Marijuana within the
international drug
treaties classification:
Towards descheduling


In May 2018, the 40th meeting of the WHO Expert Committee on Drug Dependence will review Cannabis plant, resin, extracts, tinctures, 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 addressed by the WHO.

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.

The United Nations General Assembly, in the recent Special Session on the world drug problem (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 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

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

May 2018, 71st World Health Assembly — Palais des Nations, Geneva

May 2018, special civil society event —Palais des Nations, Geneva

May 2018, ECDD 40th special meeting dedicated to Cannabis — 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

Support the advocacy group on marijuana scheduling issues:


Knowledge and advocacy documents.

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.

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.

The review

Pre review and Critical review: the two legs of the WHO scientific abuse liability assessment procedure.

Crimson paper #3

Read the Crimson paper #3 about the review process under the international drug control system.

To be released soon.

The European Union

How the European Union is trying to increase its influence on international scheduling.

Crimson paper #6

Read the Crimson paper #6 about the EU’s Horizontal Drug Group incidence on the international process of scheduling.

To be released soon.

Factsheet on CND membership

Countries members of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs for the period 2017-2019.

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.

Press communiqué on the WHO CBD review outcome

Joint EIHA-FAAAT communiqué on the outcome of the 39th ECDD meeting, regarding CBD.

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.
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, 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).

Below are the actions undertaken to follow up and research the subject of substance scheduling, and in particular the possibilities of change in the scope of control of Cannabis through a change of its scheduling at the international treaty level:

Novembre 2017
39th meeting of the WHO’s Expert Committee on Drug dependence (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 Commission on Narcotic Drug (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
59th reconvened 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.

Support the advocacy group on marijuana scheduling issues:

The team :
Farid Ghehiouèche

Farid Ghehiouèche

NORML France

  • Former head of national commission on drugs at French green Party (from 1998 to 2008);
  • Former ED of the NGO “Info Burma”;
  • Former chairman of ENCOD (the european coalition for just and effective drug policies) with which he helped conceptualize the concept of Cannabis Social Club;
  • Organizer of the Million Marijuana March in Paris since 2001;
  • Founder of the association Cannabis Without Borders, candidate to several elections in France under that label (European parliament in 2009 and 2014, MP elections in 2012, regional in 2015);
  • Co-founder, and Board member of NORML France since 2014 ;
  • Farid is a key public figure in the social and mediatic debate on cannabis policy reform in France;
  • Activist and international drug policy reform advocate for more than a decade in the international institutions, he has developped a special approach on the scheduling issues, as well as on the linked problematics of access to medicines and development issues in the so-called “producer countries” of the planet;
  • Head of advocacy at 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, he 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;
  • Michael brought 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

  • Formerly activist in the Occitania region (south of France) with the drug-related health and social stakeholders, he has organized events and conferences on cannabis and harm reduction, displayed information with a local collective and taken part in the drafting of municipal proposals on cannabis, as well as in the work at the EU level with Encod;
  • Co-founder of the first French Cannabis clubs initiative (CSCF) in 2012; Co-founder of NORML France, and former board member (2011-2016), former public relations officer, cannabis policy reform advocate. He built several pathways for the implementation of Cannabis clubs in France;
  • Kenzi has been working as en international drug policy reform advocate since 2013;
  • Former correspondent in France and Spain for Leafly news;
  • Nowadays settled in Barcelona, he is now involved in the Catalan and Spanish drug policy reform movements, with a special focus on ground-up actions and programs impulsed by health and social stakeholders and affected populations;
  • Head of research at FAAAT.