Marijuana within the
international drug control
treaty framework:
Towards descheduling

#ProCannabisTeam

Worldwide, cannabis (or marijuana) is considered by laws and policies among the worst “narcotic drugs”, equivalent in danger and lack of therapeutic usefulness to opium or cocaine.

This undue place within the illicit drugs classification 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 higest possible level of restrictive State control.

Since 1961, almost every single country has been following this scheduling, placing cannabis and cannabis-based medicines and health products within the strictest national laws, impeding a proper access, research, production, trade, and quality certifications, creating de facto a prohibition of cannabis, which generates the countless collateral harms that any prohibition generate.

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 scheduled of the international treaties. It has neither been reassessed after the discovery in 1964 of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the main active molecule of cannabis (unknown before). And between 1961 and 2017, no scientific assessment of the actual dangerosity  neither after dozens of new clinical applications were evidenced by researchers around the planet.

While cannabis is still officially considered by the international law as the worst of all poisons in 2017, the situation needs a change. 

In November 2016, after decades burying its head in the sand, the WHO (World Health Organization) finally decided to record a special meeting of experts, to decide the place that ought to be appointed for cannabis and its derivates.

Our Civil Society working and action group (under the nickname #ProCannabisTeam), in a joint effort with key academics, experts and organizations (including medical doctors and patients’ organizations), is firmly committed to accelerate the update of the international scheduling of cannabis and cannabis pharmaceutical preparations, and to work towards a change in the status of its scheduling.

 

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.

Upcoming actions

Nov. 2017, ECDD 39th meeting — WHO, Geneva

Dec. 2017, 60th reconvened Commission on narcotic drugs — UN, Vienna

March 2018, 61st Commission on narcotic drugs — UN, Vienna

April 2018, ECDD 40th special meeting dedicated to Cannabis — WHO, Geneva

May 2018, 71st World Health Assembly — WHO, Geneva

Nov. 2018, ECDD 41st meeting —WHO, Geneva

Nov. 2018, UN General Assembly Committee C discussions on drugs — UN, New-York

March 2019, 62nd Commission on narcotic drugs — UN, Vienna

The schedules

Schedules of the international drug control conventions.

Crimson paper #1

Read the Crimson paper #1 about the schedules of the international drug control convention.

READ IT

The committee

Basics about the Expert Committee on Drug Dependence of the World Health Organization.

Crimson paper #2

Read the Crimson paper #2 about the Expert Committee on Drug Dependence of the World Health Organization.

READ IT
March 2017
60th regular session of the Commission on Narcotic Drug (CND)
Actions undertaken: Presence, networking & advocacy actions towards UN officials and Member States.
Dec. 2016
59th reconvened session Commission on Narcotic Drugs (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 Commission on Narcotic Drugs (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 Commission on Narcotic Drug (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 Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD)
Actions undertaken: Oral statement to 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 Commission on Narcotic Drug (CND)
Actions undertaken: Presence, follow-up of the dronabinol (THC) proposed descheduling vote.

Support the advocacy group on marijuana scheduling issues:

MAKE A DONATION !

Nowadays, Cannabis is still scheduled 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), just like heroin. Despite the discovery of THC in the 1960’s, despite the discovery of the endocannabinoid system in the 1990’s, despite the growing number of diseases for which Cannabis is scientifically proven to have an useful therapeutic effect, Cannabis has not had any critical review since the year 1935 !

The Critical Review is the official mechanism by which a committee of experts called for the special occasion, within the World Health Organization (WHO), revises all the existing data and knowledge about a narcotic drug. This Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) analyzes the information in order to establish the real potency, the assessed therapeutic effects, and the real health or social harms and risks that can be produced by each “narcotic” plant or substance. After making a Critical review, the ECDD delivers to the United Nations system and to the governments of the world a recommendation on the level of control to be applied.

In 1965, the ECDD (Expert Committee on Drug Dependance) made a pre-review that did not lead to any result.
In 1991, the ECDD recommended the descheduling of THC from the list of most harmful substances.

Today, the whole plant has to be descheduled from the tables I and IV of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the very international lock against any Cannabis policy reform at national level. But this have to be assessed by a Critical review by the ECDD, 81 years after the previous one.

We have been working on this topic for years, and today, our aim is to transform these preparatory reflexions into a concrete change, and to engage the WHO ECDD in a Critical review of Cannabis.

sc1961

CRITICALR

The Critical reviews comes naturally after our actions undertaken at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna (Austria) in preparation for the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on the world drug problem (UNGASS). The final declaration of this UNGASS goes in the direction of a review of substances, recognizing that “the world drug problem […] demands a […] multidisciplinary […] scientific evidence-based and comprehensive approach” and “reaffirm[ing] the treaty-mandated roles of […] the World Health Organization”.

It is Time to advocate for a change of paradigm in the international drug control system starting with the long overdue Critical review of Cannabis !

