Saul Kaye discusses possibilities for the future: UN rescheduling of cannabis

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The eagerly anticipated recommendations from the World Health Organisation regarding the international scheduling of cannabis has disappointingly been postponed. 

An Unexpected Delay
A vote on the issue is planned for March 2019 and the delay in presenting evidence and recommendations was met with disappointment and concern from industry and UN representatives alike. The WHO shared its findings and recommendations on other opioid drugs and synthetic cannabis derivatives but held back its statements on cannabis. Synthetic cannabinoids were determined far inferior to and more harmful than cannabis. Regarding the withholding of cannabis guidance, representatives cited needing more time for “clearance reasons”, with an expected release in January.

The Story so Far
For 50 years, the WHO have collated independent experts to form the Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD). It plays a key role in evaluating and recommending which categories drugs fall into under the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances. In this case, the ECDD was commissioned to assess the health risks and benefits associated with cannabis and make recommendations on future scheduling of the drug. The UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) enacts policy-making within the UN model, and together with the UN Secretary-General, receives advice from the WHO regarding changes to international drug treaties. WHO representatives were expected to present this information to the CND last Friday.

What Might Happen Next?
Following the WHO presentation of ECDD evidence and recommendations, the CND can take steps to make changes to the scheduling of cannabis under international conventions. This may prompt the following:

  • Rescheduling among defined categories
  • Descheduling, removing of restrive measures around a substance
  • Enacting monitoring programs for substances whose harm/benefit profile may be ambiguous

Following WHO recommendations in June that CBD preparations should be excluded from international drug treaties, I believe in the very near future, we will see CBD descheduled followed by descheduling of other non-psychoactive cannabinoids. This will make CBD a GRAS (Generally Regarded as Safe) ingredient, available for the nutraceutical wellness market.

Possibilities and Predictions

A descheduling on international treaties would dramatically increase the global total addressable market for cannabis, even if we were only considering the medicinal sector. In relation to removing CBD from the controlled substances categories, countries like the US and Australia are likely to see swift changes at a federal level. This would increase tax revenue in Australia and lead to a spreading of the CBD retail market in the US. There is potential that in the very near future we will see CBD fortified products, in the same fashion that milk is fortified with Vitamin D.

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