06/26/19 Jamie Bridge

The Commission on Narcotic Drugs met in Vienna on Monday June 24 to
hear a report by the World Health Organization's Expert Committee on
Drug Dependence recommending that cannabis be rescheduled and removed
from the list of banned substances. We hear from the WHO, from
national delegates, and from Vienna NonGovernmental Organizing
Committee Chair Jamie Bridge.

Program: 
Century of Lies
Date: 
Wednesday, June 26, 2019
Guest: 
Jamie Bridge
Organization: 
Drug War Facts
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TRANSCRIPT

CENTURY OF LIES

JUNE 26, 2019

DEAN BECKER: The failure of drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors, and millions more now calling for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century Of Lies.

Hello, and welcome to Century of Lies. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugPolicyFacts.org.

Well, on Monday, June 24, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs held an intersessional meeting in Vienna, Austria. Loyal listeners will recall the Commission on Narcotic Drugs holds its annual session every March, and every March I stay up overnight in order to record as much as possible of the proceedings because the Commission on Narcotic Drugs keeps no archive at all of their meetings.

It's the twenty-first century. They webcast live using multiple cameras with audio feeds in English as well as the original language of the speaker, and yet, they can't keep a copy on their servers.

But enough of me griping. The point is, they held an intercessional meeting. Now, loyal listeners will also recall that at the last CND in March, they had been scheduled to discuss recommendations from the World Health Organization's Expert Committee on Drug Dependence, which had examined cannabis and cannabis derivatives as well as CBD and other -- and THC.

They postponed that discussion back in March. They decided to hold part of that discussion on June 24. So agenda item two, quote:

"Preparations for consideration by the Commission of the proposed scheduling recommendations by the World Health Organization on cannabis and cannabis related recommendations". End quote.

I'm kind of thinking that last "recommendations" was a typo and they meant to say "preparations" but, you know ... wow. Anyway, so Monday June 24 is when the CND was officially informed by the WHO about that expert committee's recommendations.

Now unfortunately a technical glitch meant that I do not have audio from the very first few minutes of the meeting, so we're going to start listening partway through the WHO representatives presentation on cannabis and cannabis related substances, specifically on cannabis and cannabis resin.

The WHO expert committee is recommending that cannabis and cannabis resin be deleted from Schedule Four of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs 1961. Unlike current US scheduling and really unlike current international scheduling, in 1961, they made four schedules.

The first schedule was potentially dangerous drugs, strict controls. Second schedule, less dangerous, less strict. Third schedule, less dangerous, less strict. Fourth schedule, very dangerous, must be banned. Why they did it that way, who knows?

In the '71, it went schedule one, most strict, must be banned, then schedule two, which was less strict, schedule three, and on down.

In 1961, cannabis and the cannabis plant was placed in schedule four of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs as well as Schedule One. What the WHO's expert committee is now recommending is that cannabis and cannabis resin be deleted from Schedule Four of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.

They are not recommending that cannabis and cannabis resin be removed entirely, and they are recommending that it remain within the 1961 Single Convention's Schedule One.

So, this would not be a total descheduling, this would not even be down in Schedule Two or Three, so it would still, on the international schedules, be tightly regulated.

Having said all that, let's start. The first voice you're going to hear is the World Health Organization speaking at the CND. You'll also hear the Commission president [sic: Chairperson], who's chairing the meeting, and various national delegates.

REPRESENTATIVE OF THE WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: -- under the critical review, on each of the items that we're discussing today.

So, the public health problems of major concern were the rates of abuse and dependence. They're sometimes grouped as cannabis use disorder, and it has been estimated from epidemiological studies that are conducted in a number of countries that approximately one in ten cannabis users do develop a cannabis use disorder.

So that was a public health problem of concern to the committee. We are also concerned about other problems. Another example which has been mentioned is driving under the influence of cannabis, as this occurs at a relatively high rate among cannabis users and cannabis does increase the rate of traffic accidents.

With regard to comparison amongst other substances, it is only within the ECDD's remit to compare to substances that are currently scheduled. We cannot compare to substances that are not scheduled, nor can we compare to other types of disorders.

