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Traditionally, the United Nations categorized hashish as a much less harmful drug

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In a big step forward for cannabis legalization and global drug reform, the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) voted Wednesday to remove cannabis from Appendix IV of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. According to the United Nations system, List IV substances are considered to be the most dangerous and addicting drugs.

Cannabis is no longer classified as as dangerous a drug as heroin.

The Vienna-based Commission for Narcotic Drugs (CND) comprises 53 member states. Today’s vote came after the CND reviewed a number of World Health Organization recommendations on cannabis and its derivatives.

As the vote of confidence increases, it doesn’t get much greater than approval by the United Nations. This historical reversal signals that the governments of a large majority of the planet implicitly recognize the therapeutic value of cannabis.

Nearly 60 years after cannabis was wrongly categorized, the United Nations has finally corrected its mistake – although there are still miles to be done with regard to the CND that precisely characterizes cannabis.

A great moment

Appendix IV drugs are a subset of those in Appendix I that require the highest level of international control. That kept cannabis in the same class of drugs as heroin.

The CND’s schedules can be a little confusing because Schedule I drugs are the most dangerous and addicting – as are Schedule I drugs as defined in the United States Controlled Substances Act. Cocaine, opium, morphine and fentanyl are on list I of the CND. However, in the CND classification system, Schedule IV is a subset of Schedule I drugs – they are considered the most dangerous Schedule I drugs.

As crazy as it sounds, cannabis and heroin have been classified as List IV drugs for decades, meaning the CND and the UN view cannabis as more dangerous than morphine and fentanyl.

However, the United Nations World Health Organization recommended in 2019 that the CND remove cannabis from Appendix IV because of its “therapeutic potential”, stating that it is not “prone to side effects similar to the effects of the other substances in Appendix IV” .

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Possible effects

This week’s vote could lead to real progress for medical marijuana patients and the legal cannabis industry around the world.

In some countries this will help legitimize legalization initiatives. Others, such as Canada and the United States, will continue to be eligible to expand the regulated legalization laws that are already in place.

The UN vote could, for example, help push the MORE bill, which will be debated in Congress this week. The MORE Act would remove cannabis from the most restrictive classification of the American Controlled Substances Act.

The UN vote could also benefit research and stimulate studies that could further demonstrate the therapeutic and palliative value of cannabis.

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More work to be done

The WHO passed the recommendation along with five other marijuana proposals almost two years ago. The CND member states examined the impact of the proposals and postponed the vote in March 2020 for further studies.

Over the past nine months the Commission has held a number of meetings to discuss the economic, legal, social and other implications of WHO recommendations.

The other cannabis recommendations were viewed as more dubious in some cases due to language problems. A proposal regarding CDB, for example, leaves open questions about THC, which can lead to no votes even for countries that are not against CBD. Two of the recommendations would lead to more control for pure THC.

All of the arguments are likely to lead to further revisions that will be considered in the future.

Dave Howard

Dave Howard is a national magazine editor and award-winning author. His most recent book is Chasing Phil: The Adventures of Two Undercover Agents with the World’s Most Charming Deceiver.

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