A historic vote at the United Nations (UN) has recognised the medicinal value of cannabis and removed it from a list of dangerous drugs which are placed under the strictest controls.
The drug was previously listed on Schedule IV of the UN Commision on Narcotic Drugs’ list, which features other dangerous and tightly controlled substances, including heroin, fentanyl analogues and other opioids.
The vote to downgrade the drug follows the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommendation last year to make it easier to conduct research into cannabis’s medicinal uses.
Still banned for non-medical use
The news of the downgrade does not necessarily pave the way for worldwide legalisation of the drug. Despite the UN now recognising the drug as a medicine, marijuana remains banned for non-medical use.
Cannabis will still remain on Schedule I of the convention, which means it will continue to require the highest levels of international control.
The vote will leave marijuana and cannabis resin on the list of Schedule I drugs, which also includes cocaine, fentanyl, OxyContin and morphine
The vote, which took place on Wednesday 2 November was close, with 27 of the Vienna based commission’s member states - including the US and European countries - in support of downgrading the drug.
Among the 25 countries who voted against the move were China, Russia, Pakistan, Nigeria and Egypt.
Anna Fordham, executive director of the International Drug Policy Consortium, said, “The original decision [in 1961] to prohibit cannabis lacked scientific basis and was rooted in colonial prejudice and racism.
“It disregarded the rights and traditions of communities that have been growing and using cannabis for medicinal, therapeutic, religious and cultural purposes for centuries, and has led to millions being criminalised and incarcerated across the globe."
Growth of legalisation worldwide
Canada, Uruguay and 15 US states have legalised recreational cannabis use, and more than 50 countries around the world have adopted medicinal cannabis programmes.
Meanwhile many countries have decriminalised marijuana possession.
Cannabis remains illegal to possess, grow, distribute, sell or grow in the UK. Being caught with the drug comes with a maximum of five years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both.
Being convicted of producing and supplying the Class B drug can carry a penalty of up to 14 years behind bars, an unlimited fine, or both.