After two years of heated debate, the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) voted in Vienna to remove cannabis from Schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which is reserved for controlled substances with limited or no therapeutic benefit.
The UN thus recognizes the therapeutic value of cannabis, reinforcing the international imperative to ensure access to cannabis-based medicines.
While welcoming the removal from Schedule IV, drug policy experts have expressed serious concerns that cannabis will remain in Schedule I of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, keeping it under the same strict controls as heroin and cocaine.
Following the very first scientific review of cannabis by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2018, a limited rescheduling of cannabis was recommended, but removing it from Schedule I was not among the recommendations despite the WHO’s conclusion that cannabis was less harmful than most other Schedule I drugs.
The UN review of cannabis also highlights the profound gap between decision-making in international bodies and the growing momentum for drug policy reform around the world.
More than 50 countries around the world have now adopted medical cannabis programs, while Uruguay, Canada, Mexico, Luxembourg, South Africa, 15 U.S. states, and several other jurisdictions have regulated or are in the process of regulating cannabis for non-medical use.
The final vote on removing cannabis from Annex IV was very close, with 27 votes in favor and 25 against, with 1 abstention. The Russian Federation mobilized a bloc of countries, including 15 voting NDC member states, behind a common position, claiming “not to change the classification of cannabis” as this would “lead to confusion and relaxation of the established international regulatory framework”.
All other proposals were rejected including the one on the classification of the CBD, which therefore remains unclassified and outside international control.