UN Vote: Cannabis is Officially a Medicine

by Katya Kowalski


Yesterday, history was made with the UN reclassifying cannabis. This removes cannabis from the list of most dangerous narcotics, recognising its medical value.

The decision was voted on by the Commission for Narcotic Drugs. A series of recommendations on reclassifying cannabis were considered, the key being the removal of it from Schedule IV of 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. The five remaining recommendations were turned down. 

The reclassification passed 27 to 25 with one abstention – so, a narrow win. The US and many European countries were in favour. Whereas countries such as China, Egypt, Nigeria, Pakistan and Russia voted against.

This decision will undoubtedly advance the expansion of medical cannabis research and bolster legalisation efforts globally, hopefully encouraging improvements for patient access.

Cannabis is certainly ‘coming of age’ with medical use and CBD increasing massively in recent years. This has allowed cannabis to be increasingly seen as a health and wellness product.

However, this is not new – the use of cannabis medicinally can be traced back thousands of years. The prohibition of the drug is rooted in prejudice and racism, disregarding traditional medicine. 

Now, we are catching up. The UN’s decision is a catalyst of change to legalise cannabis globally. The vote will impact the way cannabis is perceived, removing some of the stigma attached to the drug with the UN’s stamp of approval.

The UN’s stamp of approval helps normalise and legitimise cannabis use medically. However, this decision will not loosen international controls – reform is likely to still be a slow process. 

Although a huge historic victory, the vote has no immediate effect internationally. Governments still have the power to decide how cannabis is classified within their country. 

China stated they will continue to strictly control cannabis to protect citizens from harm. And although the UK voted in favour of reclassification, they still strongly support international control for cannabis as it presents “serious public health risks.”

Clearly, there are still barriers to accepting cannabis as a recreational drug. We must address this disjointed message of cannabis being a medicine but still “posing significant health risks.” International drug policy remains complex with vastly differing messages.

Regardless, this vote is a step in the right direction. 

Countries often look to the UN for guidance on global conventions, in which case this ruling should help. Despite the ruling being ‘symbolic’ in many ways, it should still boost legalisation efforts in countries following the UN for legislation. There is certainly potential for national rescheduling to occur, removing obstacles for medical cannabis.

This incredible news will likely encourage the regulation of cannabis at a global level. Hopefully, this will allow for greater medical access and further research to understand the full therapeutic potential cannabis has.

Although not a major change legally, this is a massive change for the UN to explicitly recognise and recommend the use of cannabis medically.

We mustn’t get ahead of ourselves as this is only a start to solving the problem, but it is a good start.

Katya Kowalski is European Stakeholder Engagement Officer at Volteface, Tweets @KowalskiKatya

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