The questions from Russia addressed several issues. One is publications and again I would suggest looking at the critical reviews. The critical reviews form an important part of the material that's used by the ECDD for arriving at its decisions. It is not the only information.

Some of the other information has been outlined already, information from UNODC, from INCB, from member states, from other sources. The ECDD members also conduct their own research into these issues to supplement what is included in the critical reviews.

With regard to the timing, I think that has been outlined already. There have been a number of developments that have occurred over the years, and these developments as well as the resolutions of the CND influence the WHO to consider conducting reviews of cannabis and related substances, it convinced the ECDD as well that it was timely to do so.

Some of these other, increasing medical use of cannabis, another one is the use of some of these high potency cannabis preparations that I mentioned. But there are a number of developments that occurred along the way because of the increasing amount of research on -- on cannabis.

Now with regard to chemical use, I would emphasize the point made earlier that the chemical use is not the main reason for suggesting that cannabis be removed from Schedule Four. The major reason was because it was not considered to be similar to those substances compared to the substances that are in Schedule One but not in Schedule Four.

It -- there is evidence concerning the clinical use, and this is outlined again in the critical review, and I would note, as, the point that has been made earlier, that a number of cannabis medications have been approved by regulatory authorities in a number of countries, which obviously indicates that they recognize a degree of clinical effectiveness for these medications.

H.E. AMBASSADOR MIRGHANI ABBAKER ALTAYEB BAKHET: Thank you. The floor is still open for further questions and comments, and I now give the floor to the representative of Canada. The floor is yours.

DELEGATE TO THE CND FROM CANADA: Thank you very much for the floor, Mister Chair, and thank you very much to the WHO for the explanation for this particular recommendation.

I have to admit, we had a, as you know from our written questions, we had similar concerns as expressed by our colleague from Mexico, that we wondered whether or not a comparison could be drawn, or whether or not a comparison was drawn between cannabis and other substances in Schedule One but also other substances that may not be international control such as alcohol and tobacco.

And I think you've answered that question, that it's not really within the ECDD's remit. However, we do think that that is quite an interesting question.

The two concerns that ECDD has flagged with regard to -- as justifications for this recommendation are the prevalence of cannabis use disorder, but also its potential impact on driving.

And of course those are both issues that are of concern with respect to use of alcohol, and they are of course both issues that we are trying to address in our own cannabis regulatory regime.

But anyway, you've already answered the question, but I do think that that's a policy question that will bear more discussion, perhaps not in the ECDD, but in the CND down the road. Thank you very much.

H.E. AMBASSADOR MIRGHANI ABBAKER ALTAYEB BAKHET: Thank you, the representative of Canada, and now I give the floor to the representative of Singapore. The floor is yours.

DELEGATE TO THE CND FROM SINGAPORE: Thank you, Mister Chair.

I just want to seek clarification from ECDD. So far you have you talked about cannabis and preparations. I was wondering, for cannabis resin, was similar considerations for cannabis resin or it's a different set of considerations? Just want to clarify on this point. Thank you.

H.E. AMBASSADOR MIRGHANI ABBAKER ALTAYEB BAKHET: Thank you, the representative of Singapore. And now I give the floor to the representative of Nigeria. The floor if yours.

DELEGATE TO THE CND I thank you very much, Mister Chair. I want to first express appreciation to the ECDD for their presentation this morning.

Please permit me if I have to give a general background. In our effort to ensure that our drug policy is evidence based, scientific based, we, Nigeria, conducted a drug use survey, championed by the CND, including the relevant authorities in my country. And that report was launched in January 2019.

And the report's actually reveal that in 2017, about fourteen million people used drugs in Nigeria, and when we say used drug, we mean sometimes they abused drugs. And also, the report revealed that the drug that was mostly abused within this report was cannabis.

And evidence as well in the fight against Boko Haram in Nigeria indicates that each time the Nigerian military take over Boko Haram camps, what they pick and find in those camps were samples of cannabis, and we actually worried that the growing evidence of cannabis abuse around the world, which evidence abounds in several drug reports, that we are going along this line in terms of the [unintelligible] of cannabis.

