The UN drug agency's member states on Wednesday narrowly voted to remove cannabis from the most tightly controlled category of narcotic drugs, following the World Health Organization's recommendation to make research into its medical use easier.
The annual Commission on Narcotic Drugs, the UNOffice on Drugs and Crime's governing body, voted 27-25 with one abstention to remove cannabis and cannabis resin from Schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, a global text governing drug controls, a UNstatement said.
The vote followed a 2019 WHO recommendation that "cannabis and cannabis resin should be scheduled at a level of control that will prevent harm caused by cannabis use and at the same time will not act as a barrier to access and to research and development of cannabis-related preparation for medical use."
Other drugs in Schedule IV include heroin, fentanyl analogues and other opioids that are dangerous and often deadly. Cannabis, by contrast carries no significant risk of death and it has shown potential in treating pain and conditions such as epilepsy, the WHO found.
The UNstatement on the meeting in Vienna of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs did not say which countries backed or opposed the change, or why the vote was so close.
The convention states that a party to it will take "any special measures of control which in its opinion are necessary having regard to the particularly dangerous properties" of a drug listed in Schedule IV.
Schedule I, the next strictest level of control, which includes cocaine, does not carry that stipulation. The WHO recommended that cannabis still be listed there, noting "the high rates of public health problems arising from cannabis use."
The commission did not, however, back other WHO recommendations, such as removing "extracts and tinctures of cannabis" from Schedule I, the statement said.