World Moves Closer to Cannabis Decriminalisation

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Cannabis leaf

Despite the lamentable outcome of the NZ cannabis legalisation referendum that saw the usually progressive nation vote in a slight majority against making the plant legal for recreational use, the ongoing international trend towards cannabis use becoming a legal practice continues.

On 2 December, the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) removed cannabis from schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, where it had been classed as one of the most dangerous drugs on the planet – with no redeeming medicinal features – along with heroin.

While on 4 December, the US House of Representatives voted to decriminalise cannabis at the federal level, which, if passed by the Senate, would have removed it from the schedule of controlled substances and permit it’s taxation and sale, as is already the case in many of the nation’s states.

Dismantling global prohibition

The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs forms the basis of modern transnational drug prohibition. Having cannabis removed from its fourth schedule means the plant is no longer classified as extremely addictive with no medical purposes.

While the plant still remains a controlled substance under schedule 1 of the international drug control treaty, the change means that it’s now formally recognised as having medicinal purposes and it could generate further research into the therapeutic potential of 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 regulation interpretations of their own,” said long-term cannabis activist Loren Paul Wiener.

“Though helpful, currently Canada has bypassed these guidelines since 2001,” he continued, adding that the move will have the effect that nations will no longer be able to hide behind the schedule IV rating as a reason to continue to prohibit the production and use of cannabis medicines.

A green new future

On the day of the US presidential election, the states of New Jersey, Arizona, Montana and South Dakota voted to legalise recreational cannabis use, bringing these jurisdictions into line with eleven other states and the capital territory, which have already made the adult use of the herb lawful.

Thirty six states in the US also currently permit the legal use of cannabis medicines.

Yet, this leaves a disconnect with US federal law, as it still prohibits both recreational and medicinal cannabis use.

And this is what the MORE Act 2019 seeks to resolve. It removes the popularly used plant from the list of controlled substances and places a 5 percent taxation upon it.

The House of Representatives voted in favour of the cannabis decriminalisation bill last Friday. But, as Wiener told Sydney Criminal Lawyers, the legislation will not be passed into law, as “the current Republican Senate will not look at it this session”.

Hailing from the United States, Wiener further sets out that a revised bill will now need to be voted through the lower house in early 2021, and then be sent to the Senate, which by that time might hold a Democratic majority, which would likely pass the bill.

And while president-elect Joe Biden and vice president-elect Kamala Harris have been no friends to cannabis reform in the past, commentators point out that their position has changed, and they now support federal decriminalisation and allowing states to make their own decisions on adult use.

As Wiener tells it, not only would this have an impact upon the perception of the plant over here – where it’s already legal to recreationally use and personally possess it in the ACT – it would also have implications as the US market would open to exports, and this country imports medicinal products.

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Paul Gregoire

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He's the winner of the 2021 NSW Council for Civil Liberties Award For Excellence In Civil Liberties Journalism. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Paul wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.

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