Marijuana within the international drug
treaties classification: Towards descheduling!

This year for the first time, the World Health Organization is assessing the medical uses and harms of Cannabis, and will recommend the suitable classification to be applied internationally. We promote an objective and independent assessment, that recognizes and acknowledges modern research on Cannabis. Support us!

In June 2018, the 40th meeting of the WHO Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) will review Cannabis plant, resin, extracts, tinctures, CBD, THC and its isomers, and possibly recommend changes in the international scheduling of these Cannabis preparations or products. In November 2017, Cannabidiol (CBD) was already preliminarily addressed by the WHO.

Worldwide, cannabis (or marijuana) is considered by legislations as one of the most dangerous “narcotic drugs”, often regulated similarly to heroin and cocaine and considered equal in terms of harms and lack of medical uses.

This undue scheduling was slowly built with an obscure process that started in 1925, and that ended in 1961 with the inscription of Cannabis and its derivates at the highest possible level of restrictive State control measures. Since 1961, almost every single country has been following this scheduling, placing cannabis and cannabis-based medicines and health products under the strictest national regulations, blocking availability and access for medical patients and for researchers, making almost impossible legal production, trade, or quality certifications, and creating de facto an almost total prohibition of cannabis, thus generating countless collateral harms.

Unlike every other drug submitted to international restrictions, Cannabis has never been scientifically assessed between 1925 and 1961, when it was included at first in the international schedules of the treaties. It has neither been reassessed after the discovery in 1964 of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the main active molecule of cannabis. And since 1964, even though dozens of new clinical applications were evidenced by research, no further scientific review of the plant and its compounds was undertaken.

While cannabis is still officially considered by the international law as the worst of all poisons in 2018, the situation will hopefully change with the reviews undertaken by the WHO.

* * *

The UN General Assembly, in a Special Session focused on drugs (UNGASS 2016) recognized the need of a renewed, balanced and scientific evidence-based approach towards the international scheduling system, by reaffirming the treaty-mandated role of WHO, but also resolving to “[support] scientific evidence-based review and scheduling of the most prevalent, persistent and harmful substances” as well as calling for “informed and coordinated scheduling decisions”.

In November 2016, after decades burying its head in the sand, the WHO (World Health Organization) finally decided to set up special meetings of experts, in order to decide the place that ought to be appointed for cannabis and its derivates within the schedules of the international drug control conventions.

Our team, in a joint effort with academics, experts, physicians, patients, and NGOs, is firmly committed to ensuring transparency, independence and comprehensiveness of the review process, while bringing awareness around the international scheduling of cannabis and cannabis medicinal products.

It is time to advocate for a concrete change of paradigm in the international drug control system, towards  an evidence-based approach to drug policies, starting with the long overdue scientific assessment of the most used and one of the less harmful substances: Cannabis, still scheduled today as a substance liable to abuse and highly addictive, with particularly dangerous properties and little or no therapeutic values (Schedules I and IV of the 1961 Single Convention).

Research and contextual analysis.

The international drug control treaty system, which considers cannabis as one of the drugs with the highest potential of harm and the least medical usefulness, hasn’t changed since 1961. While the current classification of cannabis in the treaty is, almost unbelievably, from an outdated and obscure evidentiary process conducted before 1961, no scientific evidence-based process have been led to assess cannabis and classify it in the right schedule since that date. It is important to recognize the extreme complexity of international drug policy related to substance scheduling, but also its primary and central role in the prohibition regime, and its impact on day-to-day practices and local policies.

The process of Critical Review (more info below), the only one able to change the status of cannabis within the treaties schedules, is a routine internal process of the World Health Organization (WHO), supposed to be the only and easiest way to reform medical marijuana’ status in the treaty. It has however been repeatedly blocked since the adoption of the 1961 Single Convention on narcotic drugs, while it could and should have happened long ago.

One of our first task have been to clear and enlighten the reality of the hidden historical processes and political influences that have led to the current scheduling of cannabis under the international drug control system. That process started in 1925 with the inclusion of so-called “Indian hemp” in the by-then “anti-opium” treaties, that was supposed to be supported by a mysterious scientific assessment from 1935, and was finally decided between 1953 and 1961 by the diplomats preparing the text of the 1961 Single Convention. This history (about which most of the archives have disappeared) hides many key elements that need to be revealed and known, about both the process that led to the scheduling of cannabis (1925-1961), and the obstacles that appeared against the critical review since then (1961-2016).

Advocacy and prospective.

Changing or removing cannabis from its actual place within the strictest schedule (meaning the strictest control measures) will have profound effects on increasing room and opportunities for medical research, access and supply, as well as easing off the pressure against reform, at the country level.

Finally in November 2016, after 3 years of intense and continued advocacy and pressure on the WHO, the Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD, an independant group of scientists whom secretariat is handled by the WHO) decided to start again the process of collecting data and outcomes of researches, to study again the case of “Cannabis and Cannabis resin” and its scheduling within the international drug control treaties schedules. After decades of research and years of advocacy, the undue pre-review and critical review of cannabis will finally happen, with May 2018 as a deadline.

