World Health Organization Recommends Rescheduling Cannabis Under International Drug Treaties
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World Health Organization Recommends Rescheduling Cannabis Under International Drug Treaties

The impending vote could foreshadow future policy reforms in the U.S.

February 4, 2019

In an unreleased World Health Organization (WHO) internal letter, the global organization is reportedly poised to recommend rescheduling cannabis for the purposes of international drug treaties and trade. Forbes first reported the news

The move will require a vote from United Nations member countries. If approved, the legal status of cannabis in the U.S. will not be affected. The long-term impact on worldwide cannabis reform, however, could be quite significant.

The U.S. vote on this matter will be particularly instructive for cannabis industry observers and stakeholders. Under President Trump, the federal government’s executive branch has taken a mostly cautious approach to cannabis policy—with the exception of former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was forced to resign in November 2018. 

The proposal from the WHO is straightforward: remove cannabis and THC (as an individual chemical compound) from Schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. Schedule IV is the most restrictive classification of drugs under the Single Convention, running counter to the U.S. Controlled Substances list’s arrangement. Schedule IV includes drugs “considered to have particularly dangerous properties and an extremely limited therapeutic value.”

Cannabis and THC are also currently placed in Schedule I, and the recommendation is that WHO maintain that designation, which is the least restrictive classification.

Extracts and tinctures of cannabis would be removed from the list of Schedules entirely.

The letter also includes a recommendation to remove CBD from the list of Schedules, which is a striking move that could raise the pitch of debate in the U.S. over how CBD—as a cannabinoid and as an “active ingredient” in pharmaceutical drugs—should be regulated. The letter specifically calls out low-THC preparations of CBD products: “Preparations containing predominantly [CBD] and not more than 0.2 percent of [THC] are not under international control.”

A vote could come sometime in early 2019, at a future UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs hearing.