Obama Can’t Reschedule Cannabis Before He Leaves…But Can Start the Process Internationally

November 30, 2016 | Steph Sherer

Cannabis is currently classified as Schedule I and IV of the United Nations (UN) Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961 as amended by the 1972 Protocol (the “Single Convention”). This scheduling was determined based on a report created by the Health Committee of the League of Nations in 1935. The UN General Assembly must have a recommendation from the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) to change the Scheduling of cannabis. The CND makes decisions on Scheduling of substances based on recommendations from the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD).

To date, the ECDD has not conducted an updated review on cannabis despite an increasing number of countries adopting medical cannabis policies. The CND in its Resolution 52/5 from 2009 requested an updated review by the ECDD and in 2013 the International Narcotics Control Board, in its annual report, invited WHO, in view of its mandate under the 1961 Convention, to evaluate “the potential medical utility of cannabis and the extent to which cannabis poses dangers to human health.”

For this reason, at ASA’s International Conference on Harmonization of Global Cannabis Policy March 18-23, 2016 in Washington DC, participants peer-reviewed Cannabis and Cannabis Resin Critical Review Preparation Document: safeaccessnow.org/critical_review. This important paper was created by an international whos who of cannabis experts including  Jahan Marcu Ph.D., Tjaling Erkelens, Maria de los Angeles Lobos, Ph.D., Ethan Russo, MD, Roy Upton, Mahmoud Elsohly, Ph.D., Pavel Kubu, MD, Ethan Russo, MD, Pavel Patcha, Jason Schechter, Ph.D., and Phil Robson, Ph.D. to name a few.

Following the 2015 ECDD meetings, the ECDD´s website posted only one paper on cannabis presented to the Committee, a paper by one of its members, Dr. Bertha Madras. The paper appeared on the website only several weeks after the meeting, with the disclaimer: “The author alone is responsible for the views expressed in this publication and they do not necessarily represent the decisions or policies of the World Health Organization.” The paper by Dr. Bertha Madras left out many items of information that are very important for the evaluation of cannabis by the ECDD.

For this reason, at ASA’s International Conference on Harmonization of Global Cannabis Policy March 18-23, 2016 in Washington DC, participants peer-reviewed Cannabis and Cannabis Resin Critical Review Preparation Document: safeaccessnow.org/critical_review. This important paper was created by an international whos who of cannabis experts including  Jahan Marcu Ph.D., Tjaling Erkelens, Maria de los Angeles Lobos, Ph.D., Ethan Russo, MD, Roy Upton, Mahmoud Elsohly, Ph.D., Pavel Kubu, MD, Ethan Russo, MD, Pavel Patcha, Jason Schechter, Ph.D., and Phil Robson, Ph.D. to name a few.

Using over 300 references, the document thoroughly examines the vast research on the therapeutic value of cannabis, accurate accounts of toxicology and related public health concerns. The report also includes a summary of the variety of ways cannabis is controlled nationally and internationally, and the policies that are needed to make safe and legal access to medical cannabis available to all patients who would benefit from it. The paper was presented to the CND for their UNGASS preparatory meetings and to the ECDD in April with the following letter:  safeaccessnow.org/april16who  

At the ECDD 2016 meetings November 14-18 the meeting merely had another “update” and listed  the following on their agenda:

Cannabis update at ECDD, 14-18 November
WHO has provided updates on Cannabis in 2014, 2015 and will again share updated evidence in 2016 at the Expert Committee on Drug Dependence meeting on 14-18 November. So far, material to formally review the status of cannabis as a scheduled substance is either insufficient or inconclusive. WHO will continue to review all available scientific evidence to determine whether the current scheduling status should change.

In response we issued another letter that was ignored:  safeaccessnow.org/nov16who

“I am writing to express my concern and disappointment about the provisional agenda for the 38th meeting of the Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD).  The only reference of cannabis and cannabis resin is an “update”.  In April, I reached out to you due to the role the World Health Organization (WHO), and in particular its ECDD, have in the medical, scientific and public health evaluation of psychoactive substances under the international drug control treaties and requested the urgent need for a critical review of cannabis by this Committee.

In order for the ECDD to advise on the future control status of cannabis, the Committee will need to create a critical review of cannabis. We trust that the ECDD will be able to recommend to the CND, as a minimum, to exclude cannabis from Schedule IV of the 1961 Convention. However, in order to move forward, the ECDD must include a pre-review of cannabis on the agenda of the 38th meeting trust that the members of the ECDD will modify the agenda of their 38th meeting accordingly.”

Role of POTUS

Obama can start a bureaucratic process that extends beyond his presidency with a letter to the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. Article 3, paragraph 1 of the 1961 Single Convention Treaty of 1961, which states that "Where a Party or the WHO has information which in its opinion may require an amendment to any of the Schedules, it shall notify the UN Secretary-General and furnish him with the information in support of the notification." 

This matters for medical cannabis patients in the United States and all over the world. The UN Single Convention Treaty of 1961 blocks most of the world’s nations from researching or allowing for legal medical cannabis. This treaty is often cited as a reason why the United States cannot make a meaningful change in its national policies towards medical cannabis – despite that fact that 44 states have already adopted some kind of law recognizing its medical benefit. Removing this obstacle brings us one step closer to our ultimate goal – safe and legal access for everyone who needs it.



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