12/05/18 Michael Krawitz

Century of Lies
Michael Krawitz
Veterans For Medical Marijuana

This week, we talk with Michael Krawitz and Farid Ghehioueche about advances in marijuana policy reform at the UN and the International Cannabis Policy Conference, which is Dec 7-9 in Vienna, Austria.

Audio file



DECEMBER 5, 2018

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.

DOUG MCVAY: Hello, and welcome to Century of Lies. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of

Well, the other day I was thinking about what to have on this week's show, when I got a phone call from my friend Michael Krawitz, from Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access. He's over in Vienna, Austria, preparing for a conference, well, a few conferences actually.

The Commission on Narcotic Drugs has its reconvened Sixty-First Session, that runs December Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh, then there's also the International Cannabis Policy Conference, which goes on December Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth.

Michael is over there in Vienna, he's one of the organizers [sic: of the ICPC], and he called and so I set up to do an immediate interview. He also had a colleague who's one of the other organizers. Here's that phone call.

MICHAEL KRAWITZ: Okeh, so, this is Michael Krawitz speaking, executive director of Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access and a senior consultant for FAAAT, the Foundation for Alternatives to Addiction Treatment Therapy Think & Do Tank [sic: For Alternative Approaches to Addiction, Think & do tank]. And with great pleasure, I can introduce my colleague, Farid, who willl introduce himself.

FARID GHEHIOUECHE: Hello, my name is Farid Ghehioueche. Nice to talk to you, Doug, and, so, about this conference.

DOUG MCVAY: Oh, Farid!


DOUG MCVAY: Oh, hey, man, how's it going? It's good to hear your voice. Very long time, man, very long time, been a while.

FARID GHEHIOUECHE: Yes, so, actually, I'm part of FAAAT, for sure, and I'm coordinator of this big conference in Vienna, the International Cannabis Policy Conference. But, I'm also part of the movement in France, I was former an organizer at the center of the Million Marijuana March, and also met you during ENCOD activities.

And so I have different caps, but now actually I'm in Vienna, just mostly to follow up what is going on at the UN level, I mean, regarding the decision that the Commission on Narcotic Drugs will have to take next year, and mostly to follow up the process ongoing at the WHO regarding the cannabis plant.

MICHAEL KRAWITZ: Where do you want to go from here, Doug?

DOUG MCVAY: Well, let's go, let's just, quick background. The World Health Organization has been undertaking a critical review of cannabis and also some cannabinoids, and also some synthetic cannabinoids, for that matter.

They met -- the Forty-First Meeting of the Expert Committee on Drugs and Drug Dependence just finished up recently. That was where they were to be discussing these. They have a draft report that's out. No recommendations yet out, but those will be forwarded to the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, and sometime they're supposed to be -- they might, at least, the CND might be taking a vote on whether to change the scheduling of cannabis.

Do I have that right? And could you -- yeah, do I have any of that right?

MICHAEL KRAWITZ: Absolutely. So what we'll do, I'll go ahead and kind of fill you in on the World Health Organization situation, and then Farid can follow up and talk about this conference that we're going to have, and how it ties in with sustainability and the Sustainable Development Goals at the UN, and talk a little bit more about the process at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs.

DOUG MCVAY: Perfect.

MICHAEL KRAWITZ: But indeed, you have it absolutely right. I would add that this is the first time that cannabis has ever been evaluated to see if its placement is correct since it was put in the treaty in 1961.

And in 1961, if you can imagine, the information that that was based on was already antique, in the system, from the 1930s, and even the 1920s, and at the very latest the 1950s, and that was input from police essentially.

So, the treaty is not based on evidence, and it's supposed to be, actually. And the World Health Organization is tasked with that evidence collection, but very specifically it's written in the treaty that the World Health Organization makes recommendations, up or down, for substances that may be subject or of interest for subject to control under the international drug control treaties.

So, cannabis being scheduled the same as heroin, essentially, in the treaty, there's nowhere to go but down, that any real recommendation from the World Health Organization, and they've given us very good indication that there will be a real recommendation from the World Health Organization on this.

I mean, a real recommendation would be substantial, even just the most modest change would be substantial. So, this is, you know, really kind of a once in a lifetime thing, and I just wanted to point out that it's a process that's initiated by the United Nations that the World Health Organization does but it does fit in into the international law and then feeds back into the process.

