United Nations Removes Cannabis from Schedule IV Category

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United Nations hold historic vote announcing cannabis's Schedule IV removal from the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotics.

On December 2, 2020, the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) panel pushed forward on an historic vote recognizing the medicinal value of cannabis. Following a recommendation from World Health Organization (WHO) experts, the United Nations (UN) cast their votes, 27 to 25, just narrowly winning their appeal to remove cannabis from Schedule IV status of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotics (1). Against the change was Russia who was followed after by China, Pakistan, and Nigeria. The United States and United Kingdom were among many other countries who supported the descheduling.

Cannabis had been added to the Schedule IV category because it had been previously judged as having little medical benefit. This classification includes heroin, along with many other potent substances. With the new update, member nations are still not in the clear to legalize the plant due to its current status as Schedule I of the international drug control system (2). Advocates believe that the international community is changing their views on cannabis policy to accept the medicinal values cannabis brings, which may lead to further research into its therapeutic capabilities.

The recent UN accord will continue to put wheels in motion for many countries trying to increase access to cannabis-based medicines and inspire new scientific research into the plant’s long-known medical properties (1). Cannabis’ use in medicine can be traced back thousands of years (3); it has been found among a Chinese list of medicines in the 15thcentury BC, as well as in ancient Egypt and ancient Greece. It is feasible that the December ruling could serve as a catalyst for more countries to look at legalizing cannabis for medicinal use. Often those types of legislation lead to the reconsideration of recreational cannabis use.


Presently, there are more than 50 countries worldwide who have adopted medicinal cannabis programs. Several countries, such as Canada and Uruguay, have already legalized recreational use. Growing in popularity in the United States, there are now currently 15 states approving recreational use following their November elections and 33 states that allow for medical use of cannabis.

There are many advocates who say that the drug’s recognition as a form of medicine is long overdue. “The original decision [in 1961] to prohibit cannabis lacked scientific basis and was rooted in colonial prejudice and racism,” said Anna Fordham, executive director of the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) (1). “It disregarded the rights and traditions of communities that have been growing and using cannabis for medicinal, therapeutic, religious and cultural purposes for centuries, and has led to millions being criminalized and incarcerated across the globe.”

In an interview with MJBizDaily, independent researcher Kenzi Riboulet-Zemouli of CND Monitor stated (4), “While the move doesn’t totally free the plant from treaty control, it’s a giant step toward the normalization of cannabis in medicine above all but also in our societies generally.”

Although cannabis has been approved to be removed from the Schedule IV category and its medicinal purposes have been acknowledged, non-medical cannabis is still included in the most restrictive category (Schedule I), which includes drugs labeled the riskiest, such as cocaine and fentanyl. The UN historic vote will pave the way for further medical advancements and bring hope for the future by eventually removing cannabis from its Schedule I label.