What’s the biggest impediment to worldwide reform on marijuana policy? If you guessed “the Controlled Substances Act,” the law passed by the United States Congress that deems cannabis a highly addictive substance with no medical value, you’d be wrong.
Before Richard Nixon used reefer madness as a political tool to marginalize his sworn enemies—i.e., black people and the left—the U.S. signed onto an international treaty called the “UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.”
A total of 185 countries have signed onto the treaty, which lists cannabis, along with heroin, cocaine and a host of opiates, as a Schedule 1 narcotic years before the U.S. federal government did the same.
A dose of irony can be found in the fact that the treaty was ratified by the U.S. during the administration of John F. Kennedy, who took a wide-ranging cocktail of drugs for a host of ailments including pain and irritable bowel syndrome — both of which are relieved by medicinal cannabis.
Because of this document, nearly every country on earth agrees (at least officially) that marijuana is a bad, bad thing.
In the decades since, the U.N. treaty has been a useful weapon in the war on drugs, serving as an excuse to stymie drug policy reform—such as when the George W. Bush administration successfully bullied Canada’s Liberal government into abandoning a cannabis decriminalization effort in 2003.
Meanwhile, as medical marijuana has become available in more than half of America — with recreational marijuana available or soon to be available in 65 million people in eight states — the U.S. has made a total mockery of the treaty.
That could be why, as Canada’s federal government licensed medical marijuana producers and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s current Liberal government slowly but surely lays the groundwork to legalize cannabis in that country, the U.S., including President-elect Donald Trump’s crew, has made barely a peep.
On every level, things are ripe for a change—and a World Health Organization committee is making the first moves towards changing cannabis’s status internationally.
The reform advocates at Americans for Safe Access first took note that the WHO’s Expert Committee on Drug Dependence, an influential group of international policy-makers, want to “pre-review” marijuana’s classification and possibly recommend an examination that will lead to change.
ASA’s Steph Sherer said this will all happen within the next 18 months.
“The committee staff will consider new information related to the cannabis plant, resin, extracts and tinctures,” Sherer said. “Staff will also consider the emerging science related to THC and CBD.”
That’s a glacial pace compared to the speed at which cannabis reform is happening in the U.S. and elsewhere—including Israel, which is making plans to export medical marijuana within a few calendar years. But that’s how the process works.
In order for the UN General Assembly to amend the treaty on narcotic drugs, it needs a recommendation from the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs. That commission, in turn, listens to the expert committee, which is just beginning to prepare to look at the issue.
And you thought the DMV was an intransigent bureaucracy.
Most experts are beyond bullish on further cannabis reform, and with the momentum from November’s near-sweep of marijuana reform initiatives — successful even in red states — some guess that marijuana will be legal across the U.S. within a decade.
Will the U.N. catch up by then? It’d be nice, but it might not matter. Still, better late than never.
TELL US, do you think the UN should dissolve or amend the Single Convention on Narcotics?