UN decides cannabis not a dangerous narcotic, India too votes to reclassify

Cannabis not a dangerous narcotic

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Cannabis not a dangerous narcotic

In News:

  • The UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) recently voted to remove cannabis and cannabis resin from the list of most dangerous substances – the Schedule IV of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961.


  • Until now, Cannabis was under Schedule IV of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961, where it was listed alongside dangerous and highly addictive drugs like heroin.
  • For 59 years, cannabis had been subject to the strictest control schedules, which even discouraged its use for medical purposes.
  • In January 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) made various recommendations related to the scheduling of cannabis in UN treaties, including the deletion of cannabis and cannabis resin from Schedule IV of the Convention.
  • The proposals were to be placed before the CND’s session in 2019, but members voted to postpone the vote, requesting more time.

News Summary:

  • The WHO’s 2019 proposal on removing cannabis from Schedule IV of the Single Convention was taken up at the December, 2020, session of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND).
  • At the session, the CND voted to remove cannabis and cannabis resin from the list of most dangerous substances in the Single Convention on narcotic drugs.
    • 27 of the CND’s 53 Member States, including India, the United States and most European nations, voted in favour to delete cannabis and cannabis resin from Schedule IV of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961.
    • Twenty-five countries, including China, Pakistan, and Russia, voted against the motion, and there was one abstention.
  • Now, both cannabis and cannabis resin will be under Schedule-I of the Convention, which includes the least dangerous category of substances.

Impact of rescheduling cannabis:

  • The reclassification of cannabis by the UN agency, although significant, would not immediately change its status worldwide as long as individual countries continue with existing regulations.
  • However, the latest change could impact thinking on cannabis and laws on it, as many nations look at global conventions for guidance, while developing laws.
  • Thus, the decision could boost additional scientific research into the plant’s medicinal properties and act as catalyst for countries to legalize the drug for medicinal use, and reconsider laws on its recreational use. 

Status of Cannabis across the world:

  • As per WHO, cannabis is by far the most widely cultivated and trafficked illicit drug in the world.
  • Global attitudes towards cannabis have changed significantly since the commencement of the 1961 Convention. Many jurisdictions now permit cannabis use for recreation, medication or both.
  • Currently, over 50 countries allow medicinal cannabis programmes, and its recreational use has been legalised in Canada, Uruguay and 15 US states.

Status of cannabis in India:

  • Under India’s Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, 1985, the production, manufacture, possession, sale, purchase, transport, and use of cannabis is a punishable offence.
  • Charas, defined as the separated resin in any form, obtained from the cannabis plant, is also covered by the NDPS Act.

About: Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances

  • narcotic drug is an addictive drug that reduces pain, induces sleep and may alter mood or behaviour.
  • psychotropic drug is a chemical substance that changes brain function and results in changes in perception, mood, consciousness or behaviour.
  • Some categories of narcotic and psychoactive drugs, which have therapeutic value, are prescribed by physicians and other healthcare practitioners.
  • These substances are also used illegally (without medical prescription) to improve performance or change one’s consciousness.

About: The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961

  • The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961 is an international treaty to prohibit production and supply of specific drugs. The Convention has 186 state parties.
  • Before the convention, there were some treaties that had only controlled opium, coca, and derivatives such as morphine, heroin and cocaine.
  • The Single Convention, adopted in 1961, consolidated those treaties and broadened their scope to include drugs whose effects are similar to the drugs specified.
  • The UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) and the World Health Organization (WHO) were empowered to add, remove, and transfer drugs among the treaty’s four schedules of controlled substances.
  • The International Narcotics Control Board was put in charge of administering controls on drug production, international trade, and dispensation.
  • The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) was delegated the Board’s day-to-day work of monitoring the situation in each country and working with national authorities to ensure compliance with the Single Convention.

About: The United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND)

  • The United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) was established by the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) as one of its functional commissions in 1946. It is headquartered in Vienna.
  • It is the central drug policy-making body within the United Nations system and has important functions under the international drug control conventions.
  • The CND reviews and analyzes the global drug situation, considering the interrelated issues of prevention of drug abuse, rehabilitation of drug users and supply and trafficking in illicit drugs.
  • It assists ECOSOC in supervising the application of the international drug control treaties.
  • It also advises the ECOSOC on all matters related to the control of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances.
  • The CND meets annually when it considers and adopts a range of decisions and resolutions.

Membership of CND:

  • The CND consists of 53 states, serving four-year terms, with the following distribution of seats among regions:
    1. Eleven for African states.
    2. Eleven for Asian states.
    3. Ten for Latin American and Caribbean states.
    4. Six for Eastern European states.
    5. Fourteen for Western European and other states.
    6. One seat to rotate between the Asian, and the Latin American and Caribbean states every four years.
  • The members are elected from the members of the United Nations and members of the specialized agencies and the Parties to the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961.

Also Read: Understanding the NDPS Act

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