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International developments around CBD and cannabis

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2018-12-18-International developments around CBD and cannabis

By: mr. Kaj Hollemans, KH Legal Advice

When it comes to international drug policy, a few organizations are very important. All these organizations are part of the United Nations (UN).

The World Health Organization (WHO). This UN agency was established in 1948 and aims to improve the health of the world population. The WHO has various expert committees, including the Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD). The ECDD is formed by an independent group of experts in the field of drugs and medicines. The ECDD can perform various assessments; a preliminary assessment and a critical assessment. Based on these assessments, the ECDD can make recommendations via the WHO on the classification of drugs within international drug treaties.

The Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND). The CND was established in 1946 to help the UN monitor the application of international drug treaties, such as the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs from 1961. The Single Treaty, together with the Convention on psychotropic substances from 1971, forms the basis of the Dutch Opium Act. The Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) is the governing body of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The UNODC was established to assist the UN in the fight against drugs, crime, international terrorism and corruption. They do this through research and advice and the drafting and application of various treaties and protocols.

The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB). The INCB is the independent and quasi-judicial control body responsible for the implementation of the international drug treaties. The INCB primarily plays an important role in monitoring the enforcement of these treaties.

Why is this important?

Why is this so important now, you may ask. Well, at the moment cannabis is on List I and List IV of the Single Convention. List I contains substances that have addictive properties, with a serious risk of abuse. List IV contains the most dangerous substances, which are already on list I, which are particularly harmful and have an extremely limited medical or therapeutic value. List IV is therefore the heaviest category. Cannabis therefore falls under the same category as heroin, for example. There is a lot to be said about this, especially in view of all the recent developments regarding (medicinal) cannabis.

In June 2018 came the WHO expert committee (ECDD) for the 40e meet in a special session to evaluate the harmful effects on public health and the therapeutic value of cannabis and cannabis-related substances.

Believe it or not, but this was it the first time the ECDD cannabis and cannabis related substances has assessed to (re) consider the suitability of the current classification within the international drug treaties of 1961 and 1971. That is of course completely bizarre, but better late than not at all.


The ECDD has conducted preliminary assessments on cannabis and related substances and determined that there is sufficient new scientific information on the health harm and therapeutic value to re-evaluate and critically review the following substances:

  • Cannabis (weed) and cannabis resin (hash)
  • Extracts and tinctures of cannabis (oils, edibles, liquids)
  • Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)
  • Isomers of THC

In June 2018, the ECDD also conducted a critical assessment of preparations considered pure cannabidiol (CBD). Based on this critical assessment, the ECDD has recommended that preparations considered to be pure cannabidiol (CBD) cannot be placed under international drug control, because CBD has no psychoactive properties and offers no possibilities for abuse or dependence.

On July 23, the Director General of WHO sent a letter to the Secretary General of the United Nations. The purpose of this letter was to inform him of the outcome of the ECDD meeting in June 2018, which was devoted to the scientific assessment of cannabis and related products.

In his letter writes the director general from WHO about CBD:

 I am pleased to submit the recommendations of the ECDD as follows:

Cannabidiol (CBD)
The Committee recommended that preparations be considered to be pure CBD should not be scheduled within the International Drug Control Conventions.

During the 41e ECDD meeting in November 2018 then held critical discussions on cannabis and related substances, including THC.


MP Kathalijne Buitenweg (GroenLinks) has there fairly recent parliamentary questions about it. These questions were answered by the Minister for Medical Care and Sport at the end of November.

The ECDD's recommendations on cannabis, cannabis resin and related substances, including THC, are unfortunately not yet public. What is critical is the ECDD's assessment of cannabis and cannabis resin published.

De next meeting of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) will take place in March 2019 and that promises to be an exciting meeting, because then the recommendations of the ECDD will be discussed and it will become clear whether the CND the recommendations of the ECDD on CBD and on cannabis, cannabis resin and related substances, including THC, will take over or reject.

We will inform you as soon as there are developments regarding the ECDD's recommendations on cannabis, cannabis resin and related substances, including THC, or on the classification of cannabis under international drug treaties.

In the meantime, if you have any questions regarding this column, you can turn to KH Legal Advice.



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