At the top of 2019, the Director General of the World Health Organization sent a formal letter of recommendation to the Secretary General of the United Nations, shifting the focus onto cannabis and its associated derivatives. In the letter, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus recommended that cannabis and the compounds derived from it should be rescheduled within the framework of international drug control.
The proposed changes addressed several key components, including the recommendation that Cannabidiol (CBD) should be "explicitly excluded" from international control as there is "no relevant risk to public health." In other words, the World Health Organization Expert Committee on Drug Dependence proposed that the cannabinoid, which is non-psychoactive, be approached differently and should not be scheduled within the International Drug Control Conventions. As an extract of cannabis, it currently is included in the Schedule IV category stemming from the1961 UN Single Convention Narcotic Drugs where it is considered to have "particularly dangerous properties."
As the WHO asserted in its recommendation, the international treaty could benefit greatly from being revised. Additionally, making such changes could have massive implications on the cannabis industry at large, ranging from simplifying the classification of cannabis to helping change the stigma surrounding the plant by recognizing the unlikelihood of abuse to allowing for less limitations in researching its medicinal value and potential. Unfortunately, the decision anticipated to be made by the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs has been delayed, likely until 2020, allowing for more time for member states to thoroughly review the proposed changes.
While the status of cannabis and its compounds such as THC and CBD remain in a state of flux, under current international law, cultivation, supply and possession of cannabis should only be permissible for "medical and scientific purposes." Generally speaking, this means that possession of cannabis should be a punishable crime. While international law suggests cannabis being used for non-medical purposes, each country has their own jurisdictions and policies, with CBD often left in a grey area while cannabis commands the spotlight.
While the status of cannabis and its compounds such as THC and CBD remain in a state of flux, under current international law, cultivation, supply and possession of cannabis should only be permissible for "medical and scientific purposes."
While CBD oil is not universally legal around the world, many countries are reexamining what many advocates deem to be archaic laws. For example, in May 2019, Bulgaria became the first European country to allow for the free sale of hemp-derived CBD products in open markets, issuing a Free Certificate of Sale for CBD to a company known as Kannaway. Through this measure, certain Kannaway-branded hemp-derived CBD products will now be sold in the country as "traditional foods," setting a precedent that industry forecasters believe could start a ripple effect. While the vast majority of Europe permits CBD to be sold and consumed, as well as having moved forward on adapting cannabis decriminalization and harm reduction policies, there are still some regional specifications to be mindful of, especially when traveling.
A Look at the Differences in Approach to Cannabis Law Around the Globe
In South America, the legal status of CBD is relatively hazy and because of this, it is recommended to review if cannabis is legal. As a general rule of thumb, countries where cannabis is legal makes CBD legal by default, but this is not necessarily the case the other way around. In Brazil, for example, CBD is only available with a Brazilian prescription and cannabis is decriminalized. In Uruguay, on the other hand, cannabis and therefore also CBD is only legal for residents.
In Africa, cannabis and subsequently CBD is illegal. However, South Africa is working to make strides in the space, becoming the first on the continent to pass a federal law approving the sale and market of nonprescription CBD.
Some Asian countries are also working to decriminalize the plant, such as in Thailand where medical cannabis is legal as of February 2019 or in South Korea, who became the first East Asian nation to legalize medical marijuana in November 2018. However, cannabis is currently still illegal in a majority of Asian nations.
The Middle East has strict cannabis laws and the overall landscape varies by the nation in question. For example, Israel is leading the charge on international research of cannabis and its compounds. However, comparatively, Saudi Arabia has banned personal use and possession of any kind of recreational drugs, including cannabis. Imprisonment for personal usage of cannabis skew on the harsh side, whereas drug trafficking can even result in the death penalty (although recent executions are rare).
In Australia, CBD oil is legal, but only by prescription and for certain medical ailments. However, this is likely to change, as the capital became the first jurisdiction in the country to legalize the recreational possession and cultivation of cannabis this September. Australia approved medical cannabis in 2016.
Canada has legalized cannabis and CBD on both a recreational and medicinal level, allowing CBD products to be readily and widely available throughout the country. In Mexico, the law prohibiting cannabis usage was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Mexico on October 31, 2018. While the government is working to formally revise its cannabis laws and is currently in a period of transition, Mexico currently permits a range of CBD products that are available without a prescription.
Meanwhile, in America, California was the first state to legalize medicinal cannabis, paving the way for others to follow suit. Currently, 33 states allow cannabis for medical purposes, while 11 states have legalized recreational use. Additionally, 14 states have some form of legislation in place allowing for CBD to be utilized for medical purposes. Additionally, the 2018 Farm Bill was passed, defining hemp "as the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of the plant with a delta-9 THC concentration of not more than 0.3 percent by dry weight." The law removed hemp from the Controlled Substances Act and therefore legalized the cultivation and sale of hemp at the federal level.
Ultimately, given the complexity of cannabis and the rapidly changing nature of legislation as it pertains to the plant and its compounds on a global scale, it is essential to research the legal specifications of CBD for the specific country of interest on an individual basis.