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UN Scales Back Cannabis Classification

Dec 3, 2020

It was a big victory for the medical cannabis community when the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs voted to remove cannabis from Schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.  Cannabis was included in Schedule IV with other drugs such as heroin, cocaine and other opioids.  Those drugs included in Schedule IV are a subset of Schedule 1. Schedule 1 drugs have a high probability for abuse and addiction, but their use is limited to medical or scientific purposes. Schedule IV drugs are considered to have “particularly dangerous properties” and are drugs that have limited medical and scientific use.  The removal of cannabis from schedule IV signifies that the United Nations has agreed that medical research into cannabis is important, and might result in potentially significant medical benefits.

The vote, while historic, passed by the slimmest of margins, Of the 53 voting countries, 27 voted in favor of removing cannabis from Schedule IV, while 25 voted against and 1 abstained. This slim margin means that another vote can be called for and can result in this decision being overturned. The suggestion for removing cannabis from Schedule IV was made by the World Health Organization in January 2019.  The narrowness of the voting margin indicates the conversation may not be over; thereby creating the potential for a call for another vote. 

The scheduling by the United Nations is somewhat similar, but different from the scheduling by the Drug Enforcement Agency in the U.S. Regardless of the UN decision, each individual country will still decide its own cannabis laws and regulations. 

So this vote, while historic, is widely considered symbolic. It carries little weight with respect to actual laws and regulations, but the potential is that it could encourage countries to reevaluate their own particular laws regarding cannabis and potentially legalize it. In the U.S., cannabis is still federally illegal, though many states have legalized medical cannabis and a few have legalized adult recreational use. 

While the UN vote was historic, the UN did not approve some additional steps proposed.  For example, one of the proposals rejected was to exempt CBD preparations with less than .2% of THC from being a drug that countries should remain concerned about due to the risk of abuse and dependence. 

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