CND Re-Classifies Cannabis

On December 2, 2020, the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (“CND”) accepted a World Health Organization Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (“ECDD”) recommendation to remove “cannabis” and “cannabis resin” from Schedule IV, the heaviest control regime in the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961 as amended by the 1972 Protocol (the “Single Convention”) (“Recommendation 5.1”).

The CND’s approval of Recommendation 5.1 was the first international action taken to adjust the classification of cannabis in an international treaty. This historic vote will have far-reaching implications in the global medical cannabis industry, including with respect to international trade.

Prior to the recent approval of Recommendation 5.1, when cannabis and cannabis resin remained listed under Schedule IV, their possession, use and distribution were prohibited, and Parties were directed to adopt “any special measures for control” that they deemed necessary, having regard for the “particularly dangerous nature” of the drugs at issue. These restrictions no longer apply to cannabis and cannabis resin under the terms of the Single Convention.

“Cannabis”, “cannabis resin” and “extracts and tinctures of cannabis” remain listed in Schedule I, though debate persists at the international level over whether cannabis even meets the less restrictive Schedule I criteria.

Within this trade framework, even with the new classification of cannabis and cannabis resin under Schedule I, exports of cannabis products from Canada are restricted on the basis of both volume and intended use (for instance, scientific research or medical treatment).

In a letter dated January 24, 2019, the ECDD submitted recommendations to the UN Secretary-General regarding proposed changes to the Schedules in the Single Convention (the “Recommendations”). The ECDD made a number of recommendations with regard to cannabis and cannabis-related substances’ classification, all of which support the notion that cannabis is not properly classified in the same categories as other dangerous and addictive narcotics.

The ECDD also recommended that pure CBD should not be scheduled at all under the Single Convention, instead proposing a footnote be added to the entry for “cannabis” and “cannabis resin” in Schedule I to read: “Preparations containing predominantly cannabidiol and not more than 0.2 percent of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol are not under international control” (“Recommendation 5.5”). Recommendation 5.5 was rejected on December 2, 2020.

See our related blog post describing the ECDD Recommendations here.

The McCarthy Tétrault Cannabis Law Group is always up to date on changes to the legislation and can assist clients successfully navigate the evolving demands of the high-growth cannabis market in Canada and internationally.

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