A bipartisan duo of congressional lawmakers filed a resolution on Friday imploring President Joe Biden to wield his influence to get the United Nations (UN) to end the international ban on marijuana by removing the plant from the list of controlled substances in a global drug treaty.
Reps. Nancy Mace (R-SC) and Barbara Lee (D-CA) introduced the measure as UN’s Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) wrapped up meetings for its 65th session this week in Vienna. CND in 2020 adopted a proposal to delete cannabis from Schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention, but it currently remains in Schedule I, precluding member nations from legalizing the plant.
(Unlike in the U.S., Schedule IV is the strictest international drug category, whereas Schedule I is the most restrictive federal classification).
The concurrent resolution as filed expresses “the sense of Congress that the United States representative to the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs should use the voice, vote, and influence of the United States to seek to de-schedule cannabis from Schedule I of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961.”
The measure also calls on U.S. officials to press the UN to “expunge and forgive penalties relating to cannabis for prior offenders, and treat cannabis as a commodity similar to other agricultural commodities.”
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The U.S. representative to CND did support the body’s proposal to move marijuana to Schedule I under international statute, but it did not go so far as to recommend full descheduling.
The new resolution states that the Biden administration should urge the U.S. representative to take a bolder stance on international reform.
“Many countries would deschedule cannabis and reevaluate how cannabis is classified if the UN did so,” Mace said in a press release. “Cannabis has been shown to be effective in the treatment of numerous medical conditions such as epilepsy, PTSD, cancer pain relief, nausea, and chronic and terminal illnesses.”
Introduced a resolution to deschedule cannabis at the UN with @RepBarbaraLee. We need to shift perception on the international stage; cannabis is not as dangerous as heroin, and the sooner our policies reflect this, the more lives saved. #Omnicannabis #UNhttps://t.co/614DPtYO7S
— Rep. Nancy Mace (@RepNancyMace) March 18, 2022
“Descheduling at the UN would support global research into how cannabis can treat a wide range of ailments and conditions,” the congresswoman, who is sponsoring a GOP-led bill to federally legalize cannabis, said.
Lee, co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus and long-time champion of marijuana reform, said that research “has shown that cannabis has wide-ranging positive effects on chronic illness treatment.”
“The classification of cannabis as a schedule one drug is outdated, out of touch, and should be addressed not only in the United States, but around the world,” she said. “The United States should be leading the way on cannabis reform on the global stage, and descheduling at the United Nations would be a great start.”
The idea of the president taking a proactive step to end international marijuana prohibition does seem like something of a stretch given his record of championing punitive drug laws as a senator and his continued opposition to domestic cannabis legalization.
While some federal agencies like the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) have cited international treaty obligations in decisions against domestic descheduling, the president has not made that specific argument to defend his personal opposition to adult-use legalization in the country.
With respect to domestic policy, Biden did campaign on moving cannabis to Schedule II under the federal Controlled Substances Act. But he’s yet to take steps to accomplish that or other modest marijuana reform pledges.
Last year, UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) urged a global ban on marijuana advertising—but some advocates viewed that as a sign that the prohibitionist body was coming to terms with the fact that widespread legalization is inevitable.
Separately, late last year, UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) chose not to recommend that kratom be internationally banned following a scientific review—a development celebrated by advocates of the plant, which has been used for therapeutic purposes such as pain management.
Read the text of the bipartisan resolution on international marijuana scheduling below:
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.