WHO slams brakes on cannabis reclassification as campaigners criticise “political” decision

Cannabis advocates and researchers have slammed a decision to delay the findings of a major two-year report into marijuana by the World Health Organization as “farcical” and “politically motivated”, kicking hopes of widespread decriminalisation into the long grass.

The WHO held a closed door meeting in November, and was due to report back to the United Nations on Friday, but a spokesman addressed the crowd and said the report would remain confidential and not be released until further research had been carried out, giving no set date of any further update.

Despite rescheduling some synthetic cannabinoids and the opioid painkiller Tramadol, the WHO said it needed more time to complete the evaluation process of its review of cannabis.

“In a word: farce,” said Peter Reynolds, president of CLEAR, the UK’s longest running drug policy reform group. “It’s ridiculous because cannabis is one of the most researched substances out there. All the evidence is there for them to make a decision, and to reschedule it into a much lower schedule or descheduled entirely. It must be political.”

Reynolds told Cannabis Law Report he would not be surprised to hear the conspiracy factory rumour mill go into overdrive as a result of the decision, as the decision makes “absolutely no sense”.

Earlier this year, the WHO Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) published its initial research which contained several positive, evidentiary findings.

The drug has never proved fatal, researchers said, and it is proven to help treat pain, and ease symptoms in terminal and other life-threatening illnesses, cancer remission, and Multiple Sclerosis.

The findings formed the basis of a wider critical review, which is the last step before a potential rescheduling of any narcotic, and campaigners riding a wave of optimism expected the WHO to come out in favour of reclassifying cannabis.

However, it will remain a Schedule 1 narcotic, alongside cocaine, heroin, and LSD. The committee said it needed more time “for clearance reasons,” according to the International Drug Policy Consortium, with rumours swirling at the venue the decision would be on ice until January at the earliest.

Cannabis has not been on the agenda at the WHO since 1954, when it initially triggered worldwide prohibition under the UN drug control Treaty framework.

Campaigners said in 60 years of the UN discussing drug policies it was the very first time that data, requested by the UN and countries, was left out of the special hearing, and almost three years after the review was first announced, it was “difficult to understand” further delays.

NGOs, cannabis policy reform advocates, industry representatives, patients, doctors and scientists travelled from every corner of the globe to witness the historical UN session, but were left visibly shaken by the outcome.

Representatives from think tank For Alternative Approaches to Addiction, Think & do (FAAAT) gave evidence to the panel at the WHO meeting, and were in attendance at the UN meeting in Vienna to hear the decision.

“We are terribly disappointed that yet again the World Health Organization has decided not to obey their own rules and guidelines”, said Kenzi Riboulet-Zemouli, head of research at FAAAT.

Michael Krawitz, senior advisor to FAAAT added the decision to withhold the results “appears to be politically motivated”.

“The WHO has been answering many questions about cannabis legalization, which is not within their mandate, I hope the WHO shows courage and stands behind their work on cannabis, findings we expect to be positive based upon recent WHO statements and their other actions today,” Krawitz said.

The decision to reclassify opioids was particularly galling for some campaigners, and Reynolds said, in the wake of the UK’s decision to allow specialist doctors to prescribe medicinal cannabis to sufferers from November 1.

“I’ve been working with medicinal cannabis since 1983 and there is no drug mentioned more to me which causes the most horrendous side effects than Tramadol,” he said. “It motivates people to look for alternatives such as cannabis for one.”

CLEAR has reported feedback from sufferers of disease that pain consultants remain unconvinced of the benefits of medicinal cannabis and remain reluctant to prescribe it.

“For anyone as well educated as doctors have to be, to have a view in comparing cannabis to the addictiveness levels in opioids is staggering, the ignorance is horrifying, frankly.”

He said the CLEAR would redouble its efforts in 2019 towards educating the UK’s medical profession.

“Doctors have been subject to the same propaganda as the rest of the public, predicated on this myth cannabis is highly dangerous and toxic,” he said. “It’s depressing there is so much ignorance and prejudice there is amongst the medical profession.”

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