannabis plant could soon be on the verge of being considered “medicine” within the confines of international law. As it stands, marijuana, even derivatives designated for medical purposes, are classified Schedule I and IV within the boundaries of the UN. These classifications mostly stem from a determination that was made back in 1935 by the Health Committee of the League of Nations.

However, the UN General Assembly cannot make any changes to the current policy without a recommendation from the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs, which takes its direction from the ECDD.

Fortunately, the necessary push appears to be on the horizon.

“The purpose of the pre-review is to determine whether current information justifies an Expert Committee critical review,” the report states. “The categories of information for evaluating substances in pre-reviews are identical to those used in critical reviews. The pre-review is a preliminary analysis, and findings at this stage should not determine whether the control status of a substance should be changed.”

There have been previous attempts by the CND to put medical marijuana up for review, but those actions have failed due to the ECDD’s cavalier attitude towards emerging science surrounding the plant.

Earlier this year, Americans for Safe Access introduced a paper entitled “Cannabis and Cannabis Resin Critical Review Preparation Document” to the CND and ECDD in hopes of persuading the groups to take the issue seriously during its meeting in November.

The organization also submitted a letter of protest after the organization essentially blew off the report during last month’s meeting.

Ultimately, it was the persistent efforts of the ASA that are largely credited for prompting the ECDD to take further action with respect to unleashing medical marijuana recognized from the confines of international law.

“Our persistence paid off,” a statement from the ASA reads. “In response to ASA’s critical review and the IMCPC letter of protest, the ECDD has agreed to begin the pre-review process and discuss science and policies related to medical cannabis at a special session in eighteen months. The committee staff will consider new information related to the cannabis plant, resin, extracts and tinctures. Staff will also consider the emerging science related to THC and CBD. The pre-review is a first step towards the formal critical review that will prompt a recommendation that the CND reclassify medical cannabis under the UN Single Convention.”

If medical marijuana does end up being downgraded from its current classification, the ASA says it could inspire the U.S. Congress to move forward with amendments to federal drug policy.

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