• Laura M Johnston

It is Time to Remove Cannabis from Schedule One

Updated: Apr 3, 2020


Given the developments in the global cannabis industry over the last two decades, it amazes me that cannabis is still classified by the United Nations (UN) as a Schedule 1 Narcotic. Schedule 1 lists dangerous drugs deemed to pose the most serious risk to public health, including synthetic hallucinogens such as LSD and natural ones like DMT. The most controversial drug in this category has always been cannabis.


UN conventions articulate international law and protocol. A Schedule 1 drug classification limits international trade to medical and scientific purposes only. This continues to stigmatize cannabis, prevents trade in recreational products, and ultimately ensures a thriving global black market. It also hinders developing economies in Africa and elsewhere to diversify and transition from traditional crops like tobacco to lucrative opportunities in the cannabis industry.


The protocol for the international control of narcotics was set by three UN Conventions, the most recent being the United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances of 1988. All three conventions classify controlled drug substances into four schedules, ranging from Schedule I (the most restrictive) to Schedule IV (the least restrictive). Canada is a signatory to the three UN conventions and, as with other signatories, exports cannabis for medical and research purposes only.


Ironically, Canada was one of the first countries to make cannabis illegal in 1923. The Act to Prohibit the Improper Use of Opium and other Drugs was passed to consolidate proscribed drug legislation. Previous to this, drugs on the prohibited schedule were opium, morphine, cocaine, and eucaine (a cocaine derivative). The 1923 bill added heroin, codeine and cannabis to this schedule. Codeine was removed from the list in 1925 when doctors and pharmaceutical companies successfully lobbied to have it decriminalized.


There is no record of parliamentary debate on cannabis when this law was passed. The move appears to be a political back-room decision that was never the subject of serious public debate. Presumably, had been a similar lobby for cannabis as there was for codeine back in the day, cannabis, too, would have been decriminalized.


Why was cannabis classified a Schedule 1 drug in the first place? In spite of lots of theories and speculation, there is little published information on justifiable cause.


Countries across the world are relaxing their stance against cannabis for many good economic, social, and medical reasons. It is time that UN member states take the initiative. We all stand to benefit from a liberalization cannabis laws in international trade.


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