By Seun Adeuyi
Finally, a United Nations commission has decided that medicinal cannabis is much less harmful than dangerous narcotics such as heroin and thus removed it from the checklist of harmful medications.
New York Times quoted Jessica Steinberg, Cannabis Consultant as saying that while Wednesday’s UN vote could have its most lasting effect on countries in Asia and the Caribbean, the legal marijuana market in Europe and the United States (US) is driving legalization policy.
Steinberg added, “Something like this does not mean that legalization is just going to happen around the world, [but] it could be a watershed moment.”
This development paves the way for additional research and strengthens legalization efforts.
Marijuana was voted to be removed for medical use by the Vienna-based Commission for Narcotic Drugs. It was removed from a category that includes many of the world’s most dangerous drugs, including highly addictive opioids.
The decision clears the way for further investigation of marijuana’s medical and research capabilities. It is a symbolic win for marijuana advocates who are of the opinion that many countries’ policies around the drug are out of date.
Cannabis indica was first introduced to western medicine by William O’Shaughnessy in 1839. O’Shaughnessy had spent many years in India in pursuit of scientific discoveries.
Efforts to regulate cannabis and many other pharmaceutical drugs began in the late 19th century in an attempt to block adulterated drugs from the market. Many states required drugs, when not issued by a pharmacy, to be labeled as poison.
By the turn of the 20th century, most states had such poison laws in place, though some states explicitly did not include cannabis in their poison laws. There were attempts in California to regulate cannabis as early as 1880, made under the guise of controlling poisons.
The first major piece of legislation that began the 20th century’s march towards cannabis prohibition was the Pure Food and Drug Act passed in 1906, which required the labeling of many drugs.
State-level regulations limiting sale passed in Massachusetts in 1911 and in New York and Maine in 1914. Cannabis was required to be labeled and could only be distributed by pharmacists.
This state-level regulation continued in the west with California’s Poison Act of 1913, followed by many other states over the next 15 years: Wyoming in 1915; Texas in 1919; Iowa, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and Arkansas in 1923; Nebraska and Louisiana in 1927; and Colorado in 1929.
In 1938, the Pure Food and Drug Act was updated to the “Federal Pure Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act,” which remains in effect to this day. It is one of the oldest operational pieces of legislation and creates the messy tangle of laws. Under the 1938 Act, cannabis is explicitly defined as a “dangerous drug.”
Though marijuana still carries a stigma in many parts of the world, several countries are reconsidering its illegal status.
Canada legalized cannabis for recreational use in October 2018, making it the second country in the world to do so.Many European countries are also looking into altering their draconian laws concerning this naturally growing plant.
Countries that have legalized medical use of cannabis include Argentina, Australia, Barbados, Bermuda, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Finland, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Lebanon, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malawi, Malta, the Netherlands, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Norway, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, San Marino, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Thailand, the United Kingdom, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
In the United States, 35 states and the District of Columbia have legalized the medical use of cannabis, but at the federal level its use remains prohibited for any purpose.