Medical Cannabis Patient Advocates to Address World Health Organization

November 16, 2015 | Talana Lattimer

GENEVA—Today medical cannabis patient advocates representing 27 countries will be addressing the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) in Geneva, in hopes of reshaping international policies that affect the health and safety of millions of patients using cannabis and cannabis products worldwide. ECDD an important advisor to the United Nation’s (UN) Commission on Narcotic Drugs which sets international drug policies, such as the classification of drugs for international treaties, will be meeting from November 15-20 to discuss global drug policy issues, including cannabis. 

Although the ECDD meets yearly, this year is especially essential, as the UN prepares for the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS 2016) set for April 2016 in New York. The last special session on drugs was held in 1999, with a focus on global elimination of drugs and the next UNGASS on drugs was scheduled for 2019 to assess the progress towards the goals set in 2009. 

However, in September 2012, the presidents of Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico led a request, co-sponsored by 95 other countries, for a special session on drugs in 2016. UNGASS 2016 will include a review of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961, the Convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1971, and the United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances of 1988.

“The current international policies on cannabis are outdated and are having a detrimental impact on patients in the United States and worldwide,” says Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access (ASA) and representative of IMCPC. “New policies should take into account new clinical research, product safety protocols for cannabis cultivation, manufacturing, and distribution, and global patient needs.”  

Today over two-thirds of the population of the United States and territories live in regions with medical cannabis laws, and over 2.5 million individuals are legally using medical cannabis. Canada, Israel, Netherlands, Czech Republic, Croatia, Mexico, Uruguay, Romania, Germany, Jamaica, Australia, and Switzerland all have national medical cannabis programs and dozens of other countries are reviewing legislation.  These laws arguably in varying degrees of conflict with International treaties, most notably the UN Single Convention Treaty of 1961.

Despite the fact that cannabis offers patients relief that they do not receive from any other available medicine and with relatively few side effects, international treaties continues to treat cannabis as a supplemental medicine, says Michael Krawitz – executive director of Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access. “This is the first time in our lifetime, since 1935, for science to trump that ideology and pave the way for more consistent patient access to this medicine worldwide. We are heading to Geneva to make sure this process reflects the scientific evidence and to ensure for the first time since 1935, the WHO cannabis review process hears the patient's voice. “

The UN Single Convention treaty has been used by governments across the globe, including the United States, to derail attempts to reform national medical cannabis laws and research.  At the “Medical Cannabis and Cannabinoids: Policy, Research and Medical Practice” conference in Prague March 4-7, 2015, representatives of organizations of medical cannabis patients from 13 countries met and established the International Medical Cannabis Patient Coalition (IMCPC), and put together a Declaration addressing the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs 2016.

“Actual empirical and clinical evidence of cannabinoids effects in treatments of chronic pain as well as acute diseases, shows that prohibiting patients from access and forcing physicians to prescribe cannabis in the same setting as opioids is eroding all four basic principles of ethics in medicine. Which include respect patients’ autonomy, do no harm, do good and be justiciable when offering treatments to patients and allocating scarce medical resources,” says Pavel Kubů MD, member of the board, KOPAC patient association and IMCPC representative.

“The French paradox” of medical cannabis is giving patients hope but with no legal access this leads them to buy unsafe products on the 'black market'. It is making medical cannabis patients criminals, suffering not only from their ailments, but also their illegal status. In this condition, nations are facing public health issues where patients can not have medical supervision using safe herbal cannabinoid treatment,” says Sébastien Béguerie, founder of l'Union Francophone pour les Cannabinoides en Médecines, IACM board member as Patient representative and IMCPC representative.

Medical cannabis patient advocates hope that the ECDD meetings will conclude with a recommendation to the UN to reschedule medical cannabis to account for medical use and access requirements under international policies. 

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