The other thing I would mention is why we work on this so diligently, because in the United Nations process, everything has to be done by absolute unanimous consensus, and that's why it's so difficult and almost impossible to really amend the treaties in a substantial way.

But this process, where the World Health Organization comes in and makes recommendations, that just requires a majority vote. So we feel like this is actually doable, we can actually get through the Commission and succeed with that.

So, that's, you know, essentially where we're at. We should get the results back on the whole critical review from the World Health Organization within a week or so, they promised in the beginning of December, and I think what they're looking for is to be able to send over that letter that they do, from the Director General of the World Health Organization to the Secretary General of the UN, telling them that they've completed the process. You know, it's kind of pomp and circumstance.

There'll be a little bit of a hint, I'm sure, as to what they're going to be doing in Vienna in March, in that letter, but still there's a lot of unknowns. They said that CBD is not a subject of concern, and in its pure form, shouldn't be scheduled at all in the treaty. But we don't know how they're going to actually say that to the Commission.

And, of course, like I said, there's such a wide variety of different options that they could take with regard to cannabis. I don't envy them their process, it must be pretty arduous.

And one last thing I guess I'll mention is, we've worked through this process, from beginning to end. We've given a great deal of info, and when I say we, the entire cannabis movement and industry around cannabis, and many, many interested groups, from patients to indigenous people and others have given info, and that info was well considered, and the experts are just that, real experts.

And we've gotten every indication that they're taking this very seriously. It's a big job, and like I said, it's ambitious. We'll see what they come up with. But yes, a little bit of faith that they're working on this hard, and just wanted to make sure people weren't completely depressed with the system, not ever getting anything done positive. It's possible, maybe in this case we'll find an exception to that rule.

DOUG MCVAY: Well, and just so -- yeah, just real quick, though. We don't base our scheduling of marijuana on the international scale exactly, but it does have impact, and the US Food and Drug Administration officially gathered comments from citizens, from people, they announced they were doing that a few months ago, to forward to the CND, I mean, this is -- it will have an impact in the US, whether or not, I mean, even if they say reschedule or deschedule, we may not do it, but, you know, it's part of our process here too.

I'm sorry, so Farid --



MICHAEL KRAWITZ: Well, while you're bringing that up, I'll just point out that this recent stuff that happened with CBD, with the scheduling, based on GW Pharma's new product hitting the market, they initiated a National Institutes of Health review, they did an eight point review, they determined CBD shouldn't be scheduled at all, and gave that input to the FDA, who then went to the DEA, who said, no, we absolutely have to schedule CBD because of our treaty requirements.

And the FDA said, okeh, we'll go ahead and schedule CBD the lowest possible schedule that we can [sic: CBD is still Schedule One], but they formally stated that they would leave themselves open to change that should there be guidance from the UN, and then here, just months later, literally, there's going to be guidance from the UN on CBD, so this is going to be fascinating, how it unfolds in the US.

FARID GHEHIOUECHE: Doug, if I may just add a few words to what Michael just described, for sure, that's a long process. And, we are entering into a type of new history, and for decades, we were waiting for this scientific assessment to be made -- to be made on cannabis, that -- on what is the endocannabinoid system, how it works, about how those compounds work and everything, now is on the table.

Until 2015, it was not the case. Nobody knew about this at the UN level, or even within the WHO. And so, this long process now is entering to a phase, a new step, that is historic because for sure, in March, regarding the recommendation made by the WHO, there will be a vote.

So, this is actually already a success, for sure. We didn't have the scientific assessment five years ago, now we will have it. In a few months, we will see how the states at the UN level are doing with this issue, and mostly because next year, they have to make sure the issue to discuss, and to decide is about the next UN objective for the next decade, until 2029.

And here there is lots of fights and lots of challenges that are related to human rights and the death penalty, and so-called -- also issues that are not breaking the consensus. And also challenges that are related to the coherence that the UN system has to find with relation to the Sustainable Goals 2030. That's quite important to think about.

