WHO Surprisingly Postpones Cannabis Rescheduling Recommendation

The WHO’s highly anticipated recommendations about cannabis’s international scheduling were expected on Friday.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has surprisingly postponed its highly anticipated recommendations about the international legal status of marijuana. The results of the organization’s cannabis assessment were expected to arrive last Friday, but on the morning of a representative announced that they would be delayed.

The recommendations were set to be announced on Friday at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) 61st reconvened session in Vienna. WHO’s spokesperson gave recommendations about several other substances in the presentation, but when it came to cannabis they said the organization needed more time to complete the evaluation process.

The announcement came as a surprise twist to cannabis advocates, who anticipated that WHO would make a call to deschedule the plant so that member countries of the United Nations could legalize it.

The WHO Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) held meetings in June and November dedicated to pre-review and review of cannabis and cannabis-related substances. The conclusions of those reports were positive, prompting many to assume the committee would recommend that cannabis be rescheduled.

The U.N. and Cannabis

The UN currently classifies cannabis as a Schedule I substance, the strictest category in the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961 and the Convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1971.

As such, under existing U.N. treaties, member countries can only allow its use for medical and scientific purposes under strict controls. Canada and Uruguay, member countries who have legalized recreational marijuana, are in violation of those treaties.

The ECDD’s final recommendation to the CND will likely influence whether the body removes cannabis from international treaties banning them, or gives it a lower priority.

Such a move would have a quick effect on the global cannabis industry. If WHO were to revise the U.N. drug treaties to reclassify cannabis, it would open the door for other countries – including the U.S. federal government – to make changes to their own cannabis policies.

united nations marijuana

Reasons for the Postponement

The WHO committee’s reason for temporarily withholding its marijuana scheduling recommendation is that it needed more time “for clearance reasons,” according to the International Drug Policy Consortium.

Many cannabis advocates, however, believed other reasons were at play.

“This decision to withhold the results of the critical review of cannabis appears to be politically motivated,” said Michael Krawitz, Executive Director of non-profit group Veterans for Medical Cannabis.

“The WHO has been answering many questions about cannabis legalization, which is not within their mandate. I hope the WHO shows courage and stands behind their work on cannabis, findings we expect to be positive upon recent WHO statements and their other actions today.”

Juan Fernandez of the London-based International Drug Policy Consortium told Global News that he believes conservative countries are purposely blocking the anticipated descheduling of cannabis.

“Ever since Canada enacted its legal regulation of cannabis, there has been a lot of pushback from traditionally reactionary countries at CND – Russia, China, Pakistan, Egypt, Singapore – against any move to confer any legitimacy on cannabis.”

“We’re quite perplexed because this suggests that there was intervention from the highest levels, either from the WHO or somewhere else to postpone the recommendations,” he added.

The WHO representative didn’t provide a new date for the release, but the committee’s recommendation for cannabis’s international scheduling is still expected to go up for a vote in the CND in March.

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