Helius welcomes World Health Organization call for cannabis to be reclassified

A World Health Organisation report to the United Nations on the classification of cannabis could help boost exports, says New Zealand’s largest licenced medicinal cannabis company, Helius Therapeutics.

Member states of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) has received the World Health Organization Expert Committee on Drug Dependence’s (ECDD) cannabis recommendations. The global health experts have called for cannabis and its key components be formally rescheduled under international drug treaties.

“Cannabis has long been wrongly categorised by the United Nations, lumping it with some of the worst drugs in the world for decades. Changing its UN classification will make international controls and conventions around cannabis less restrictive, ultimately creating a more open global market, driving more research and greater medicinal access,” says Paul Manning, Executive Director of Helius Therapeutics.

Mr Manning's comments follow international media reports that member states of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs have now received the WHO Expert Committee on Drug Dependence’s cannabis recommendations.

One key recommendation of the report is for cannabis to be removed from the United Nation’s Schedule Four - the most restrictive drug category in place since 1961. The report also recommends that controls on THC medicines are relaxed.

WHO is also moving to make clear that cannabidiol and CBD-focused preparations containing no more than 0.2% THC are "not under international control" at all. It had previously been the case that CBD wasn't scheduled under the international conventions, but the new recommendation is to make that even more clear.

The committee also noted, “CBD is found in cannabis and cannabis resin but does not have psychoactive properties and has no potential for abuse and no potential to produce dependence. It does not have significant ill-effects. Cannabidiol has been shown to be effective in the management of certain treatment-resistant, childhood-onset epilepsy disorders."

Although necessary, drug control regulations, if overly restrictive, can hamper access to controlled medicines, like cannabis, for therapeutic use. A balance must therefore be struck between medical and regulatory requirements.

“It’s expected that United Nation member states probably won’t get to formally consider this change of classification until 2020, by which time New Zealand will have its own medical cannabis scheme in place, and Helius will be manufacturing medicinal cannabis products for both local and international markets.

“We can't wait to help the thousands of Kiwi patients who have been advocating for legal access to quality cannabis products for therapeutic reasons for years. With the passing of the Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Act late last year, legal access will soon be a reality".

“With the WHO now recommending a downgrade of the UN's international classification of cannabis, there are set to be even more opportunities for a certified ‘New Zealand Grown’ medicinal cannabis company like ours.

The global medicinal cannabis market is expected to reach $55b by 2025.

While the immediate, practical effects of the WHO's recommendations would be somewhat limited – in that they wouldn't allow countries to legalise cannabis and still be in strict compliance with international treaties – but their political implications are hard to overstate.

Taken together, the recommendations, if adopted, would represent a formal recognition that the world's governing bodies have effectively been wrong about cannabis' harms and therapeutic benefits for decades. WHO's new position comes at a time when a growing number of countries are moving to reform their cannabis policies. As such, a shift at the UN could embolden additional nations to scale back or repeal their prohibition laws – even though legalisation for non-medical or non-scientific reasons would still technically violate the global conventions.

Commenting in Forbes, Michael Krawitz, a U.S. Air Force veteran and legalisation advocate, said “The placement of cannabis in the 1961 treaty, in the absence of scientific evidence, was a terrible injustice. Today the World Health Organization has gone a long way towards setting the record straight".

"It is time for us all to support the World Health Organization’s recommendations and ensure politics don't trump science."

You can read the full report on WHO's recommendations here.

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