Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.

UN removes Cannabis from ‘Most Dangerous Drug’ Category

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Cannabis

Mains level : Cannabis and its de-regulation

The United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) voted to remove cannabis and cannabis resin from Schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, decades after they were first placed on the list.

Q. Too much de-regulation of Cannabis could lead to its mass cultivation and a silent economy wreaking havoc through a new culture of substance abuse in India. Critically analyse.

What is Cannabis?

  • Cannabis, also known as marijuana among other names, is a psychoactive drug from the Cannabis plant used primarily for medical or recreational purposes.
  • The main psychoactive component of cannabis is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is one of the 483 known compounds in the plant, including at least 65 other cannabinoids, including cannabidiol (CBD).
  • It is used by smoking, vaporizing, within the food, or as an extract.

UN’s decision and India

  • Currently in India, the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, 1985, illegalizes any mixture with or without any neutral material, of any of the two forms of cannabis – charas and ganja — or any drink prepared from it.
  • The WHO says that cannabis is by far the most widely cultivated, trafficked and abused illicit drug in the world. But the UN decision could influence the global use of medicinal marijuana,
  • India was part of the voting majority, along with the US and most European nations.
  • China, Pakistan and Russia were among those who voted against, and Ukraine abstained.

Cannabis in India

In India, cannabis, also known as bhang, ganja, charas or hashish, is typically eaten (bhang golis, thandai, pakoras, lassi, etc.) or smoked (chillum or cigarette).

Under international law

  • The Vienna-based CND, founded in 1946, is the UN agency mandated to decide on the scope of control of substances by placing them in the schedules of global drug control conventions.
  • Cannabis has been on Schedule IV–the most dangerous category– of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs for as long as the international treaty has existed.

Fuss over Cannabis

  • Cannabis has various mental and physical effects, which include euphoria, altered states of mind and sense of time, difficulty concentrating, impaired short-term memory and body movement, relaxation, and an increase in appetite.
  • But global attitudes towards cannabis have changed dramatically, with many jurisdictions permitting cannabis use for recreation, medication or both, despite it remaining on Schedule IV of the UN list.
  • Currently, over 50 countries allow medicinal cannabis programs, and its recreational use has been legalized in Canada, Uruguay and 15 US states.

Impact of the decision

  • 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 regulations.
  • The decision would add momentum to efforts for decriminalizing cannabis in countries where its use is most restricted, while further legalizing the substance in others.
  • Scientific research into marijuana’s medicinal properties is also expected to grow.
  • Legalising and regulating cannabis will “undermine criminal markets” as well as its smuggling and cultivation.

Risks of Legalizing Cannabis

(1) Health risks continue to persist

  • There are many misconceptions about cannabis. First, it is not accurate that cannabis is harmless.
  • Its immediate effects include impairments in memory and in mental processes, including ones that are critical for driving.
  • Long-term use of cannabis may lead to the development of addiction of the substance, persistent cognitive deficits, and of mental health problems like schizophrenia, depression and anxiety.
  • Exposure to cannabis in adolescence can alter brain development.

(2) A new ‘tobacco’ under casualization

  • A second myth is that if cannabis is legalized and regulated, its harms can be minimized.
  • With legalization comes commercialization. Cannabis is often incorrectly advertised as being “natural” and “healthier than alcohol and tobacco”.
  • Tobacco, too, was initially touted as a natural and harmless plant that had been “safely” used in religious ceremonies for centuries.

Way ahead

  • It’s important to make a distinction between legalization, decriminalization and commercialization.
  • While legalization and decriminalization are mostly used in a legal context, commercialization relates to the business side of things.
  • For India to liberalise its policy on cannabis, it should ensure that there are enough protections for children, the young, and those with severe mental illnesses, who are most vulnerable to its effects.
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