How to Sell the World Health Organization on Marijuana — And Why It Matters

How to Sell the World Health Organization on Marijuana — And Why It Matters

For cannabis companies, access to the world export market is the difference between success and wild, untold-of Wolf Of Wall Street-level success.

Several years into the legalization era, marijuana remains the world’s most popular illegal drug, a status cannabis enjoys for two obvious reasons: It is popular all around the world, and all around the world, it remains illegal.

The reasons why are — almost — just as obvious. Marijuana is popular because it is useful and enjoyable all while being relatively inexpensive and benign. Look at that: a plant with healing qualities and (almost) no hangover. There is no comparison. Yet it remains illegal because — among other reasons — it has taken until now for authorities the world round to admit to those four qualities despite ample data points.

But lo, even that is changing, as the World Health Organization is demonstrating — although change is happening at a glacial bureaucratic pace that will almost surely prove too slow for frustrated cannabis entrepreneurs, who meanwhile are desperately seeking access to the final frontier, the Holy Grail of cannabis businesses, the difference between a weed unicorn and a mere “successful company”: access to the international export market.


At the moment, prohibitionist states have more in common with western European countries. This is because international law resembles American federal law, insofar as whenever an international treaty — such as the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs — mentions marijuana, marijuana is classified as a banned narcotic that poses a threat to the health and welfare of the people.

That same UN treaty repeatedly mentions cannabis in the same breath as cocaine and heroin — two drugs that have killed many people, compared to a grand total of zero deaths attributable to cannabis “overdose” since the dawn of human history, so clearly, the UN’s attitude on weed is due for a reboot.

The WHO realizes this, and its official stance on cannabis is in the process of review — and, one expects, revision.
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As Marijuana Moment reported, ahead of a public meeting scheduled for early June, the WHO’s “Expert Committee on Drug Dependence” released some initial “evidentiary findings” about the drug. These findings are what you would expect, in that the committee recognized what most of us already know.

As we restated above, cannabis has killed nobody, and has medical benefits for sufferers of pain and cancer or AIDS-related wasting syndrome. The WHO acknowledged this, while also bemoaning the dearth of clinical trials and longitudinal studies — which is what happens when you ban a substance while also making it extremely difficult, time-consuming, and ultimately a waste of time for scientists to study it.

Those keeping score at home will note that so far, the WHO’s take on weed — realized after the organization solicited worldwide comment on the drug — is almost identical to the National Academies of Sciences’s review, released in January 2017.


With such well-accepted and well-known facts trickling out of the world order’s health experts at a snail’s pace — the weed version of Chinese water torture — it is little wonder, then, that the WHO’s findings have already been oversold by the overzealous or the unscrupulous. Some of them have been claiming since last December — when another WHO committee found that CBD, or cannabidiol, the non-psychoactive cannabinoid, was nonpsychoactive — that the WHO has declared medical marijuana viable and safe, which it has not.

It bears mentioning that the UN treaty on cannabis has never dictated national policy — at least not directly. It wasn’t the UN that compelled Richard Nixon to sign the Controlled Substances Act into law — and the UN didn’t do anything to stop or penalize Canada from legalizing recreational marijuana, or shipping it to eager patients and researchers in Germany, Australia, Croatia, and a handful of other countries.

To put it another way: The UN is behind the times on drug-control policy. The lag is so bad that member countries have decided it’s better to buck the international order and pursue their own drug-policy reform, even if it violates the very treaties to which they are held — in theory, at least legally.

But here’s the main thing: The UN has also demonstrated that it’s not interested in enforcing those international treaties. Its main enforcer, the muscle using threats of economic penury as its carrot and stick, was the United States—a country whose states are making an open mockery of its official policy.
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Would a change in the United Nations’s attitude towards marijuana shift the US federal government’s attitudes? Could it, when uber-isolationist and renown UN-hater John Bolton is feeding Donald Trump policy advice? Probably not — but here, at least, is where the US matters less than the UN.

The WHO is due to deliver policy recommendations to the UN secretary-general. There does not appear to be any way, scientifically or politically, that the WHO could justify the status quo — and the UN’s current secretary general, António Guterres, is the former prime minister of Portugal, where the drug (and all others) were successfully decriminalized.

If cannabis comes before Guterres, it seems almost certain he will approve a weakening of the UN’s current draconian approach. That will accelerate countries’ already swift embrace of cannabis. That will be great for Canadian companies on the export market — and that, in turn, will compel American firms sick of having their country hobble their growth to demand a change in kind.

That, more so than the cosmopolitan eggheads at the WHO, will trigger an update in US policy. But it has to start somewhere — and if those same eggheads finally come around to embracing weed, you know where things are headed.