The FDA announced in the Federal Register on Wednesday that the agency is seeking public comment on the “abuse potential, actual abuse [and] medical usefulness” of several substances, including marijuana. This comes as the World Health Organization’s Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) prepares to discuss the international scheduling of cannabis at a meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, this November. The request for comment is part of the U.S. preparation for a response to the WHO’s eventual findings. Currently, the plant is classified in the United States as Schedule I — meaning it has a high risk for abuse, and no medical benefits — and is similarly scheduled in U.N. international treaties. This meeting has the potential to move forward rescheduling cannabis for all U.N. countries, giving them the freedom to decriminalize or even legalize marijuana at a national level.
But don’t assume the Trump Administration actually cares what you think — it’s a formality, says Kate Bell, general counsel for the Marijuana Policy Project, a nonprofit organization that advocates for the decriminalization of marijuana. The government is legally required to ask for input, but they don’t necessarily have to listen. “We don’t know how much our comments will inform what they say to the WHO,” she says.
Nevertheless, MPP and others are pushing forward all the scientific and anecdotal evidence against marijuana prohibition that they can muster. Last summer, the WHO held a pre-review meeting to discuss cannabis scheduling, and the MPP submitted roughly 100 pages of comments detailing the benefits of pot. “We’ve been working on this issue for over 20 years, collected tons of information,” says Bell. “Medical peer reviewed articles on how medical cannabis helps with a variety of different conditions, how teen use has not increased [with legalization.] That’s important because they’re also looking at public health considerations.” They plan on submitting essentially the same set of studies and testimonials for this latest round.
From here, there’s a still a long process — “international law moves even slower than domestic law,” notes Bell — and at least one more period for the public to comment on their experiences with marijuana.
There is one part of pot, however, that looks like it will be allowed by international governing bodies: Cannabidiol, commonly known as CBD. Last November, the ECDD released a report that found CBD did not have any “abuse or dependence potential.” Additionally, earlier this year, the FDA approved the first CBD-based drug for sale in the U.S. According to the FDA’s latest filing, the 40th ECDD, which was held last June, found that pure CBD “should not be scheduled within the International Drug Control Conventions,” while flower, resin, extract, tinctures and THC are all going back to the body for another Critical Review.
None of this is to say that Congress couldn’t immediately decriminalize marijuana in the United States today, if they were so inclined — U.N. member nations such as Canada, Uruguay and Portugal have all found ways around the international ban on pot. But, as Bell points out, this could have much bigger ramifications in smaller nations that use the U.N. guidelines as an excuse to crack down on low-end drug suppliers, such as the Philippines. “I’m much more concerned about smaller less powerful countries pointing to those treaties as an excuse to not change drug laws,” says Bell. “They give some cover to politicians who are acting in ways that are abusive to human rights.”