VIENNA–December 2nd, 2020–A United Nations commission has finally decided that medicinal cannabis is less dangerous than risky narcotics such as heroin. The long-delayed decision paves the way for further research and strengthens legalization efforts.
The Vienna-based Commission for Narcotic Drugs voted to remove marijuana for medical use from a category that includes many of the world’s most dangerous drugs, including highly addictive opioids.
The long-delayed decision reclassifies cannabis and its derivatives and it clears the way for further investigation of marijuana’s medical and research capabilities. The development is a symbolic win for marijuana advocates who argue that many countries’ policies around the drug are out of date.
Cannabis consultant Jessica Steinberg told the New York Times that while the legal marijuana market in Europe and the US is driving legalization policy, Wednesday’s UN vote could have its most lasting effect on countries in Asia and the Caribbean.
“Something like this does not mean that legalization is just going to happen around the world, [but] it could be a watershed moment,” she said.
The vote by the Commission for Narcotic Drugs, which is based in Vienna and includes 53 member states, considered a series of recommendations from the World Health Organization on reclassifying cannabis and its derivatives.
But attention centered on a key recommendation to remove cannabis from Schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs — where it was listed alongside dangerous and highly addictive opioids like heroin.
Experts say that the vote will have no immediate impact on loosening international controls because governments will still have jurisdiction over how to classify cannabis. But many countries look to global conventions for guidance, and United Nations recognition is a symbolic win for advocates of drug policy change who say that international law is out of date.
“This is a huge, historic victory for us, we couldn’t hope for more,” Kenzi Riboulet-Zemouli, an independent researcher for drug policy who has closely monitored the vote and the position of member states told The New York Times. He said that cannabis had been used throughout history for medicinal purposes and that the decision on Wednesday reinstated that status.
As the world focuses on marijuana, not just the consumption but the repeal of laws that make possession and consumption illegal, the Caribbean has a a variety of laws in place.
Antigua and Barbuda
In 2018, the Antigua and Barbuda lower house of parliament passed the Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill that decriminalizes the possession of up to 10 grams of cannabis.
Jamaica has legalized medical marijuana and created a new licensing system governed by the Cannabis Licensing Authority to allow farmers to legally grow cannabis for medical, scientific or therapeutic purposes.
In 2016, Cayman Island Governor Helen Kilpatrick approved a bill that amends the Misuse of Drugs Bill 2016 allowing cannabis oil to be imported and sold for medicinal purposes. This step by the government legalized the medical use of ganja in the form of an oil or tinctures to treat cancer, epilepsy, or as a pain reliever for osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, among a list of other conditions.
The amended Misuse of Drugs Act passed in 2016 decriminalizes possession and use of small amounts of marijuana. Adults can have up to 10 grams of marijuana in their possession and smoke it on their own premises or somebody else’s private premises, once the owner gives permission.
British Virgin Islands
In 2020 the BVI decided to approve medical cannabis, but rejected legalization for adults, and heavy penalties remain in place. Whether the new UN ruling will influence policy in the BVI remains to be seen. As a British Overseas Territory, like the Cayman Islands, the decision may not be entirely a local one.
Prime Minister Timothy Harris of St. Kitts and Nevis established a National Marijuana Commission in 2016 to research the various implications involved in decriminalizing the plant and in 2019, after a court decision that struck down the existing prohibition, cannabis use was made legal for members of the Rastafarian religion and for personal use in small amounts.