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

The decision taken by the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) on Wednesday at its ongoing 63rd session will lead to changes in the way cannabis is regulated internationally.

Written by Om Marathe | New Delhi |
Updated: December 6, 2020 8:24:18 am
The districts of Namsai, Lohit, Dibang Valley, Upper Siang, Anjaw, Changlang, Tirap and West Kameng are said to be among the 272 worst drug-abuse affected districts in the country and there are reports of government employees addicted to drugs in the state. (Representational photo: AP)

India has voted with the majority at the United Nations to remove cannabis and cannabis resin from the list of most dangerous substances in the flagship international Convention on narcotic drugs.

The decision taken by the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) on Wednesday at its ongoing 63rd session will lead to changes in the way cannabis is regulated internationally.

“The CND zeroed-in on the decision to remove cannabis from Schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs — where it was listed alongside deadly, addictive opioids, including heroin,” the UN said in a news release on December 2.

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For 59 years, cannabis had been subject to the strictest control schedules, which even discouraged its use for medical purposes, the UN said.

Twenty-seven of the CND’s 53 Member States — including India, the United States and most European nations — voted “Yes” on the motion to delete cannabis and cannabis resin from Schedule IV of the 1961 Convention.

Twenty-five countries, including China, Pakistan, and Russia, voted “No”, and there was one abstention – Ukraine. The session is being chaired by Mansoor Ahmad Khan, Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan.

“With (this) historic vote”, the UN said, “the CND has opened the door to recognizing the medicinal and therapeutic potential of the commonly-used but still largely illegal recreational drug”.

Explained: UN removes cannabis from ‘most dangerous drug’ category, what this means

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 whatever form, whether crude or purified, obtained from the cannabis plant”, is also covered by the NDPS Act.

The Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) has charged actor Rhea Chakraborty, her brother Showik, and several others in a case related to the illegal use and supply of narcotics in the Mumbai film industry.

Explained| The anatomy of the cannabis plant: what is illegal under NDPS Act, what is not?

Showik was released on bail on Wednesday after three months; Rhea spent a month in jail before getting bail in October. Over 20 persons have been arrested in the case.

Back in January 2019, the World Health Organisation (WHO) made six recommendations related to the scheduling of cannabis in UN treaties, including the deletion of cannabis and cannabis resin from Schedule IV of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961.

The proposals were to be placed before the CND’s session in March that year, but members voted to postpone the vote, requesting more time. The proposals were then taken up at the ongoing session of the CND. Both cannabis and cannabis resin will continue to remain on Schedule I, which includes the least dangerous category of substances.

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. Still, Wednesday’s vote could impact this process, as many nations follow the lead of international protocols while legislating.

The WHO says that cannabis is by far the most widely cultivated, trafficked and abused illicit drug in the world. The Vienna-based CND, founded in 1946, is the UN agency mandated to decide on the scope of control of substances by placing them in the schedules of global drug control conventions.

Global attitudes towards cannabis have changed dramatically since the commencement of the 1961 Convention, with many jurisdictions permitting 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, the UN said.


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