So, next March, we will enter a new world, and for sure, about the CBD, about what we are now I would say, is also another challenge for the UN system regarding scheduling issues. It's not only about the cannabinoids and what we call the phytocannabinoids. It's more about the petro-cannabinoids, and all the different mimetic drugs that are so-called new psychotropic drugs -- substances, NPS.

Like fentanyl, that are mimetic to the morphinic products, but are one hundred times more potent. And all those issues related to the new psychoactive substances are quite big, because we see for one century we quite prohibited cannabis, because we don't have real scientific assessment on it, but nowadays, there's many, many different compounds that are existing in this world that are not controlled, and within the UN process they are not able to handle this issue.

So they have to, I would say, manage a new way to establish their control, and, if they relax, if I just may use one word, if they relax about cannabis issues, like Michael explained, changing part of the cannabis scheduling, making it more coherent, it will be quite a big step forward.

DOUG MCVAY: This is a portion of an interview with Michael Krawitz, from Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access, and Farid Ghehioueche, a French activist and organizer who is one of the organizers behind the International Cannabis Policy Conference.

You are listening to Century of Lies. I'm your host, Doug McVay. editor of Now, let's get back to Farid and Michael.

It's a thing I talk about on this show quite a lot, this, the CND process is opaque, and it's intentional. There's -- it's not technology, it's not rules, there is no reason for it except trying to maintain that opacity. They do not want the process to be transparent, they do not want people to understand or to follow this stuff.

And, that's really why, you know, I mean, it's -- hey, I wish I had the travel budget so I could be there myself, and I'm glad that we have the ability to talk, because I think this is important stuff, and I'm grateful to heavens that -- to both of you, Farid and to Michael, I'm very grateful to you for participating and for talking about what's going on there.

Because, I mean, it's, you know, light is a great disinfectant. And this UN process needs some disinfecting. It's -- there's no question. So, now I do want to find out more about the conference, the ICPC, the International Cannabis Policy Conference. I'm getting that part right, right?

MICHAEL KRAWITZ: Right. Right, the ICPC, yes, in Vienna at the Austria Centre. It's this massive, beautiful, brand new complex. It's almost connected to the UN Centre, it's just separated by a wall, basically, between the United Nations Vienna International Centre and the Austria Events Centre, where we're going to be.

Really beautiful place. What we're going to actually do, we're bringing our main activists inside the UN on Friday, and we're going to have our own little private lunch meeting there, inside the UN, and talk about strategy, talk about some of these issues surrounding cannabis and sustainability, and working with the CND and all.

And then, that night, we're going to have a reception, where we're hoping to engage as many of the diplomats as we can from the Commission process, for the next day, which would be the Eighth and Ninth of December, where we're going to have our conference. And I'll let Farid handle it from there.

FARID GHEHIOUECHE: Yeah, on Saturday morning, we start with the opening panel, with my friend Michael, who will open the ceremony, and then we will enter quite in a big, big issue, because we talk about sustainable development, about the climate change, about the new needed to challenge those issues.

We are sure that lots of the speakers that are actually the program, that are coming also, some on Friday, but on even on Sunday, we will have quite good panels, and I request you to go on the website and to have an image of our, I would say, the quality of the speakers, and I would say, also, en francais we say la creme de la creme.

So, that's the image. Again, the highest profile, the people that are very known engagement, like we are. And, what is important is that we try to merge not only a conference but also an exhibition, and a kind of fair.

And so we will also open the floor to entrepreneurs, to those -- yeah, those stakeholders that are now part of the reality of what we call the market. And, it is a big word to say that it's part of the reality, and there is a lot of people that are now engaged, with a lot of money, into these kinds of industries. That's not even to talk about the big money in the medical marijuana.

We also have the sponsorship of those who are trying to develop the textile, or even the food supplement relative to the health industry. So, all those stakeholders, from the entrepreneur to the researcher, from those who are physicians and are dealing with the patient, but also the patient that will also be there, represented, with Franjo Grotenhermen, who is the president of the International Association for Cannabis -- Medical Cannabis [sic: the International Association for Cannabinoid Medicines], IACM.

And so, we will have all those high profiles at this conference, and also, at this date, the program at this date, because of the UN CND reconvened session, but also because we are just next to the Human Rights Declaration Day, and this year it will be the seventieth anniversary of this declaration.

