A United Nations Commission for Narcotic Drugs has reclassified cannabis as a less dangerous drug—approving it for further therapeutic use of the drug internationally in the 27-25 vote.
The approval was based on 2019 recommendations by the World Health Organization (WHO), which provides technical expertise on drugs to the UN.
The decision removes cannabis and cannabis resin from Schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotics Drugs, where it was listed alongside drugs such as heroin as having little to no medical or therapeutic value.
However, the vote does not remove cannabis or related products from the list of drugs requiring strict international controls.
The United States, Canada, Mexico, and the United Kingdom were among the countries that voted to approve the measure; countries including Russia, China, Brazil, and Japan voted against it. Morocco was the only nation from the Middle East and North African region to support the reclassification.
This means, the UN commission “has opened the door to recognising the medicinal and therapeutic potential of the commonly-used but still largely illegal recreational drug” internationally, the UN said in a news item on the vote.
A press release from an international group of drug policy organisations welcomed the changes, which they say will give the international community more incentive to invest in cannabis-based medicines.
“This is welcome news for the millions of people who use cannabis for therapeutic purposes and reflects the reality of the growing market for cannabis-based medicinal products,” the statement said.
However, the advocates also said the changes do not go far enough because cannabis will remain listed under Schedule I along with more serious drugs like heroin and cocaine. This is despite the WHO finding that cannabis was not as harmful as other drugs listed in the same schedule.
Uganda’s health ministry recently issued guidelines for the cultivation of marijuana for medical purposes, bringing the country in line with other African nations including Zambia, Lesotho, and Zimbabwe that are easing restrictions on growing medical marijuana.