The Critical Review is the official mechanism by which a committee of experts called for the special occasion, within the World Health Organization (WHO), revises all the existing data and knowledge about a narcotic drug. This Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) analyzes the information in order to establish the real potency, the assessed therapeutic effects, and the real health or social harms and risks that can be produced by each “narcotic” plant or substance. After making a Critical review, the ECDD delivers to the United Nations system and to the governments of the world a recommendation on the level of control to be applied.

Nowadays, Cannabis is still scheduled 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), just as heroin. Despite the discovery of THC in the 1960’s, despite the discovery of the endocannabinoid system in the 1990’s, despite the growing number of diseases for which Cannabis is scientifically proven to have an useful therapeutic effect, Cannabis has not had any critical review since the year 1935 ! Yet in 1965, the ECDD (Expert Committee on Drug Dependance) made a pre-review that did not lead to any result, and in 1991, the ECDD recommended the descheduling of THC from the list of most harmful substances.

CCR_A1

Today, the whole plant has to be descheduled from the tables I and IV of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the very international lock against any Cannabis policy reform at national level. But this have to be assessed by a Critical review by the ECDD, 81 years after the previous one. Many civil society organizations have been working on this issue for years, and today, the United Nations General Assembly, in the recent Special Session on the world drug problem (UNGASS 2016) recognizes 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”.

The World Health Assembly (WHA) is the place and moment where most of the decisions concerning the ECDD are made. This year’s 69th WHA will take place from 23rd to 28th of May, in Geneva’s Palais des Nations, and includes an agenda item on the public health approach of drug policies, in the context of UNGASS.

It is time to advocate for a concrete change of paradigm in the international drug control system, towards  an evidence-based approach to policies, starting with the long overdue Critical review of the most used and one of the less harmful substances : Cannabis.

FLOW CHART OF THE EVALUATION PROCEDURE

WHO review of psychoactive substances for international control

Pre-review

PRER

Critical-review

CRITICALR

Source : « Guidance on the WHO review of psychoactive substances for international control« , WHO, 2010.

Support the advocacy group on marijuana scheduling issues:

MAKE A DONATION !
The team :
Farid Ghehiouèche

Farid Ghehiouèche

Chanvre & Libertés-NORML France

  • Former head of national commission on drugs at French green Party (from 1998 to 2008) ;
  • Former chairperson of ENCOD (the european coalition for just and effective drug policies) with which he helped conceptualize the Cannabis Social Club concept ;
  • Main organizer of Million Marijuana March since 2001 in Paris ;
  • Founder of the association Cannabis Sans Frontières and candidate to several elections in France (european parliament in 2009 and 2014, legislative elections in 2012, regional in 2015) ;
  • Board member of Chanvre & Libertés-NORML France since 2014 ;
  • Central person in the public and mediatic debate concerning cannabis policy reform in France ;
  • Activist for more than a decade in Vienna on international drug policies, with a special approach on the topic of narcotic drugs classification, and now works there as #ProCannabisTeam ;
  • Head of advocacy and relations in the think-tank FAAAT
Michael Krawitz

Michael Krawitz

Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access

  • Disabled US Air Force Veteran. Sergeant from 1981 to 1986, injured in Guam in an accident that was deemed “in the line of duty” although not combat related ;
  • In 2010 his long fight inside the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for adequate access to pain management paid off with his negotiating the first ever medical cannabis policy within the VA ;
  • Since 1995, Michael is deeply engaged towards international drug control systems, and attended the 1998 UNGASS on “the world drug problem”. Finding that there was little NGO participation, he has focused much of his work on increasing the involvement of civil society in the UN drug control system ;
  • He carried important contributions to the Beyond 2008 consultative process as well as the New York NGO Committee on Drugs ;
  • Nowadays, he is member of the executive council of the New York NGO Committee on Drugs, board member of the International Alliance For Cannabis as Medicine and Director of Veterans For Medical Cannabis Access.
Kenzi Riboulet Zemouli

Kenzi Riboulet Zemouli

FAAAT think & do tank

  • Former activist in the region of Toulouse (south of France), engaged with the health and social stakeholders of the area, he has organized events and conferences on cannabis and harm reduction, displayed information in Toulouse with a local collective and took part in the redaction of municipal proposals on cannabis issues;
  • Co-founder of the first French Cannabis social clubs initiative in 2012;
  • Co-founder of Chanvre & Libertés-NORML France, and former board member (2011-2016), he helped developing public relations in a view of policy reform, working in parallel on several ways to implement Cannabis social clubs in France;
  • He has been working along with the European coalition for just and effective drug policies (Encod) on the international drug control system reform issues, nowaadays continues this work within FAAAT;
  • Former correspondent for France and Spain for Leafly news;
  • Living in Barcelona since 2015, he is now involved in Spanish drug policy reform movements. He has a special focus on ground-up actions and programs impulsed by the health and social sectors and affected populations.