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U.S. Plays Positive Role In Historic United Nations Cannabis Vote

This week could end up being a good one for cannabis. As 2020 comes to a close, a historic decision has been made by the United Nations to remove the plant from the most dangerous drug tier.

On Wednesday, the U.N. voted to reclassify cannabis and cannabis resin from the strictest Schedule IV classification to a Schedule I drug. The 53-member U.N. commission approved the change by a razor-thin margin of 27-25, with 1 abstention. The United States voted YES. Without that yes vote, it likely doesn’t pass.

The vote follows a recommendation by the World Health Organization and its expert committee on drug dependence, which recommended that “cannabis and cannabis resin” be removed from the Schedule IV list. Cannabis had been categorized as a Schedule IV drug by the U.N. since 1961, sitting alongside dangerous substances like heroin.

The WHO committee cited in its recommendation the benefits of using cannabis to reduce pain and nausea and ease the symptoms of medical conditions like anorexia, epilepsy, and multiple sclerosis. It also noted that cannabis is not associated with a significant risk of death — unlike opioids such as fentanyl.

The recommendation also stated, in part, that “the inclusion of cannabis and cannabis resin in Schedule IV is not consistent with the criteria for a drug to be placed in Schedule IV.”

While this move won’t fully remove cannabis from the list of dangerous drugs, it could help loosen the restrictions on medical research into the cannabis plant. With its decision, the U.N. is directly acknowledging the medical benefits of the plant, which could help bolster arguments for more research access across the globe.

The reclassification could also give weight to arguments for easing legal restrictions on cannabis and help bolster the push for streamlined regulations across the globe.

It doesn’t directly impact the legality of cannabis in the U.S., however. Each country is responsible for its own laws regarding cannabis, and officially, the United States still considers cannabis to be a dangerous substance with no medical benefits.

That may change in the near future, though. The U.S. House of Representatives is also expected to vote on a cannabis bill this week, and if it passes, it could change the way the federal government views cannabis. 

The bill is called The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act (MORE Act), and it would eliminate conflict between state and federal law and allow states to set their own marijuana policies. 

It would also pave the way for the federal government to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and require federal courts to expunge many prior marijuana offenses. 

This will be the first time the full House will vote on ending the federal prohibition of cannabis. If it passes the House, there could still be an uphill battle when the MORE Act reaches the Senate. 

Whether or not that happens remains to be seen. For now, we’ll take any changes where we can get them. The U.N.’s rescheduling of cannabis is a significant move, one that affirms what we already knew: cannabis is medicine and should be treated as such.

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