And when this report first came out last year and my country was asked for some comments, we did submit comments in that regard where we raised a lot of concerns along these lines, and not just for Nigeria, but we within the sub -- our own subregion, that this abuse is growing by the day and this is supported also by the various world reports we've seen over time.

I have listened to responses and comments this morning, and from my understanding, one of the major reasons why the ECDD actually took its position was first in Schedule Four, you observed that most of those substances under Schedule Four do not have actually therapeutic value, therapeutic -- any therapeutic use.

And that was why they thought cannabis, having discovered, unlike when it was placed in 1961, and now has some therapeutic evidence. We think that this is wholly against the current report in this regard. The INCB in their latest report noted that the therapeutic use of cannabis is usually, medically is not always the first line of treatment, as it were.

And if it is not the first line of treatment, and we consider even in the report written by the ECDD, the growing abuse of cannabis, why the ECDD insists that it should remain in Schedule One, because of the growing abuse as well as the [unintelligible] it causes in terms of the impact on driving.

These are perhaps the fears [unintelliglble] not available to us but the fact is that cannabis -- cannabis abuse is growing and it is doing a lot of damage and that is why perhaps you notice that sometimes people tend to move away from the technical discussion to the political aspect, in fear of impact of any idea to give some kind of flexible control to this substance.

So that brings me to my question. I was thinking that you noted, because in Schedule Four, state parties required to take additional measures. I was thinking that, don't the ECDD believe that additional measures in terms of the control, if it is retained under Schedule Four, is still necessary in view of this growing evidence of abuse, like highlighted by the ECDD?

And my second question is, how do you reconcile the incompatibility between your own conclusions in terms of the therapeutic use and the reports and the position of the INCB that in terms of medical application it's not usually the first line of treatment to be applied? Thank you.

DOUG MCVAY: You're listening to Century of Lies, I'm your host Doug McVay, and we are listening to proceedings from the Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting on June 24 in Vienna, Austria. They were discussing cannabis and cannabis related substances and the international scheduling.

WHO's Expert Committee on Drugs and Drug Dependence [sic: Expert Committee on Drug Dependence] has recommended a number of changes to the status of cannabis and cannabis related substances on the international schedules. The CND is scheduled to discuss these changes. This intersessional meeting on June 24, the WHO's recommendations were officially presented to the Commission on Narcotic Drugs.

Let's get back to listening to some of that.

REPRESENTATIVE OF THE WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: Thank you. With regard to the question from Singapore about cannabis resin, the comments concerning cannabis, yes, also apply to cannabis resin.

The term in the 1961 convention, cannabis resin, was really the only preparation from cannabis. We now recognize that there are a range of illicit preparations for cannabis, of varying strength, but cannabis resin is specifically mentioned alongside cannabis in the schedules, and yes, our comments apply equally to cannabis resin.

With respect to the questions and comments from Nigeria, I would make the point that therapeutic use was not the principle reason for recommending that cannabis be removed from Schedule Four.

The principle reason was that it was not considered that cannabis was similar to the substances in Schedule Four, but it was more similar to the substances that are in Schedule One but not in Schedule Four.

So it was the criterion of similarity that was most important. The committee did also note the therapeutic uses, which is an aspect to be considered with a regard to Schedule Four, but that was less important than similarity.

With regard to the clinical use of cannabis, it is true that for a number of indications cannabis is, or cannabis preparations, are not first line medications, but it's common in many medical conditions to have several levels of interventions because first line interventions don't work for everybody, but also sometimes two different types of interventions have to be -- have to be used, particularly in some of the more difficult to treat conditions.

So, having a second or third line medication is still clinically important. That does not diminish the importance of cannabis based medications for a significant number of patients.

In regard to the question about additional measures, I would just note that additional measures can be put in place by countries. Schedule Four encourages countries to do so, but countries can still put in their own additional measures if they feel it necessary in their own context.

