The European Union (EU) is urging EU member nations to vote in favor of three World Health Organization (WHO) cannabis rescheduling recommendations ahead of the March session of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND).
Should the recommendations ultimately gain approval, it would be a small, but positive step forward for international cannabis companies like Somai Pharmaceuticals, an Ireland-based holding company with wholly-owned subsidiaries located in the EU that cultivate and distribute cannabis products. (The company was previously known as Soma Pharmaceuticals.)
Currently, cannabis and cannabis resin are categorized as both Schedule I and Schedule IV under the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961.
“The 1961 Narcotics Act of Europe is similar to [the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA)] Schedule I in contextual handling of narcotics as a pharmaceutical or dangerous drug,” Somai Pharmaceuticals Chairman of the Board Michael Sassano told Cannabis Business Times.
Among the WHO recommendations supported by the EU’s executive branch is one that would remove cannabis and cannabis resin from Schedule IV, which would ultimately recognize that cannabis and cannabis resign have medicinal value.
“Basically, the removal of cannabis and cannabis resin from Schedule IV means that it has medicinal value, but it is still Schedule I, meaning it is a narcotic and handled as such through pharmacies,” Sassano said.
The EU is also supporting WHO’s recommendations to add delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) to Schedule I of the 1961 convention and, if this is approved, removing them from the 1971 convention.
“The second recommendation, to put delta-9 on Schedule I, simply further clarifies that cannabis cannabinoids are also Schedule 1,” Sassano said. “This defines other cannabinoids as a narcotic.”
News of WHO’s recommendations to reschedule cannabis for the purposes of international drug treaties and trade first broke early last year. A vote was expected as early as the beginning of 2019 but has since been postponed to the upcoming hearing in March.
Since cannabis will remain a Schedule I drug, regardless of the vote to remove it from Schedule IV, the decision will have little impact on Somai’s operations in the EU, Sassano said.
“The new rules don’t really do anything for us currently, except for solidify the current regulatory framework, which is pharmaceutical distribution,” he said. “In Europe, [cannabis is a] pharmaceutical. It’s not pharmaceutical like … medical [cannabis in the U.S.]. It’s actually pharmaceutical, like you’re getting antibiotics or opioids. … You actually have to have a real doctor’s prescription, go to the pharmacy and pick up your product.”
Sassano and the Somai Pharmaceuticals team are currently preparing for a robust business in Europe, developing infrastructure to participate in a less restrictive market, when one does materialize.
"We’re laying the groundwork. We’re patient. We’re not trying to hype ourselves up,” Sassano said. “The U.S. know-how to bring to Europe—that’s our strategy. We’re bringing the U.S. knowledge of West Coast growing and, even more importantly, extraction. … We’re just confident that USA know-how … in Europe is the right model, and we’re OK with things taking longer because we’re also going slowly with what we need to do and not overextending ourselves with building the Taj Mahal overnight."