A United Nations panel voted on Wednesday to remove cannabis from the list of the world’s most dangerous drugs, a move that could energize legalization efforts around the globe. The decision by the U.N. Commission for Narcotic Drugs reclassifies cannabis under the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, where it was listed on Schedule IV with heroin and other highly addictive and dangerous drugs.
“This is a huge, historic victory for us, we couldn’t hope for more,” Kenzi Riboulet-Zemouli, an independent researcher for drug policy, told the New York Times.
The commission’s 53 member nations met in Vienna to consider recommendations from the World Health Organization to reclassify cannabis and derivatives of the plant. The recommendations were made by WHO in 2019, but political differences among the member states caused an unusual delay before Wednesday’s vote.
Riboulet-Zemouli had been monitoring the position of the commission’s member nations in anticipation of the vote. The recommendation from WHO was approved by a tally of 27 to 25, with Ukraine abstaining from the vote. The United States and European nations voted in favor of the recommendation, while other nations including China, Egypt, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Russia voted against the proposed change in international regulation. France had originally opposed the proposal but eventually voted in favor of the recommendation.
“It’s been a diplomatic circus,” Riboulet-Zemouli added.
Change Will Have No Immediate Effect On Prohibition
The vote to reclassify cannabis under international treaty will not have any immediate effect in the commission’s member nations because each country will still regulate marijuana within its borders. The delegate from China noted that his nation would still tightly regulate cannabis in order “to protect from the harm and abuse.”
The U.K.’s delegate said that the change was “in line with the scientific evidence of its therapeutic benefits,” but noted that his nation is still in favor of international regulation, adding that cannabis poses “serious public health risks.”
“Something like this does not mean that legalization is just going to happen around the world,” said Jessica Steinberg, managing director at the international cannabis consulting firm Global C. However, “it could be a watershed moment,” Steinberg added.
The commission also voted on Wednesday not to approve a recommendation that would have added the cannabis derivative THC to the 1961 convention and potentially tightened regulation of the cannabinoid. Together, the two decisions are likely to spur research and investment into the medical benefits of cannabis and lead to further policy reform around the globe.
Michael Krawitz, executive director for Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access, said that reclassifying cannabis could result in a reduction in the use of opiates and other potentially dangerous drugs, which would “help reduce the suffering millions of people.”
Dirk Heitepriem, a vice president at Canadian cannabis company Canopy Growth, said the move to reclassify marijuana and acknowledge its therapeutic benefits is a “big step forward.”
“We hope this will empower more countries to create frameworks which allow patients in need to get access to treatment,” Heitepriem said.