Cannabis removed from list of riskiest narcotics in UN commission vote

The move could clear the way for expansion of marijuana research and medical use

Workers tend to crops at a marijuana plantation in Skopje, North Macedonia. Photograph: Loulou d’Aki/The New York Times

A UN commission voted on Wednesday to remove cannabis from a category of the world’s most dangerous drugs, in a highly anticipated and long-delayed decision that could clear the way for an expansion of marijuana research and medical use.

A review by the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs, which is based in Vienna and includes 53 member states, considered a series of recommendations from the World Health Organisation on reclassifying cannabis and its derivatives. But attention centred on a key recommendation to remove cannabis from Schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, where it was listed alongside dangerous and highly addictive opioids like heroin.

Experts say that the vote will have no immediate impact on loosening international controls, because governments will still have jurisdiction over how to classify cannabis. But many countries look to global conventions for guidance, and such UN recognition is a symbolic win for advocates of drug-policy change who say that international law is out of date.

The vote was a "big step forward", recognising the positive impact of cannabis on medical patients, said Dirk Heitepriem, a vice-president at Canopy Growth, a Canadian cannabis company. "We hope this will empower more countries to create frameworks which allow patients in need to get access to treatment."


Increasing popularity

Marijuana for medical use has exploded in recent years, and products containing cannabis derivatives like cannabidiol, or CBD, a nonintoxicating compound, have flooded the wellness industry.

Some research has suggested that CBD can protect the nervous system and provide relief from seizures, pain, anxiety and inflammation. The list of CBD-infused products, including creams, serums, soda water and juice, is also expanding rapidly.

The reclassification passed 27-25, with an abstention from Ukraine. The US and European nations were among those who voted in favour, while China, Egypt, Nigeria, Pakistan and Russia were opposed. China's delegate said that, despite the UN move, the country would strictly control cannabis "to protect from the harm and abuse". The UK's delegate said that the reclassification was "in line with the scientific evidence of its therapeutic benefits" but that the country still strongly supported international controls for cannabis, adding that marijuana presented "serious public health risks". – New York Times