UN recognises therapeutic value of cannabis by disambiguation

UN recognises therapeutic value of cannabis by disambiguation

Benito Díaz

Past December the 2nd was a historic day for cannabis. The UN offices in Vienna voted a series of proposals related to the removal of cannabis from the most restrictive sections of the monitoring lists of the organisation and to the modification of the single agreement on narcotics of 1961.

The proposals ranged from removing cannabis and its mechanical transformation in resins from Schedule IV while keeping them in Schedule I (a 1971 extension meant the plant was present in both), as well as the alignment of cannabinoids of natural origin with their synthetic counterparts, which would have had eliminated the control over the extractions, control that comes as a result of those extractions being obtained from the plant, or would have placed the THC on Schedule I. Also submitted to vote, there was another escape route for CBD: the inclusion of a footnote to Schedule I that would free from control all the derivates from Cannabis Sativa L composed of CBD with percentages of 0.2% or lower.

Four points to be voted

After the analysis of a UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) representative, each member state proceeded to vote. “The evidence presented for the cannabis and cannabis resins does not show them in equal terms to the agents present in ScheduIe I, nor are they, therefore, suitable to be included in the Schedule IV. The committee recommends for it to be removed from Schedule IV, but not from the I”, declared the representative, who alleged reasons connected to the addictive potential of cannabis to keep it in Schedule I.

The votes were cast, with the result of 27 countries in favour and 25 against the exit from Schedule IV. In other words, countries acknowledged that cannabis and its derivates have therapeutic value, in contrast to what its presence in said list meant, and do not consider cannabis “particularly prone to causing abuse or producing harmful effects”.

In the next ballot the removal of THC from Schedule IV was being proposed. THC was included amongst the most dangerous and restricted substances in the extension of 1971, when its synthetic molecule, dronabinol, was enlisted in Schedule II. The most restrictive category was then enlarged with synthetic drugs of pharmaceutic use and abuse as benzodiazepins. The result obtained, 23 votes in favour and 28 against, means THC obtained from the natural source will remain in Schedule IV.

The extracts and tinctures, defined by experts within the commission as preparations of the plant obtained by using solvents, are recognised as useful in treating diseases. However, the quality of the homemade preparation is in doubt, compared to the medical extraction, and in both the THC concentration could be high. The proposal to remove these extracts and tinctures of cannabis from Schedule I was rejected by 24 votes in favour, 27 against and 2 abstentions.

Lastly, a proposal was made to include a footnote in Schedule I that would clarify which derivate products of cannabis, with percentages of THC not over 0.2% and pure CBD, would be exempt from control. In this case, the WHO commission that presented the recommendations did not find evidence that the substance produced dependency or the tendency to consume it in an abusive manner. It highlighted as well that the percentage of D9THC in these products was merely residual, and therefore recommended accepting the proposal. The vote result was six in favour, 43 against and four abstentions, so the footnote was rejected.

The fact that the exemption for the extracts and tinctures was not achieved, when the maximum control over THC already exists, and that the footnote was discarded cast a shadow about the fate of these products in countries where the cultivation and transformation of cannabis is legal. This is a Cannabis Sativa L subject to monitoring anyway, even if national laws make exceptions. The European Union was quick to clarify the next day that, according to the recent ruling by the European Court of Justice, cannabidiol “does not produce psychotropic effects” and, therefore, “cannot be considered a drug “and can be “catalogued as food”.


The collectives in favour of drug policies and activism received these results with joy.

“This measure is even more important if we take into consideration that cannabis was included in the Schedule IV without having been the subject of any scientific evaluation. The Annex IV for cannabis is a relic of international laws about more extreme drugs inherited from the morals of the 1950s decade and it represents systems of values discredited long time ago, linked to racism, intolerance, lack of respect for peoples and indigenous cultures that were the distinctive stamp of the colony era”, claims the FAAAT organisation presided by Kenzi Riboulet in a press release.

“Although we believe that correcting the track record was unavoidable, and that the overwhelming evidence could not have led to any other result, the fact that the states do not accept the most advanced proposals from the WHO is disappointing and represents one missed opportunity to make the treaty better serve its purpose. However, none of the negative votes today will result in a worsening of the controls over cannabis”, he stressed.

Signalled by activism as the most important organisations about drug policing, the efforts of both the For Alternative Approaches to Addiction, Think and do tank (FAAAT) and the European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies (ENCOD) are being acknowledged by the high instances of the UN.

“The assessment of these results is, in general, positive” Ana Afuera comments. She is the representative of ENCOD. “It’s good news for people who consume for medicinal use, we have something to celebrate. This measure will benefit everybody, especially in the field of investigation and development of therapies. However, a red line has again being established against recreational cannabis, on behalf of the countries with restrictive drug policies. It is no surprise. CBD remains in a grey area as well”. Afuera highlights the work of Kenzi Riboulet, who along with FAAAT collaborates with ENCOD to move forward towards a policy that will be more permissive with cannabis.


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