UN body preparing for December vote on WHO cannabis recommendations despite coronavirus

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United Nations; cannabis scheduling, UN body preparing for December vote on WHO cannabis recommendations despite coronavirus

A document prepared by the chair of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) has laid out a course to keep on track for December’s key vote on the World Health Organization’s cannabis scheduling recommendations.

This is positive news for industry stakeholders concerned about a possible delay stemming from the coronavirus crisis.

While the likely outcome of the vote is not yet known, it could have far-reaching implications for the global cannabis industry.

One recommendation, for instance, would recognize the medical value and a lesser potential for harm of cannabis at a U.N. level – making it easier for member countries to adopt medical cannabis programs.

Another recommendation would ease restrictions on CBD products.

Marijuana Business Daily obtained the letter, which was being circulated among CND-member nations earlier in May.

It is an updated version of a document shared at the end of April, taking into consideration comments and requests made by member countries.

The document details the next steps ahead of the vote.

The plan consists for the most part of a series of “topical meetings” to be held behind closed doors and one preparatory gathering known as an “intersessional” meeting, which nongovernmental organizations and the media may attend.

The document notes in its introductory paragraph that, last March, “the Commission … decided to vote at its reconvened sixty-third session in December 2020, in order to preserve the integrity of the international scheduling system.”

The new document also proposes holding virtual meetings if travel restrictions are not eased because of the COVID-19 crisis.


At the March meeting, several member nations argued they were unprepared to vote because of unresolved issues stemming from the WHO recommendations.

For that reason, the CND proposed three “topical meetings” between June and September with the goal of addressing “the open questions with regard to the implications and consequences of, as well as the reasoning for the recommendations, and enable an informed decision at the 63rd reconvened session in December 2020.”

Previous meetings in June and September 2019 were held to clarify “medical and scientific questions” with the WHO.

According to the letter currently being circulated among CND members, the new meetings would instead focus “on the exchange of views among member states regarding, implications arising from economic, social, legal, administrative and other factors and the ways of addressing them if any of these recommendations are adopted.”

“If technically possible,” the topical meetings will be recorded, according to the document, but will only be “made available on the secure website for member states, for reference purposes.”

Martin Jelsma, drugs and democracy program director at the Netherlands-based Transnational Institute, told MJBizDaily he is positive the three topical meetings will be held before October.

The WHO’s Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) – which drafted the recommendations on cannabis scheduling – is scheduled to meet in October, “which means that with the current CND plan, there’s a chance to discuss the outcome of the informal intergovernmental debate at the ECDD meeting,” Jelsma noted.

According to Jelsma, this is important because “if they see a legitimate reason to do so,” ECDD members could, “without infringing on their own mandate, still consider making some changes to the recommendations to address substantiated social, legal and procedural concerns from member states and present an adapted package in time for the December vote that could have a better chance of adoption.”


Participation in the topical meetings would be limited to all U.N. member states.

According to the document, “the participation of subject-matter experts is highly desirable for a focused and rich discussion,” and it encourages that the delegations of countries include “experts with substantive knowledge on economic, social, legal and administrative matters to allow for in-depth discussions.”

The WHO would be represented in the meetings “in case any medical or scientific question arises.”

The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) would also attend, as would other intergovernmental organizations if they have a mandate that is relevant for specific recommendations.

But the document notes that the focus of the meetings should be the “exchange of views among member states’ experts”

While the three topical meetings would be exclusive for U.N.-member countries and intergovernmental organizations, the intersessional meeting of September would “be open to all interested stakeholders, including (accredited) intergovernmental organizations and nongovernmental organizations.”

Also during the September intersessional meeting, member countries “will have the opportunity to recapitulate relevant arguments and sum up their positions and, in addition, other stakeholders may share their views.”

European position

In early 2020, the European Union showed no signs of supporting a WHO recommendation that would clarify that preparations containing predominantly CBD and less than 0.2% THC are not under international control.

But earlier this month, the advocate general of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) issued an opinion that CBD should benefit from free movement in the EU because it’s not a narcotic drug.

If the CND finally votes on the WHO recommendations in December, EU member nations – which represent almost a quarter of the total votes within the CND – will need to have a position about the CBD-specific recommendation.

“If the CJEU decision (expected in September) recognizes CBD isn’t a narcotic, it would be coherent that EU-member states support the corresponding WHO recommendation,” Andres Lopez, former head of the Colombian National Narcotics Fund, told MJBizDaily.

Alfredo Pascual can be reached at alfredop@mjbizdaily.com