The airwaves have been abuzz with the news that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has finally recommended that cannabis be rescheduled. That nasty dangerous dependence producing drug has been given a reprieve in a far reaching proposal to remove it from the most draconian of United Nations drug schedules – Schedule IV.
Should the recommendations be ratified later this year in Vienna, it would open the floodgates to medical research of the plant. However – in a rather strange twist, the plant will remain in schedule 1, a special place for “substances with addictive properties, presenting a serious risk of abuse”.
So in one breath we’ve been told the WHO thinks cannabis is medicine, but it’s still seriously dangerous.
In our book, it cant be both. It’s like claiming it’s cool if you’ve got a prescription, but dangerous if you don’t. So what exactly happened at the WHO?

The UN scheduling system is as complicated as cannabis itself. Both the 1961 treaty and the 1971 treaty have different scheduling systems. The WHO were clear about which parts of this complex plant were to be rescheduled and went so far as to recommend completely removing CBD from the scheduling system, as long as there is less than 0.2% THC involved. This of course is another completely unscientific and arbitrary figure. THC, its preparations, extractions, oils and isomers remain in schedule 1.
More good cannabinoid, bad cannabinoid syndrome.

For it to remain in Schedule 1, the WHO noted “the high rates of public health problems arising from cannabis use and the global extent of such problems”.
Global extent? do they mean it’s the world’s most popular illicit substance?
The WHO went on to say they “did not consider that cannabis is associated with the same level of risk to health of most of the other drugs that have been placed in Schedule I”. Ah, so it’s not as bad as cocaine or heroin, but we’ll leave it there anyway. It’s like saying we concede Cannabis is medicine, but it’s public enemy no.1 too because loads of people use it. Or are we missing something?

Has politics trumped science at the highest level? These latest WHO recommendations were delayed last year in Vienna because the organisation claimed to have not had the time to sign the document. The fact that they’ve had over 80 years to do so wasn’t lost of on some of us present. That non decision floored the packed auditorium and Cannabis News Network were there to record Civil Society’s dismay moments later. A lame excuse, and one that could be stacked with political subterfuge if you have a conspiratorial bone in your body. Which country or countries applied the thumb screws to delay the vote? There are of course countries up in arms about rogue nations such as Uruguay and Canada creating legalisation laws that fly in the face of the UN schedules…

So, now we have a set of recommendations that need to be voted on. If the recommendations were signed when they should have last year, they would have gone to the vote in March in Vienna at CND 62. This delay of a matter of weeks now puts that vote in jeopardy. It is now easy to argue that there isn’t time to put the vote on the agenda at short notice. It is a slim excuse but effective enough to stall the procedure for yet another year.
The list of the 53 member states due to vote at CND 62 includes South Africa, but it also includes some less than savoury countries like Russia and China with alarming track records of human rights violations, torture and incarceration for drug offenses. It’s a majority vote, it won’t be cut and dry, and there is little prospect of consensus if it happens at all.

We see it as yet another missed opportunity to start making up for the last 10 years of failed UN drug policies and the unattainable and simply ridiculous goal of “A Drug Free World, We Can Do It”.
It took 80 years to get CBD out of the schedules, let’s hope THC doesn’t get lost in Schedule 1 for another eight decades.

At least the WHO rescheduling recommendations mean they admit they were wrong in their scheduling of cannabis. This admission must surely mean other member states will be emboldened to soften their stance on the plant and create regimens based not on punishment and the justice system, but on health, human rights and harm reduction.