Cannabis control

The model of the WHO tobacco control treaty
01 March 2003

Cannabis like other illicit drugs is so-called ‘controlled drug’. A closer look makes clear that these drugs are in fact far from being ‘controlled’. The cultivation, trade, transport, wholesale distribution, sale, and above all the unsafe composition, potency and quality of the products are not controlled at all. Neither is the use. All this is a threat to public health. Fortunately, there is an alternative at hand.

Since 2000, the World Health Organization (WHO) is negotiating its first treaty on tobacco: the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). It is foreseen that the FCTC will be adopted at the World Health Assembly in 2003. If we were to bring (‘schedule’) cannabis under the FCTC it would offer room for a shift from prohibition to regulation and control. In other words: decriminalisation can be compensated by a regulatory regime.

In the FCTC a great number of items are likely to be incorporated, such as: price and tax measures; protection from passive smoking; regulation of contents of tobacco products; regulation of tobacco disclosures; packaging and labelling of tobacco products; education, training and public awareness; banning advertising, promotion and sponsorship; measures concerning tobacco dependence and cessation; ‘tracking and tracing’ of tobacco products in order to eliminate illicit trade; and elimination of tobacco subsidies and government support. Surprisingly during the negotiations none of the 190 Parties to the WHO has ever proposed or suggested prohibiting cultivation, trade or use of tobacco. If the forthcoming WHO tobacco convention is considered to be an adequate instrument for controlling such a dangerous substance, especially in developing countries, why could not the same way serve as a public health instrument to ‘control’ cannabis better?

It does not solve all the problems and a lot has to be worked out, but the cannabis problem can be brought back to its real, ‘natural’ proportions. If we were to schedule cannabis in the FCTC it would, paradoxically enough, also serve the health objectives of the current drug treaties.

Special Issue on the UNGASS Mid-term Review
April 2003
International Journal of Drug Policy (Volume 14, Issue 2)