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World Health Organisation: Recognise Medical Use of Cannabis

As more countries continue to recognise the medical benefits of cannabis, the leading UN agency for international public health has called for the drug’s reclassification.

In a public letter, the director of World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, proposed that cannabis be removed from Schedule IV of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (SCND). Drugs under Schedule IV – including cannabis, heroin, and carfentanil – are deemed to be the most dangerous substances. Instead, the WHO say, cannabis should be reclassified as Schedule I – “because there is evidence that some cannabis-based preparations have a medical use".

While this development is a proposal, rather than an immediate change in international law, it marks a significant step forward for medical cannabis proponents.

For the WHO’s recommendation to be adopted, and the SCND amended, at least half of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs’ (CND) 53 member states will need to ratify the proposed changes. Many of these states currently prohibit the use of medical cannabis in any form.

If adopted, the WHO’s recommendations could influence policymakers in UN member states to recognise the drug’s medical benefits.

US Air Force veteran and reform advocate, Michael Krawitz, welcomed the announcement:

“The placement of cannabis in the 1961 treaty, in the absence of scientific evidence, was a terrible injustice. Today the World Health Organisation has gone a long way towards setting the record straight. It is time for us all to support the [WHO’s] recommendations and ensure politics don't trump science.”

The announcement has also been lauded by people working in the cannabis industry. Manu Caddie, chief executive of the Aotearoa-(New Zealand)-based Hikurangi Cannabis Company, said:

“It is pleasing to see the WHO review the evidence for cannabis and acknowledge it never should have been classified in the same category as heroin, cocaine and methamphetamines. Unfortunately, the classification of cannabis in the 1961 UN Convention resulted in prohibition as the default policy of most countries and some will resist change meanwhile, the failed war on drugs is proven to cause real harm.”

Choosing how to respond to the WHO’s announcement will undoubtedly vary considerably from country-to-country, as many national governments – including that of the United States – continue to oppose recognising the drug’s medical benefits.

Whether the recommendation is passed or not, the WHO’s recommendation to reschedule medical cannabis will undoubtedly have a significant impact on domestic policy debates for years to come.

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