Side Event: Legal uses and markets for cannabis, coca and opium poppy – breaking disbalances and stigma under UNGASS 2016 approach

Martin Jelsma: We have an opportunity to explore the power of nature and under the framework of the conventions.


Fernando Botero: I am grateful to you for exploring this topic. Colombia is always placing human beings at the centre of policy. To see UN-wide cooperation to address the world drug problem. Colombia joins those who seek to overcome the issue while exploring the rights of the people and ending drug trafficking. We’re in the process of developing medical cannabis – and providing access for people who require it. It improves the quality of life for patients, and respects human rights. Before this, people were exposed to risk within the illegal market. This is a unique opportunity for cannabis growers, and within implementation under the peace agreement currently underway. At least 10% of cannabis produced for export must come from these vulnerable farming sectors of our population. We have a comprehensive model that covers the entire production chains of cannabis to a pharmaceutical product. Our starting point is scientific evidence and the benefit of cannabis for patients, including pain. That’s why more countries are legalsing the medical use of this plant. We invest a lot in understanding the illegal drug market and putting an end to them. Poppy is the source of opioids considered essential by the WHO and used by the whole world – meaning it has become an important sector in some countries. To protect the population we have to end the stigma within the conventions. There is a moral burden to reject the benefits of cannabis. We are confident that under the UN framework regulation is the right thing to do to benefit humanity and provide medicines that will save lives. They focus on health, the patient and generate a comprehensive control system for the entire production chain. Colombia welcomes and will monitor the review process that the WHO is carrying out on cannabis, as well as all the research already done. We cannot allow that subjectivity on other uses of the plant prevent us from utilising these substances. We’re pushing for the use of these plants to be more humane – not just for legalisation. We believe this is the way ahead.


Martin Jelsma: This is a good initiative of Colombia to put this on the table. It’s a strange taboo, even though it’s legitimate within the treaties. It’s a consequence of the demonisation of these plants. These plants are not illegal in themselves – they have licit uses within the treaties. We will look at the inconsistencies. If you look at before the single convention – they all still talked about legitimate purposes of all the substances. It was left to the member states to define the legitimate purposes. The focus was on prohibiting the export to countries which  prohibited the illicit use of these substances. The 1961 convention was the first time control was extended to cultivation of the plants. Cannabis has never had a formal review, and it was automatically entered into the convention within a WHO review – as well as the coca leaf. It’s a questionable transition. The exemptions that were negotiated weren’t easy and took 25 year to gradually get legitimate uses of these plants included, eg. Coca cola. The leaves of the cannabis plant are not placed under control, only the top flower. The 1971 convention did recognise religious use of the plants in ceremonies. All these plants have licit uses and important ones. We must look carefully and review how these are dealt with now in the international control system. Milder herbal substances can be beneficial and we could allow them on the market. These can be a useful tool to alternative development, similar to what Colombia is doing to support farmers by producing medical cannabis.


Pavel Bém: From our perspective it is good to look at drug policy reform in practical examples such as Colombia. I was involved in one of the first countries to decriminalise the use of drugs in Czech Republic, including harm reduction in jails. 5 years ago I introduced a new law on medical cannabis – it’s not a total success story. 83% of the world population do not have access to essential medicines, but why? There are many causes and reasons, but one of the most important is the fact that most of these substances are controlled by the UN conventions that make it simply unavailable at the moment. In the Czech Republic we passed a bill on medical cannabis – it is now accessible to those who need it, but the disappointment is that medical cannabis is still unavailable to too many people simply because the cost is too high. It is economic prohibition. The other problem is that cannabis has stigma – healthcare providers and insurance providers are extremely suspicious and still won’t provide cover to many people. Another problem is that there is limited scientific evidence on the health benefits – and it’s not enough for traditional western medicine. One example is a mother in Chile growing cannabis for her epileptic son, but this treatment is still rejected by her doctors. There is still research to be done to look at the benefits of cannabis for other treatments. The UN conventions limit this research. The GCDP published a 2014 report showing that prohibition failed to achieve ALL of its objectives. Eg. ensure access to medicine and scientific research, but also prevent abuse of the substances. We suggested that prohibition achieves the total opposite of its aims, and that legal regulation would actually help it achieve those original aims. We regulate so many other things successfully. Drug regulation is not that radical, as it does not need to rethink the conventions. The GCDP thinks that different levels of regulation are needed for different substances. We must not create demand. The market for drugs should never be over commercialized or over prohibited.
Fernando Botero: I would like to end by saying: today I talked with a medical colleague who is the first to use cannabis as an anaesthetic for an eye operations

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