H.E. AMBASSADOR MIRGHANI ABBAKER ALTAYEB BAKHET: I thank the representative of the World Health Organization, and I still opened the floor for questions, and I give the floor now for the representative of -- the representative of the United Kingdom. The floor is yours.

DELEGATE TO THE CND FROM THE UNITED KINGDOM: Thank you very much, Chair, and good morning to everybody.

The UK aligns itself with the statement made on behalf of the European Union and its member states, and allow me to join others in thanking representatives from the WHO and the ECDD for joining us today.

Indeed this process of consultation is critical in the way forward, and given the complexities of the recommendations and the far reaching implications, we welcome the suggestion that there is time for further consultation between member states and WHO.

During Mister Forte's presentation, he made a very pertinent point that by removing cannabis from Schedule Four of the 1961 Convention, we are not weakening the international control of cannabis.

Nevertheless, having read some of the media articles this morning on the way out here, this isn't, at times, the interpretation that's being -- that's being realized amongst the media and other bodies outside of the CND. So my question for the WHO is whether there are any plans for communications outside the CND in order to clarify the recommendations and this message that you've put forward to us today, that this, the recommendations don't intend to weaken the international control?

Thank you. And, sorry, I should add, I do recognize that there is also responsibility for member states in which regard as well. Thank you.

H.E. AMBASSADOR MIRGHANI ABBAKER ALTAYEB BAKHET: I thank the representative of the United Kingdom. I give the floor to the representative of the United States of America. The floor is yours.

DELEGATE TO THE CND FROM THE UNITED STATES: Thank you very much, Chair.

Our question relates to one of the prior presentations, responses provided by the WHO. The question was asked, I believe by Mexico, about the -- why scheduling the plant as a whole as opposed to its component parts. And the response was that cannabis and cannabis resin must be scheduled per the treaty.

And we were curious whether this was the result of a legal opinion of the WHO or UNODC, or perhaps of the UN? We just would be interested in knowing the source for this, because this seems to be a pivotable -- pivotal issue. Thank you.

H.E. AMBASSADOR MIRGHANI ABBAKER ALTAYEB BAKHET: I thank the representative of the United States of America, and I give the floor to the representative of the Russian Federation. The floor is yours.

DELEGATE TO THE CND FROM THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION: Thank you very much, Chair.

I am sorry for asking this question once again, but we looked at the forty-first technical report of WHO, and we found a very limited list of references, none of them were published in the international peer reviewed scientific medical journals. [sic: complete citations were published by WHO in the critical review of cannabis, which itself was summarized in the technical report.]

To the best of our knowledge, the list of evidence published in the scientific literature to support rescheduling of cannabinoids is quite limited, so we would very much appreciate receiving a list of publications in the peer reviewed scientific medical journals, which to the opinion of WHO supports rescheduling of cannabinoids. Thank you very much.

H.E. AMBASSADOR MIRGHANI ABBAKER ALTAYEB BAKHET: I thank the representative of the Russian Federation, and I give the floor again to the World Health Organization to respond to these questions. The floor is yours.

GILLES FORTE, MD: So, with respect to the question from the UK, indeed, I think it's very important that as we move forward with those discussions and the dialogue, as I mentioned in my introduction, it will be very important for us to be able to communicate properly about the recommendations.

Because it's an issue that is pertaining to experts, it's an issue which is pertaining to policy makers, but also the general public, and when we see what's communicated, you know, in the press and elsewhere, I think it's a field that is really vulnerable to misunderstanding and misleading statements.

So therefore we are currently working on communication material and a strategy to make sure that the result of the deliberations of the ECDD can be translated into understandable language for everybody.

So it is indeed an area of concern for us, because of the complexity of the topic, because of the technicality of the topic, and it makes it very difficult to explain in clear terms, but this is what we will have to do in the coming weeks and months. And we count on your support for that.

DOUG MCVAY: You're listening to Century of Lies. I'm Doug McVay. We're listening to the Commission on Narcotic Drugs discussion of WHO Expert Committee on Drug Dependence recommendations regarding the international scheduling of cannabis and cannabis related substances.