And I guess that we're also given -- given also the unique and historic, as well as we are now entering to a kind of unique and historic process regarding cannabis scheduling at the international level.

DOUG MCVAY: So, now, how do folks find out about the conference, just in case, the Think & Do Tank website is Or am I misremembering?

MICHAEL KRAWITZ: That's correct.


DOUG MCVAY: Excellent.

MICHAEL KRAWITZ: The conference is right there, just click conference, you'll see the link right there.

DOUG MCVAY: Right on. Hopefully you'll be posting some of the content. That's -- yeah, like I say, I don't have the travel budget anymore, but gosh I wish I could be there.

UNKNOWN: Join our event on Facebook.

MICHAEL KRAWITZ: Yeah, join our event on Facebook, and --

UNKNOWN: And follow our conference page, instagram, and twitter.

MICHAEL KRAWITZ: Instagram, twitter, all the social media.

FARID GHEHIOUECHE: Yeah, and we will livestream those panel sessions for those who are no means, and they can't afford to come to Vienna. It's quite, really, difficult, we can imagine, to come to the UN building and the city of Vienna. But, this venue is quite very well -- yeah, there is good material, so we will have a nice broadcast on facebook, so, and all the social media, and I guess that lots of people will also share this opportunity to follow all those very nice speakers.

DOUG MCVAY: Right on. Farid, if you've got another minute, since I've got you on the phone, could you -- what's, talk to me about drug policy in France, about drug policy reform and drug policy in France. What kind of stuff are you working on, and what are some of the things you think people should -- what should people know?

FARID GHEHIOUECHE: About France, it's quite complicated, because my country is now supposed to be governed by a very nice, young, modern president, but it's not really the case when we talk about drug policy at all.

We are a kind of big strong guy, and that's quite not coherent to the image of being progressive and being very, actually, being smart, and so, for over a year, since last year in fact, the government should have issued the national new strategy, and it has been postponed three times this year, and it should be released before the end of the year.

And when I was living in Paris, it was still not possible to get the date about when the new strategy will be released.

So, that's quite ambiguous, because yesterday I discovered that there was a big title in the French papers about a new commission that has been implemented in September that was supposed to evaluate the scientific benefits of cannabis, but also the harms of cannabis.

It was quite a kind of obscure new committee, but it's quite important because it's directly linked to the French authorities, a kind of FDA, a French FDA, ANSM [L'Agence nationale de sécurité du médicament et des produits de santé or ANSM].

And so, this committee yesterday said oh, we should consider the -- consider that cannabis has medical -- as a medicine can have some value for the patient, and then after they put some little comments, cannot be too positive, but, they recognized there the rights of patients to have access to cannabis for any kind of support related to their health.

And so, that's quite a big issue because in 2013, there was a French health minister decree that said that all kinds of cannabis products that can be issued from the natural forms of cannabis can be found into pharmacy as medicine as long as they have their authorization of being sold on the market, which is quite a big process also.

But, yeah. At that time, this decree from the health minister was described as the Sativex, which is seen, talked about Epidiolex, which is mostly about CBD, but Sativex is a mixture, eighty percent of THC with CBD. And like Epidiolex, it's not so really well done, because there is also part of alcohol and some kind of --

MICHAEL KRAWITZ: Sublingual spray.

FARID GHEHIOUECHE: Yeah. So, the Sativex decree has not really been effective because Sativex is not available in pharmacies because the [inaudible] GW and Bayer, they didn't sign an agreement with the French government, and still now they are -- nobody can afford to get access to this medicine.

But, yesterday they opened the door to a kind of new policy for patients, I would say for sure in two weeks, maybe, we will see a opening up some cannabis medical club, which will be mostly a cannabis compassionate club, and I'm sure that we will see rising those kind of initiatives related to the support and we'll not talk about waiting for a kind of state or government agreement related to the use of this medicine

DOUG MCVAY: That was an interview with Michael Krawitz and Farid Ghehioueche, they are organizing the International Cannabis Policy Conference in Vienna, Austria, December 7, 8, and 9. I wish them all the luck, wish I could be there.

For now, that's it. I want to thank you for joining us. 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 I’m your host Doug McVay, editor of

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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.