In a bold, historical move, the United Nations has officially removed marijuana from Schedule IV, the global agency’s most restrictive controlled substances category. Under the new UN guidelines, marijuana and its derivatives will no longer be classified as a dangerous drug.
Earlier this year, the UN-based World Health Organization (WHO) was given a total of six recommendations to reform its cannabis policies. The removal of marijuana from Schedule IV, undoubtedly the most progressive and consequential recommendation, was the only one to be approved. Five others were rejected including rescheduling THC and dronabinol (synthetic or plant-derived THC medication) and making CBD products containing no more than 0.2 percent THC not subject to international control.
After nine months of meetings, taking the economic, social, legal, and social implications into consideration, representatives from 53 member states on the Vienna-based Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) greenlit the WHO’s recommendation to remove marijuana from Schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention. The vote was far from unanimous, however, with 27 countries in favor, 25 against, and one abstention.
The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961 is a global treaty specifically designed to prohibit the supply, cultivation, and production of unlicensed narcotics unless they were for research and/or medical treatment.
There is confusion surrounding the CND’s schedules, as the most addictive and dangerous substances such as cocaine, opium, fentanyl, and morphine are on the CND’s less restrictive Schedule I list. Shockingly, cannabis and heroin were on the Schedule IV list and were considered by the CND and UN to be more dangerous than fentanyl and morphine. It should also be noted that the U.S. maintains a different scheduling system for narcotics. In the U.S., Schedule I is the most restrictive category.
The global trend to end cannabis prohibition
This momentous revision of cannabis policy by the UN comes on a wave of a global acceptance of marijuana as the medical and therapeutic value of the plant are researched and quantified.
Several countries around the world and many U.S. states have implemented cannabis policy reforms in recent years. However, the change in UN policy does not mean that member nations are cleared for across-the-board legalization. Under U.S. federal regulations, marijuana remains under the more restrictive Schedule I.
Cannabis advocates however are optimistic and believe this new categorization indicates an evolution in how the international community views cannabis policy.
Most U.S. states’ cannabis policies were spurred by ballot initiatives such as Florida’s medical marijuana program. Now, in states where marijuana is not legal, there seems to be a trend toward legislatures looking into the possibility of legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana.
For example, Vermont and Illinois legalized marijuana by acts of their state legislatures. And now Virginia is considering passing major cannabis policy reforms.
Some states have been slow out of the gate. Ohio legalized medical marijuana via ballot initiative back in 2016. Now, here at the end of 2020, Ohio medical card patients are still holding their breath hoping the number of medical marijuana dispensaries expands.
In U.S. states where cannabis has been legalized for either medical or adult recreational use business is booming. States with legal cannabis markets are pulling in badly needed revenue.
What this means
The misguided policy of keeping marijuana in the same class as heroin for almost 60 years shaped global policy and was ultimately responsible for ruining the lives of countless individuals around the world who have been subjected to lengthy prison sentences, large fines, and even confiscation of property for personal possession of the herb.
This turn of events will ultimately contribute to progress for both medical marijuana patients and the burgeoning cannabis industry, in addition to furthering legalization initiatives going on around the globe.
Even the U.S. federal government is changing its tune. This is illustrated by the delegate’s statement to the UN regarding cannabis policy.
“The vote of the United States to remove cannabis and cannabis resin from Schedule IV of the Single Convention while retaining them in Schedule I is consistent with the science demonstrating that while a safe and effective cannabis-derived therapeutic has been developed, cannabis itself continues to pose significant risks to public health and should continue to be controlled under the international drug control conventions,” the. “Further, this action has the potential to stimulate global research into the therapeutic potential and public health effects of cannabis, and to attract additional investigators to the field, including those who may have been deterred by the Schedule IV status of cannabis.” — U.S. delegation statement to the U.N.
This long-overdue historic move by the UN bolsters the recent passing of the MORE Act in the U.S. House of Representatives and the mission to remove cannabis once and for all from America’s Controlled Substances Act.
Will President Biden legalize marijuana? In the past, Biden has taken a hard-line approach to drug policies. He was an author of the notorious 1994 Crime bill. The legislation sparked the so-called War on Drugs.
However, most Americans are now in favor of legalizing marijuana and the majority of Washington lawmakers are in favor of legislating federal reforms at some level. Dispensaries nationwide are seeing a massive uptick in sales since the beginning of the pandemic. And both U.S. and Canadian marijuana stocks are on the rise after two-year a long downturn.
Now, there are only two people are standing in the way of ending the federal prohibition of marijuana. They are Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel — who been playing goalie for the Reefer Madness camp and keeping cannabis bills off the Senate floor — and President-Elect Joe Biden.