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New Zealand Organisations Represented At UN Meeting On Medicinal Cannabis Law Reform

The medical cannabis industry could be in for one of its biggest wins in decades if a United Nations vote tomorrow implicitly acknowledges the medical value of the drug.

New Zealand medical cannabis patient groups and the industry association this week joined nearly 200 organisations from 53 countries to present a statement at the United Nations supporting change in the status of cannabis as a narcotic.

During its 63rd session on Wednesday (2 December 2020), the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (UNCND) could – with a simple majority vote in a virtual meeting based in Vienna – accept a World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendation to remove cannabis and cannabis resin from Schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. The proposal in question – Recommendation 5.1 – is among six WHO cannabis-related recommendations on the agenda and believed to be the one with the highest likelihood of approval. It’s also arguably the most significant recommendation for patients and the industry as a whole.

The process of evaluating the six WHO cannabis recommendations could come to a conclusion next week – almost two years after they were first unveiled.

The statement supported by the New Zealand Medical Cannabis Council (NZMCC) is translated into six official languages and included in the agenda papers for the 63rd session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs taking place in Vienna this week.

Following the 41st meeting of the WHO Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD), WHO recommended in 2019, the rescheduling of cannabis and several cannabis-related substances. The UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (UNCND) decided during its 62nd session in March 2019 to postpone the voting on the recommendations to provide Member States with more time. During its 63rd session, the Commission again decided to continue considerations of the recommendations and to vote during the 63rd reconvened session in December 2020.

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NZMCC chair Manu Caddie attended the 61st session of UNCND in Vienna in December 2018 hoping to see cannabis de-scheduled and two years later is optimistic it could happen this time.

“While the drug dependence experts from WHO have made clear recommendations based on the overwhelming scientific evidence, this is a political decision for member states and the decision could be delayed again” said Mr Caddie.

“The meeting I attended got bogged down in name-calling between the USA, Syria and Iran instead of focusing on the issues of the agenda. Canada had just legalised and was being chastised by Russia and China who insist on cannabis being treated the same as heroin and synthetic opioids like fentanyl, which is crazy” said Mr Caddie.

“The ‘war on drugs’ is a convenient excuse for regimes around the world to repress populations and communities – we see that most vividly in places like The Philippines and Malaysia where anyone caught with cannabis risks state-sanctioned execution.”

Despite opposition expected from many countries, some UN members have expressed support, including the USA, European Union and Australia while others are changing their position, yesterday South Korea expressed support for change.

Excerpts from the joint statement say:

“Cannabis was entered into the treaty system based upon misinformation and an absence of a rigorous scientific assessment and now that we have had a critical review of cannabis [via the WHO expert committee] the system has now been made aware of the vast medical value and minimal risk of this age-old medicine; this truth compels action.”

“Cannabis remains “indispensable for the relief of pain and suffering and adequate provision must be made to ensure the availability of narcotic drugs for such purposes” just as the Single Convention described back in 1961.”

“Perhaps the greatest tragedy is that those countries most firmly opposed to WHO recommendations are undergoing ‘opioid overdose crises’ that research into the cannabinoid-opioid interaction could help. Ironically, the countries that oppose the evidence-based outcome of WHO have shortages in medications to treat some of the very conditions cannabis has been proven useful for.”

The NZ Medical Cannabis Council is the industry association with over 30 companies involved in different parts of the rapidly developing sector.

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