A call for UN to monitor medical cannabis patients’ rights

Ensuring continuity of treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic for patients using Cannabis and cannabinoid medicines.


Photo: I. Seddoug

FAAAT supports the letter sent to the United Nations by IACM and SCC on April 20th, 2020

Ensuring continuity of treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic for patients using Cannabis and cannabinoid medicines.

In 2019 the WHO Expert Committee on Drug Dependence declared that “preparations of cannabis have shown therapeutic potential for the treatment of pain and other medical conditions such as epilepsy and spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis, which are not always controlled by other medications” as well as providing relief for “anorexia associated with AIDS, nausea and vomiting in cancer chemotherapy, neuropathic pain, chronic cancer pain, Lennox-Gastaut and Dravet syndromes, neonatal hypoxic-ischaemic encephalopathy, perinatal asphyxia, etc”

During this pandemic it is imperative we ensure patients who use Cannabis for the management of their medical conditions continue to fully realize and enjoy their rights,  in particular the safe and uninterrupted access to their treatment as is consistent with public health.

In 2009, Manfred Nowak, then Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, noted that “the de facto denial of access to pain relief, if it causes severe pain and suffering, constitutes cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.

During this very trying time the vast majority of jurisdictions with pre-existing programs for access to medical Cannabis have deemed Cannabis dispensaries essential. Informal systems currently in place are used by patients as a safe way of accessing their Cannabis treatment.

It is time to scrutinize and report on the situation of human rights for patients using medicinal Cannabis throughout the world to examine ways and means of overcoming obstacles identify best practices, provide technical assistance and offer concrete recommendations.

In regard to access we recommend: Medical Cannabis dispensaries be deemed essential services, regulations be implemented to allow and encourage online ordering, curbside and home delivery and provide guidance on standard operating procedures in the face of the pandemic (e.g., guidance on handling products, money, credit cards or ID cards, rules for physical distancing, etc.).  Traditional medical practitioners and indigenous healers must also be granted recognition as essential services.

In regard to government resources we suggest: Instructions be given to police and law enforcement to consider Cannabis, where prohibited by law, a non-enforcement priority and immediately suspend all related police raids and crackdowns.

In regard to medical practice we propose: Physician consultation via telemedicine be made available and if possible maintain the same team of caregivers. If not then ensure that the new medical team doesn’t discontinue or delay treatment. Expiration dates for existing medical Cannabis documents need to be extended until after the crisis has abated.


The letter was addressed to the following UN stakeholders:

Michelle Bachelet JeriaUnited Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights;
Dainius PūrasSpecial Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health;
Catalina Devandas AguilarSpecial Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities;
Nils MelzerSpecial Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment;
Karima BennouneSpecial Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights;
Victoria Tauli CorpuzSpecial Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples;
Fernand de VarennesSpecial Rapporteur on minority issues;
Rosa Kornfeld-MatteIndependent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons;
Renato Zerbini Ribeiro LeãoChair, Shiqiu Chen, Laura-Maria Craciunean-Tatu, Sandra LiebenbergVice-Chairs, and Olivier de SchutterRapporteur, Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of the United Nations;
Ahmed Amin FathallaChair, Tania María Abdo Rocholl, Photini Pazartzis, Yuval ShanyVice-Chairs, and Ilze Brands KehrisRapporteur, United Nations Human Rights Committee;

With copy sent to:

António GuterresUnited Nations Secretary-General;
Tijjani Muhammad-BandeUnited Nations General Assembly 74th session President;
Tedros Adhanom GhebreyesusWorld Health Organization Director-General;
Peter SalamaWorld Health Organization, Executive Director for Universal Health Coverage / Life Course;
Mariângela Batista Galvão SimãoWorld Health Organization, Assistant Director-General for Access to Medicines and Health Products;
Ibrahima Socé FallWorld Health Organization, Assistant Director-General for Emergency Response;
Ghada Fathi WalyUnited Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Executive-Director;
Jean-Luc LemahieuUnited Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Director for Policy Analysis and Public Affairs;
Miwa KatoUnited Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Director for Operations;
Winnie ByanyimaJoint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS Executive-Director;
Cornelis de JoncheereInternational Narcotics Control Board, President.

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