Despite this, its recreational consumption will continue to be prohibited according to international regulations.
The UN recognized the medicinal properties of cannabis on Wednesday in a vote in Vienna by the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, the executive body on drug policy of the United Nations.
A simple majority of the 53 States of the Commission have decided to withdraw cannabis and its resin from Schedule IV of the 1961 Convention on Drugs, which means that the medical use of this plant is officially recognized, the recreational use of which will continue to be prohibited in international regulations.
Almost all the States of the European Union -with the exception of Hungary- and many of the Americas have added a simple majority of 27 votes to approve the change – one of the most important on drugs in recent decades – while the majority of Asian and African countries objected.
In this Convention, cannabis is classified in lists I and IV, the latter reserved for the most dangerous drugs and under the strictest control, such as heroin, and to which little medical value is granted. This change will facilitate research with cannabis, which has active ingredients that have shown promising results in the treatment of Parkinson’s, sclerosis, epilepsy, chronic pain, and cancer.
The vote came almost two years after a World Health Organization (WHO) ruling that recognized the medical utility of cannabis and recommended its removal from List IV. At the same time, it proposed to keep cannabis in List I, where narcotics are under international control due to their addictive nature but accessible for medical activities, a situation in which other narcotics are found, such as morphine.
That recommendation – adopted now – was based on the WHO’s first critical study of cannabis, the world’s most popular drug with some 200 million users, according to UN estimates.
The WHO is responsible for scientifically assessing for the Commission both the possible therapeutic properties and the harm generated by drug addiction under international control and its recommendations are usually adopted without much controversy.
However, in this case, the vote was preceded by a huge debate and several postponements in the last two years due to the differences between those States in favor of change and those that demanded to maintain the ‘status quo’.
The EU countries -except Hungary- along with others such as Argentina, Canada, Colombia, the USA, Mexico, Uruguay, and Ecuador, among others, have supported following the scientific criteria of the WHO. Around 50 countries have launched different medical cannabis programs and this United Nations decision, predictably, will promote such policies as well as research with the plant.
Argentina already decided in November to legalize the self-cultivation of marijuana for medicinal use and will allow the sale of oils, creams, and other derivatives of the plant for therapeutic purposes, based on the WHO recommendation that has now been officially adopted.
Until now, medical research with cannabis was possible in a limited way, since the inclusion in List IV acted as a brake for many laboratories due to the restrictions and the different legal criteria applied in each country.
The states that voted against the change, led by Russia, China, Brazil, and Pakistan, consider that relaxing cannabis control now sends the wrong message at a time when some countries, such as Canada or Uruguay, have legalized marijuana by violating international deals. Those States against any change, among which were also Cuba and Venezuela, consider that this decision trivializes the use of cannabis and minimizes the damage to health that it produces, such as an increase in certain mental disorders.
The change comes when several countries such as Canada, Uruguay, and a dozen US states have legalized the use of marijuana, and others such as Mexico, Luxembourg, or Israel have ongoing legal initiatives along the same lines.