European lawmakers have welcomed the recent United Nations (UN) decision to stop including cannabis among the most dangerous substances, saying it would be a driving force for innovative research and a new regulatory framework in the field of medicinal cannabis.
On Wednesday (2 December), the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) voted to remove cannabis and cannabis resin from Schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.
Substances listed in that schedule are not only considered highly addictive and highly conducive to abuse but also particularly harmful and of extremely limited medical or therapeutic value.
This has been one of the main reason that has discouraged wider use of cannabis for medical purposes.
Nevertheless, some cannabis-based medical products are already authorised in the EU. Medical cannabis is also available to some patients in EU countries on the basis of individual prescriptions.
In the past 20 years, there has been a surge of patient interest in using cannabinoids to treat a variety of conditions, according to the EU Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA).
Those include chronic and cancer pain, depression, anxiety disorders, sleep disturbances and neurological disorders, as well as the treatment of glaucoma.
“Today’s vote was eagerly awaited, and by patients first,” commented Belgian MEP Frédérique Ries.
The liberal lawmaker expects that this “historic” decision will launch a re-evaluation of regulatory obstacles for medicinal marijuana around the world and the promotion of a new wave of scientific research into the untapped potential of medicinal cannabis, for the benefits of patients.
She added that despite the benefits of medicinal cannabis in treating a range of diseases, the knowledge gap on medicinal cannabis remains serious.
Likewise, Greens MEP Tilly Metz said this classification has been nourishing a taboo around the prescription of medicinal cannabis to the detriment of patients
“Patients using medicinal cannabis are not taking narcotic drugs,” she told EURACTIV, hinting that the rather outdated status of ‘narcotic drug’ stood in the way of more research in the very promising field of medicinal cannabis.
For socialist MEP Alex Agius Saliba, the harmonisation at the EU level of the standards of medicinal cannabis products should be a priority for the European lawmakers, as it will improve patients’ fair access to cannabis-based medicines.
In February 2019, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling on the European Commission and national authorities to provide a legal definition of medical cannabis.
However, both the German Council presidency of the EU and the European Commission have recently confirmed that there is no European plan to address in the short-term the regulatory barriers for the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes.
“We should encourage a more open dialogue with medicinal cannabis patients to establish a sustainable and environmentally conscious medicinal cannabis sector in the EU,” Saliba said.
The European Medicinal Cannabis Association (EUMCA) said the UN decision could eliminate barriers to access for medical use of cannabis and allow more European patients to get access to these treatments
“However, there should be no compromise on quality standards of medicinal cannabis treatments, and much more still needs to be done,” said Sita Schubert, EUMCA Secretary-General.
The UN decision came one week after the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that CBD, a lighter chemical compound extracted from hemp plants, does not appear to have any psychotropic effect or any harmful effect on human health, according to the current state of scientific knowledge.
Taken into account the recent decision of the ECJ, the European Commission has concluded that cannabidiol oil (CBD) should not be considered as a drug and, therefore, it can be listed in the novel food category
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]