Following the much commented recent recommendations by the World Health Organization on the subject of cannabis, I wanted to break this down in a way for everyone to understand its meaning and impact. Here we go.

What happened?

On January 24th, the Director General of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom, wrote an official letter to UN Secretary-General Guterres recommending to remove cannabis from the list of ‘bad drugs’.

Specifically, WHO made recommendations for all cannabis and cannabis-related substances, cannabis, cannabis resin, extracts, preparations and tinctures to be removed from the Schedules of the Convention on Psychotropic Substances.

So what’s the deal?

We can broadly divide the recommendations into two: one for cannabis products below 0.2% THC, and another for products above 0.2% THC.

Cannabis, cannabis resin, extracts, preparations and tinctures, should be out of the controlled scope if the THC level is under 0.2%.

Cannabis, cannabis resin, extracts, preparations and tinctures, with a THC level above 0.2% should require a governmental authorization (licensing or state ownership) for commercial use and all users should need a medical prescription.

WHO has effectively changed their position on cannabis for the first time since the 1961 drug convention. Looking back, most experts agree its scheduling to be unfair. But WHO’s strong recommendations demonstrate conviction in its new position.

What does it mean?

These recommendations would substantially improve conditions for governments worldwide to provide access to medical cannabis legally and safely. It also paves the way for research, which has been hampered in the past.

The recommendations by WHO open the door to international actors to get involved in creating a more institutionalized approach to cannabis. For example, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) should be expected to provide countries with guidance, and monitor access and availability.

What now?  The bottom line

For all this to materialize beyond recommendations, 53 UN member countries have to now approve the recommendations to formally amend the Convention’s schedules. The vote was planned for March 2019, however, because the recommendations have been expected 2 months ago, it is quite possible the vote could be postponed until March of 2020.

The devil is in the details

For a more detailed account see the following articles:

Tedros Adhanom's letter to Secretary-General Guterres