At the end of January 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) recognized for the first time the usefulness and therapeutic potential of cannabis and called on governments around the world to relax the status of this plant in international law. In the hands of politicians for the past year, the WHO’s proposal, although moderate and consensual, could go down in history… at the risk of widening the gap between international drug policies and the realities experienced on the ground by patients, health professionals and researchers.

World Health Organization

The WHO proposal, basically based on a comprehensive review of the scientific literature and field data by an international committee of independent experts, is tailored to meet the needs of States.

 It would not force any Government to soften its laws on cannabis, and at the same time, it would allow countries wishing to do so to facilitate access to and availability of cannabis or its derivatives for medical purposes. 

It adopts an inclusive approach to pharmaceutical forms. Not excluding the herbal form, and does not show a preference for any particular formulation: it leaves it up to countries, if they so wish, to choose the type of cannabis medicine they wish to authorize (including traditional uses, such as Ayurveda medicine in India, which already includes more than 100 different preparations of the plant).  

The WHO recommendation would also make life simpler for countries that already have a program in place for access to medicinal cannabis, by reducing the highly complex formalities at all levels that are mainly due to the current classification of cannabis in international conventions. However, it is precisely the classification of cannabis that WHO recommends changing in its 2019 conclusions. Of course ,as a consequence of the symbolic recognition of its therapeutic usefulness.

Yet, while the WHO has spent three years refining a proposal that does not offend either side and that takes into account the testimonies of all stakeholders. So , it would seem that inertia and political conservatism are at the point of winning the battle against scientific reason and the suffering of patients.

WHO, Uruguay, and Jamaica to the rescue of medicinal cannabis 

Last March, the UN forum (Commission on Narcotic Drugs) that was supposed to ratify these WHO recommendations decided to postpone the decision until March 2020. 

Since that time, very few of the many countries that had reformed their policies on medicinal cannabis had spoken out in support of the WHO. Only Uruguay had dared to defend the reclassification by stating that it “does not agree with postponing the necessary discussion of the WHO recommendations”, also joined by Jamaica, for whom the delay was a “great disappointment”. 

Unfortunately, states at the forefront of policies on access to cannabis for medical purposes, such as the Netherlands, Colombia, and even Canada, have remained rather silent (even critical) of the WHO. During one year, the situation has not improved much; it now seems that governments are coalescing so that next March the discussion of the WHO’s conclusions will be delayed once again.

Another reason for such “lazy decision-making” is the bubble in which governments find themselves. While international cannabis law has a direct impact on the lives of ordinary citizens around the world, little social pressure has been exerted.

On other important issues such as climate change, the rights of indigenous peoples, or the ban on glyphosate, pressure from social movements and civil society as a whole, constant and critical observation of decision-making processes, and has been, and continues to be, the inevitable key to the UN’s de-listing, but little has been heard on the cannabis issue. 

Such a lack of mobilization and social support is undoubtedly interpreted as a ” white card ” by Governments to continue doing nothing.

A unique opportunity since 1961, a victim of the laziness of politicians… and the laziness of the people concerned to mobilize?

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