United Nation Single Convention of 1961

The Context

he “International Drug Control Conventions” (IDCC) do not regulate hemp. Yet, they can affect hemp-related policies, in particular, because of legal uncertainties and grey zones due to the poor level of definition of “Cannabis” by the IDCC.

The IDCC are composed of 3 main treaties:

  1. UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (1961), amended in 1972. It mostly deals with traditional medical plants and pharmaceutical products. Fruits/Flowers of Cannabis plant, cannabis resin (hashish), and extracts&tinctures of Cannabis are nowadays controlled under this Convention.
  2. UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances (1971) addresses psychoactive substances and drugs from a more chemical perspective. THC is nowadays controlled under this Convention.
  3. UN Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (1988) reinforces the previous two, in particular on the law-enforcement aspect.

These Conventions only address medicines and medical sectors, although they make a call to the criminal justice system to enforce penalties surrounding diversion and non-appropriate use of these controlled medical products.

The IDCC are framework legal instruments that regulate pharmaceutical markets of controlled products, substances, plants and fungi. However, many other non-medicine-related uses of these same products, substances, plants and fungi exist. For this reason, the IDCC have clauses that fully exempt the non-medical and non-scientific research-related activities.

For hemp, although the Cannabis sativa plant is placed under the auspices of the 1961 Convention on Narcotic Drugs, clear exemptions allow countries to implement hemp policies and regulations that completely disregard the IDCC. The most notable ones are:
Exemption by purpose of use:

  • General exemption by purpose. Contemplated in Article 2(9) of the 1961 Convention declaring that ratifying countries “are not required to apply the provisions of this Convention to drugs which are commonly used in industry for other than medical or scientific purposes” and Article 4(b) of the 1971 Convention which explains that governments “may permit […] The use of such substances in industry for the manufacture of non-psychotropic substances or products”
  • Specific exemption by purpose for the Cannabis plant. The whole plant is fully exempted from all the provisions of the Convention, when used for “industrial” and/or “horticultural” purposes, in Article 28(2) of the 1961 Convention.

Exemption by botanical parts of the Cannabis plant:

  • Regardless of the “purpose” of use describe above, the 1961 Convention also explicitly exempts Cannabis seeds, fibers (Article 28(2)), and “leaves when not accompanied by the tops” (Article 1(b))
  • The official explanation of the Convention (Commentary) explains that, beyond the parts that are explicitly mentioned in these articles, all parts of the Cannabis plant that are not “flowering or fruiting tops” do not fall under the terms of the Convention if used in industrial settings for non-medical purposes.

In clear words: YES the IDCC impose strict regulations on the cultivation of the Cannabis plant for research on medical purposes, and direct use in medicine and pharmaceutical sector, but NO these disposition do not apply at all to the cultivation and all activities linked to hemp (industrial non-grug-related uses of the Cannabis plant).

Since 2016, the World Health Organization has been mandated to assess and update the placement of Cannabis within the IDCC. While this process presents an important number of positive opportunities (in particular to clarify and more explicitly exempt hemp and CBD products from the provisions of the IDCC) there are also some risks linked to the complexity of Cannabis plant and its derivatives. This process has also been the occasion of a renewed dialogue between the United Nations system, and the European Union currently undergoing its own revision of hemp and CBD policies.

EIHA’s Actions

EIHA does not directly engage in the international arena, yet because of the interdependence of policies and the challenges faced, EIHA has been supporting the work of Michael Krawitz and Kenzi Riboulet-Zemouli of the DRCNet Foundation Inc. (independent researchers and policy advocates, with permanent observer status to the United Nations) focused on accompanying the WHO review process and the changes in the scope of IDCC-controls implied.
All interested stakeholders are warmly invited to join EIHA in supporting their work: A donation can be made to DRCNet Foundation, just contact us with the form below: