World – and Australia – move closer to cannabis decriminalisation – Criminal Law


World – and Australia – move closer to cannabis decriminalisation

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Despite the lamentable outcome of the NZ cannabis legalisation referendum that
saw the usually progressive nation vote in a slight majority
against making the plant legal for recreational use, the ongoing
international trend towards cannabis use becoming a legal practice

On 2 December, the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) removed
cannabis from schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, where
it had been classed as one of the most dangerous drugs on the
planet – with no redeeming medicinal features – along with

While on 4 December, the US House of Representatives
voted to decriminalise cannabis at the federal level, which, if
passed by the Senate, would have removed it from the schedule of
controlled substances and permit it’s taxation and sale, as is
already the case in many of the nation’s states.

Dismantling global prohibition

The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs forms the basis of modern transnational
drug prohibition. Having cannabis removed from its fourth schedule
means the plant is no longer classified as extremely addictive with
no medical purposes.

While the plant still remains a controlled substance
under schedule 1 of the international drug control treaty, the
change means that it’s now formally recognised as having
medicinal purposes and it could generate further research into the
therapeutic potential of cannabis.

“The reclassification of cannabis by the UN agency,
although significant, would not immediately change its status
worldwide as long as individual countries continue with existing
regulation interpretations of their own,” said long-term
cannabis activist Loren Paul Wiener.

“Though helpful, currently Canada has bypassed these
guidelines since 2001,” he continued, adding that the move
will have the effect that nations will no longer be able to hide
behind the schedule IV rating as a reason to continue to prohibit
the production and use of cannabis medicines.

On the day of the US presidential election, the states of New
Jersey, Arizona, Montana and South Dakota voted to legalise recreational cannabis
use, bringing these jurisdictions into line with eleven other
states and the capital territory, which have already made the adult
use of the herb lawful.

Thirty six states in the US also currently permit the legal use
of cannabis medicines.

Yet, this leaves a disconnect with US federal law, as it still
prohibits both recreational and medicinal cannabis use.

And this is what the MORE Act 2019 seeks to resolve. It removes
the popularly used plant from the list of controlled substances and
places a 5 percent taxation upon it.

The House of Representatives voted in favour of the cannabis
decriminalisation bill last Friday. But, as Wiener told Sydney Criminal Lawyers, the legislation will
not be passed into law, as “the current Republican Senate will
not look at it this session”.

Hailing from the United States, Wiener further sets out that a
revised bill will now need to be voted through the lower house in
early 2021, and then be sent to the Senate, which by that time
might hold a Democratic majority, which would likely pass the

And while president-elect Joe Biden and vice president-elect
Kamala Harris have been no friends to cannabis reform in the past,
commentators point out that their position has
changed, and they now support federal decriminalisation and
allowing states to make their own decisions on adult use.

As Wiener tells it, not only would this have an impact upon the
perception of the plant over here – where it’s already legal to recreationally
use and personally possess it in the ACT – it would also have
implications as the US market would open to exports, and this
country imports medicinal products.

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