Once again, cannabis and cannabis resin, the plant itself, WHO is recommending that that be deleted from Schedule Four of the 1961 Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which is the schedule that calls for a complete ban. It would still remain on Schedule One, meaning it would be tightly controlled and restricted, but it would not be completely prohibited.

These are only the WHO's recommendations, the CND is listening to them, asking questions, they are not making decisions yet. That might be coming up at the end of the year, they might wait for a high level ministerial segment which always happens in March. We'll have to see.

While we have time, one of the speakers at this June 24 meeting was Jamie Bridge. Jamie is the Chair of the Vienna NonGovernmental Organizations Committee. He's also the Chief Operating Officer of the International Drug Policy Consortium. Here's Jamie Bridge.

JAMIE BRIDGE: Thank you for allowing me to speak today as the Chair of the Vienna NGO Committee on Drugs, on behalf of our network of about 200 organizations around the world.

The VNGOC's dedicated to ensuring the strongest possible civil society engagement here at the CND, and elsewhere across the UN system.

When we reflect back on the ministerial segment and the CND meeting in March, there's a lot to be proud of in terms of the civil society presence and the inputs that we made.

Through the civil society task force, working with the New York Committee and the UNODC, we were able to support NGOs to attend, speak, and participate, whether they could physically be here in Vienna or not.

Now as you're discussing how best to follow and build on this year's ministerial declaration, I would like to take this opportunity to remind you all that, like the UNGASS document before it, the 2019 declaration underscores the important role played by civil society and others in implementing our joint commitments.

The declaration also commits the CND to fostering broad, transparent, and inclusive discussions involving all relevant stakeholders, including civil society.

With this in mind, we welcome the proposed multi-year work plan for the CND, encompassing thematic autumn intersessionals over the coming years. The idea to use the stock taking section of the ministerial declaration to frame the coming discussions is a good one, as this is possibly the most honest and wide reaching articulation of the problems that we have failed to fix over the last decade.

The CND thematic intersessionals last autumn were a positive model for civil society engagement. The work plan from last year invited the civil society task force to select panel speakers, and we were able to coordinate more than fifty presentations and video submissions from a wide range of different organizations, regions, and perspectives.

We made all of these selections through open calls, and we received more than 200 applications to speak, which demonstrates the commitment and the demand from NGOs to be part of these debates.

NGOs and affected populations have a crucial role to play as we collectively address the challenges identified in the ministerial declaration, so for this coming autumn and beyond, we assume that the good practice model from 2018 will be maintained.

The Vienna NGO Committee looks forward to continuing to work with the CND Chair and the Secretariat, and we also commit to continuing to select speakers from open calls and to being inclusive of a broad range of different views and organizations.

Working together, the challenges can be met, the problems can be fixed, and the harms can be mitigated, but not without civil society, whether here in the VIC, advocating and lobbying for change at the local level, or on the ground delivering services and saving lives.

Thank you for your kind attention, and for your continued support.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Jamie Bridge, Chair of the Vienna NonGovernmental Organizations Committee and Chief Operating Officer of the International Drug Policy Consortium. He was speaking at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs Fourth Intersessional Meeting on June 24, 2019.

And that's all we have this week. Thank you for joining us. I'm Doug McVay and you have been listening to Century of Lies. We're a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net.

The executive producer of the Drug Truth Network is Dean Becker. Drug Truth Network programs, including this show, Century of Lies, as well as the flagship show of the Drug Truth Network, Cultural Baggage, and of course our daily 420 Drug War News segments, are all available by podcast. The URLs to subscribe are on the network home page at DrugTruth.net.

The Drug Truth Network has a Facebook page, please give it a like. Drug Policy Facts, which is also Drug War Facts, is on Facebook too, give its page a like and share it with friends. Remember: Knowledge is power.

You can follow me on Twitter, I'm @DougMcVay and of course also @DrugPolicyFacts.

We'll be back in a week with thirty more minutes of news and information about drug policy reform and the failed war on drugs. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!

For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition: the century of lies. Drug Truth Network programs archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.