A small step for cannabis, a giant leap for CBD. “Preparations containing predominantly cannabidiol and not more than 0.2 percent of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol are not under international control.” Such is the footnote the World Health Organisation’s Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) considers should be added to the entry for cannabis and cannabis resin in Schedule I of the 1961 Single Convention on Drug Narcotics. And here is the second important point raised by the ECDD: cannabis and cannabis resin should be removed from Schedule IV of the Convention, the most restrictive level of control that is applied to hazardous substances including heroin, to Schedule I, which applies to substances subject to less restrictive international control.
While the WHO recommendations to the UN Secretary General are not binding, there is a clear tendency towards increasingly less restrictive cannabis policies within the agency. In fact, the purpose of the ECDD’s November meeting was to prepare a report for use by the UN Commission on Drug Dependence during their March meeting, when they will discuss the rescheduling of cannabis.
The ECDD has held several meetings over the last few years, showing an increasingly supportive approach to the decriminalization of cannabis, which is motivated by the therapeutic usefulness of some of the plant’s active substances. The committees’ insistence on the need to lift controls on CBD preparations is a major step towards the recognition of the positive applications of cannabidiol, especially considering that, as the highest health authority in the world, the WHO’s stance on the dangerousness and medical applications of substances is of particular relevance. Still, regulation remains the competence of national countries, meaning that the agency’s recommendation does not in any way mark a real step towards the legalisation of cannabis.
The classification of cannabis according to the UN
So far, references to cannabis have been included in the following three international UN documents: 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, as amended by the 1972 amending Protocol, 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances and 1988 United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances.
The recommendations regarding the UN schedules in which to include cannabis were transmitted in a letter from WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on 24 January. In 2017, the ECDD released a report stating CBD is non-addictive, harmless to health and has therapeutic usefulness, and met on November to further discuss the status of CBD in particular and of cannabis in general.
A different schedule depending on the cannabinoid content
As specified in the letter from WHO Director General, the recommendations of the ECDD cover the following aspects:
Cannabis and cannabis resin, which are recommend to be removed from Schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.
Dronabinol(synthetic THC), which is recommended to be removed from Schedule II of the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances to Schedule I of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.
THC, which is recommended to be removed from Schedule I of the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances to Schedule I of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.
Extracts and tinctures, which are recommended to be included in Schedule I of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.
Cannabidiol preparations, which should not be under international control.