The World Health Organization (WHO) committee, for the first time, will review changing its policies initiated in the 1960s criminalizing drugs and drug users. While it is now widely recognized that those policies have failed, what needs to take place to bring WHO policy up to date is the big move by the United Nations (UN) to remove cannabis from the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs: an international treaty to prohibit the production and supply of specific drugs.
The adjustment could go a long way toward clearing away international agreements that have been among the impediments to decriminalization of cannabis by the U.S. government. It would also put an end to the billions of dollars wasted each year on the U.S. government's continuing war on cannabis, which has persisted even as a growing number of states are legalizing cannabis.
In fact, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is set to quintuple the amount of cannabis that can legally be grown in the U.S. for research purposes—from roughly 1,000 pounds in 2018 to more than 5,400 pounds next year.
A change in UN policy would make it easier for the federal government to begin the process of legalizing cannabis.
Let's back up. Here in America, cannabis legislation is at the tipping point. Currently, 30 states and the District of Columbia have medical cannabis laws, and nine states plus D.C. have adult use laws. As many as four states will have ballot initiatives this fall. More than 60 percent of Americans are in favor of legal cannabis use.
A huge illicit cannabis industry already exists worldwide. Proponents of legalizing cannabis argue that legalization will change this industry to a non-criminal, controlled industry akin to the controlled alcohol and tobacco industries. Growth and sales of cannabis will thus contribute to the economy as a major new industry in the U.S. and around the world.
In the past month alone, three industry analysts have published bold predictions for the value of the cannabis industry, with widespread predictions ranging from $21 billion to $44 billion by 2020. They all have one common caveat: The federal government would first need to legalize cannabis. Even now, the exponential economic growth in states where cannabis is sold legally is substantial and compounding as more and more states begin doing business.
We need to stop spending billions of dollars a year fighting the cannabis war. Federal legalization would not only eliminate needless government spending but add billions in tax revenue to government coffers and add thousands of jobs from farming to retail sales.
To realize that dream, there are several obstacles for the industry to overcome amid the political banter including reclassification, states' rights and decriminalization. Currently, three treaties may be a more important first step to address at the federal level: the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (1961), the Convention on Psychotropic Substances (1971) and the Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (1988).
These treaties, which the United States, Canada, Mexico and most of Europe have signed, require these countries to establish criminal offenses for the production, cultivation, extraction, possession and sale of cannabis. The required criminal offenses carry harsh penalties that often lead to the imprisonment of individuals or groups that violate the terms of the treaties.
If the UN addresses cannabis legislation in these terms, this may be the very lynch pin in the United States for declassification of cannabis, removing it from its current status as a schedule I drug like heroin and LSD. In 1988, the UN held discussions on this topic which resulted in no significant changes. However, many things have changed since 1988, particularly in terms of cannabis, and not just in the United States: Canada, Portugal and Uruguay have all made history (and headlines) with legislative changes on a national level, all in violation of the UN Treaties.
So now in 2018, we have our chance to change these international treaties and begin to reform how countries enforce drug laws, which in turn will pave the way for the United States to consider change on a federal level. The only way for medical cannabis to be accepted nationally is with a well-regulated marketplace.
History teaches us that the more regulated an industry, the more voters and politicians will support the change to allow its legal and regulated commerce. Look at tobacco and alcohol. These are well-regulated industries that generate jobs and taxes for the country, whether we approve of them or not. We need to stand up to the anti-legalization lobby, namely the pharmaceutical and alcohol lobby. We cannot let politics get in the way of patients getting their medicine.