Therefore, the process is not finished, and actions must be taken in order to (1) provide the accurate information on achieved and ongoing medical cannabis researches, and ensure that all relevant data is submitted, duly received and acknowledged by the experts (2) ensure that no internal blockage of the process will happen within the WHO, (3) make sure that the recommendations of the Experts are not undermined by political pressure and (4) ensure a vote of the Experts recommendations by the Commission on Narcotic Drugs.

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Information documents.

The schedules

Schedules of the international drug control conventions.

Crimson paper #1

The committee

Basics about the Expert Committee on Drug Dependence of the WHO.

Crimson paper #2

The review(s)

Pre- and Critical review: insights into the processes and procedures of the WHO scientific abuse liability assessment for drugs.

Crimson paper #3

The main fact sheet on the process

Version 3, March 2018

Crimson fact sheet #1

4 pages.

Members of the ECDD

Version 2, March 2018.

Crimson fact sheet #2

2 pages.

Members of the CND

Version 2, March 2018

Crimson fact sheet #3

2 pages.

Selected advocacy documents.

Contribution to the pre-review of Cannabidiol

Joint EIHA-FAAAT contribution to the 39th WHO Expert Committee on Drug Dependence evaluation of Cannabidiol (CBD) – November 6th 2017.

Letter to WHO demanding the review of cannabis

Summary of the online advocacy action undertaken in autumn 2016, to put in the agenda of the ECDD the review of Cannabis and its derivates.

Support & take action!

Support advocacy on cannabis treaty scheduling issues. Donate.

Make a bank transfer or send us a bank check

REGISTER NAME: FAAAT
IBAN: FR7610278060980002047324164
BIC/SWIFT: CMCIFR2A
BANK: CCM MONTGERON SENART
CURRENCY: EURO
ADDRESS: FAAAT, 8 RUE DU GENERAL RENAULT, 75011 PARIS, FRANCE.
DECLARATION NUMBER: W751233143
NATIONAL NGO ID (SIRET): 82221301300011
ARTICLES OF ASSOCIATION: NON-PROFIT ORGANIZATION

Agenda.

Below is the agenda for past and upcoming actions to follow up and research the subject of substance scheduling under the international drug control conventions, in particular regarding Cannabis.

March 2019

62nd regular session of the Commission on Narcotic Drug (CND)

Upcoming action

Novembre 2018

62nd regular session of the CND

Upcoming action

Novembre 2018

41st meeting of the WHO’s Expert Committee on Drug dependence (ECDD)

Upcoming action

October 2018

UN General Assembly Committee C discussions on drug policy

Upcoming action

June 2018

40th meeting of the WHO ECDD, special meeting dedicated to pre-reviews of Cannabis-related substances and critical review of CBD-type Cannabis extracts

Upcoming action

May 2018

71st World Health Assembly

Upcoming action

March 2018

61st regular session of the CND

Actions undertaken: Multilateral meetings, networking & advocacy actions towards UN officials and Member States.

Decembre 2017

39th meeting of the WHO ECDD, with the pre-review of CBD.

Actions undertaken: Outcome of the 39th ECDD and Countries outreach.

Novembre 2017

39th meeting of the WHO ECDD

Actions undertaken: Coordination of stakeholders statements, written and oral communications to the Experts, presence, networking & advocacy actions towards WHO civil servants.

Septembre 2017

Intersessional meeting of the 60th CND

Actions undertaken: Follow-up.

March 2017

60th regular session of the CND

Actions undertaken: Presence, networking & advocacy actions towards UN officials and Member States.

Dec. 2016

Reconvened 59th session CND

Actions undertaken: Presence, networking & advocacy actions towards UN officials and Member States.

Nov. 2016

38th meeting of the WHO’s Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD)

Actions undertaken: Written communication to the WHO's officials, presence, networking & advocacy actions towards UN officials and Member States.

Nov. 2016

World Health Organization Library and Archives

Actions undertaken: Research

Oct. 2016

59th CND intersessionnal meetings on the post-UNGASS process.

Click to see the actions undertaken (Written statement and communication)

Reassessing substances: one proposed reading of the UNGASS 2016 outcome document.

Contribution to the post-UNGASS 2016 thematic debates organized by the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs, on October 10th, 11th, 27th and 28th 2016. This contribution has been posted online on the website of the UNODC and can be downloaded on our own website (only in English).

May 2016

69th World Health Assembly

Actions undertaken: Presence, networking & post-UNGASS advocacy actions towards UN officials and Member States.

May 2016

United Nations office in Geneva’s Library & League of Nations Archives

Actions undertaken: Research.

April 2016

30th Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly on the ‘World drug problem’ – UNGASS 2016

Actions undertaken: Presence, networking & advocacy actions towards UN officials and Member States.

March 2016

59th regular session of the CND

Actions undertaken: Presence, follow-up of the negotiations of the UNGASS outcome document, networking & pre-UNGASS advocacy actions towards UN officials and Member States.

Nov. 2015

37th meeting of the WHO’s ECDD

Actions undertaken: Oral statement to the members of the Expert Committee on Drug Dependence, presence & advocacy actions.

March 2015

International Medical Cannabis and Cannabinoids conference: “Policy, Science, and Medical Practice”

Action undertaken: Involvement in the foundation of IMCPC (International Medical Cannabis Patients Coalition)

March 2007

50th regular session of the CND

Actions undertaken: Presence, follow-up of the dronabinol (THC) proposed descheduling vote.

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