Tripping on the United Nations’ Commission of Narcotic Drugs

Gloria Indica

Hi! Welcome to the 27th edition of Gloria Indica. If you’re reading this for the first time, then welcome. This is our newsletter when we tend to focus a bit more on the business and technology narratives blazing across the world of ours today. Narratives that will have an impact on all of us in a few years, decisions made by people, for other people, to be used by people and ultimately enforced.

Let’s start blazing.

To Be Positive is a Virtue, To Be a Realist is Also

Many people are understandably happy, and are blazing, tripping away at the incoming news from the ‘historic cannabis vote at the United Nations‘. The reconvened 63rd session that hosted the Commission of Narcotic Drugs is composed of 53 members. Not many are tripping away on the details and repercussions of the vote in question. What exactly were the members voting on? And what will be the impact of the same, in a country like India? Lastly, how exactly did the Indian representative vote? Can this vote be used as a proxy to understand what the Ministry of Home Affairs is thinking? The Ministry has already constituted a committee convened by Professor G S Bajpai to reform the Narcotics Drugs and Substances Act, and it should likely include reforms involving cannabis. It must.

Since we’ve time on our hands, it is better if we were to first understand the scope of the vote and set the context for readers.

On 23rd July, 2018, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the current Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) wrote to the current Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN), António Guterres, saying that WHO had conducted a ‘critical review’ on CBD (cannabidiol) and a ‘pre-review’ on cannabis plant and resin; extracts and tinctures of cannabis; delta-9-THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and isomers of THC. On 24th January, 2019, the WHO submitted its recommendations to the Secretary-General. The recommendations numbered from 5.1 to 5.6 and its these 6 recommendations that were to be voted for or against, one by one by one by one by one by one, by the 53 member nations.

So how did the voting go? Here’s from Marijuana Business Daily.

  • Recommendation 5.1 to to remove cannabis and cannabis resin from Schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs passed with a majority of 27 votes for to 25 votes against
  • Recommendation 5.2 to move THC from the 1971 convention to the 1961 treaty failed to win the body’s approval, with 23 votes in favor, two abstentions and 28 votes against.”
  • “Recommendations 5.3 and 5.6 were tied to the approval of Recommendation 5.2. Because 5.2 was turned down, those two recommendations were rejected without a vote.”
  • “Recommendation 5.6 was about placing certain THC pharmaceutical preparations in Schedule III of the 1961 treaty.”
  • Recommendation 5.4 – a proposal to delete “extracts and tinctures of cannabis” from the 1961 treaty – was rejected with 24 votes in favor, two abstentions and 27 against. But according to the WHO’s explanation of the recommendation, it is simply meant to eliminate a duplicity and does not seek “to decrease the level of control of any cannabis-related substance or narrow the scope of control.”
  • Recommendation 5.5 was rejected with six votes in favor, four abstentions and 43 against. This recommendation represents a missed opportunity to clarify the confusing legal situation for CBD preparations with traces of THC. The proposal was drafted in an ambiguous way, and the WHO’s responses to member states’ questions about this recommendation over the past two years added confusion.

And how did India vote? As per sources, India said yes to 5.1 and no to 5.2, 5.4 and 5.6, exactly the same as the overall verdict.

What is going on? So the UN body is saying ‘ yes cannabis has therapeutic potential, but we’ll still control it from Schedule 1 which also includes a dangerous synthetic and legal drug called Fentanyl, while we’ll also make sure that we vote against anything to do with relaxing controls on THC and CBD-THC combinations because we know they’re a part of cannabis”.

To be clear, we need to wait for the WHO to complete its critical review of the other cannabinoids including THC, not to mention stay abreast of the scientists who’re discovering new uses for cannabinoids present in the cannabis plant for the human body. Our human body has biochemical cousins of the cannabis compounds (a fact all too easy to forget). For some reason, everyone is afraid of THC and its ability to make people high. But the question is about using it in the right way, not running away from them pretending as if THC and altered conscious states do not exist. Science and basic economics 101 already have all the answers that clearly trump the emotional hysteria-laden arguements with regards to THC.

This vote will not change anything because the public already knew cannabis has “therapeutic potential”, therefore a big thank you to the United Nations for reminding the ignorant people who had no clue. The most ideal situation will be one where the cannabis plant becomes a world wide cash crop just like a commodity. For India, this will not change anything at all. Our NDPS Act already makes provisions for cannabis to be used as a medicine. All we need to do is make it more detailed with some standard processes for the Excise Departments and the Narcotics Control Bureau to follow. More importantly, we need to develop research capabilities and learn to work with our own cannabis plants and not needlessly import.

The political process still does not show the urgency that medical cannabis deserves. Taking 2 years to vote on something like these basic recommendations? We mean, in this year of a global health crisis, and all we have to show for it is to ‘accept cannabis as a legitimate medicine’? Science is already way, way ahead of the political and legal system everywhere, all over the world. The Political system is way too slow for our liking. We’re already near 2021, and there are millions of people all over the world who need access to quality, affordable, natural medicines, one because they suffer from a disease “that’s not commercially lucrative enough for pharmaceutical companies’ to do anything about it, and two because existing medications are not good enough and end up causing other worse problems as side-effects.

As for India, this nation finds itself in a unique place. Here’s an opportunity to let open the floodgates and actually build a cannabis market from scratch for all the plant’s applications – medical, industrial and recreational. In our heads, its an opportunity to right many wrongs – a failed war on drugs (because the main objective of a ‘war on drugs’ is to reduce drug use, not increase it), a not so great healthcare system that leaves its people bereft of basic healthcare facilities, an outdated NDPS Act that lets people rotting in jails among many things. We should just let more and more private companies get access to cannabis in every state of the country for a start. Stop prosecuting people who want the plant for research, let them make what they want, prove its safe for public use and then let them reach market.

Therefore, yes we need to be positive.

On the other hand, the Politics up there at the world level is way too slow for our liking.

Let’s keep blazing. Have a great day 🙂

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