Crafting cannabis policy to adhere to European and international regulations

Home » Crafting cannabis policy to adhere to European and international regulations

Paris-based cannabis consultancy Augur Associates’ white paper explores how cannabis policy can combat drug harms and protect human rights whilst also complying with international drug regulations.

Obligations to international drug Conventions are perceived as a barrier for countries looking to make changes in national approaches to drug policy. 

Cannabis is currently regulated under three Conventions – the main being the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961. The Convention’s aim is to limit the possession, use, trade, distribution, import, export, manufacture and production of drugs for medical and scientific purposes, and to combat drug trafficking through international co-operation.

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However, Augur Associates’ white paper, which is a result of two years of research from Kenzi Riboulet-Zemouli, highlights that: “While the Convention uses terms such as “control” and mostly establishes regulatory requirements related to medical and pharmaceutical uses of drugs, the words “recreational use” are absent, and “prohibition” is very rarely mentioned in the text.” 

“Prohibition”, it states, is present in the text as an optional escape clause, “discretionary upon the Member States to apply in a limited set of extreme public health situations.” 

Reform is in line with Conventions

The paper suggests that, while the political economy of cannabis control is framed as an external position, countries need to look inward to examine the racist and classist underpinnings of national policy choices. 

Citing examples of Uruguay, Malta, Canada and US territories, it argues that it is possible for countries to regulate non-medical cannabis industries today, and that “international drug control conventions do include room for the legal regulation of “other than medical and scientific uses in the context of industry”.”

The paper states: “Both the text and the legal history of the Convention of 1961 support the possibility to exempt the non-medical cannabis industry (“other than medical and scientific purposes in the context of industry”), as well as all related activities along the production and supply chain.” 

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Speaking to Cannabis Wealth, Benjamin-Alexandre Jeanroy, CEO of Augur Associates commented: “For decades, we couldn’t interpret the Convention other than through a prohibitive lens – that was the only way that was possible because it was backed mainly by the US. Right now, the US is changing and is saying the conventions do leave sufficient flexibilities to do things differently. 

“The political moment has changed, so now we can interpret it differently. Countries, depending on their aspiration and their citizens’ needs, can decide to do something different. Our drug policies are linked to our decision makers’ choices, prejudice, history, culture and so on. We believe that change needs to happen at the State level before anything else.”

As well as discussing the roles of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) in cannabis regulation, the paper sets out that progressive reform policies are in keeping with the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

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“Kenzi’s work has been groundbreaking. He has linked cannabis and the SDGs, and it shows that cannabis is linked to nine out of the 13 SDGs,” said Jeanroy. 

“He has shown that ultimately, the industrial hemp application plays a big part in that, but we do realise that the way we regulate cannabis – or the way we regulate illicit drugs – is an obstacle to the success of achieving sustainable development goals. 

“He highlights this, showing that it is not an anecdotal topic and that it needs to be central to our discussion on sustainability. I think it’s a big leap forward.”

Cannabis should be regulated by purpose

“Member States are sovereign in adopting a treaty interpretation that fits their priorities,” states the paper.

It highlights that it is possible to read the international cannabis control system as a “Framework Convention for the control of some medicines via the regulation of the clinical and pharmaceutical sectors – a framework focusing on a specific use: the medical and scientific one, while not imposing norms on any other non-medical uses.” 

Kenzi uses the example of how the chilli pepper is regulated, pointing out that the Chemical Weapons Convention prohibits the use of chilli pepper for purposes of warfare, but that it is also possible to use chilli pepper for “industrial, cosmetic or even food purposes”, as well as to grow chilli pepper in private settings. 

“This very same chilli is subject to certain regulations when prepared for use as a medicine (according to monographs 2529 or 2336 of the European Pharmacopoeia 13) and to other types of regulations related to other purposes from it – to make self-defence spray or for policing, for example, military purposes, police purpose, medicinal purposes, food purposes… Chilli pepper is regulated by purposes. Cannabis should as well.”

The paper stipulates that different rules apply to cannabis and its products when they are used for different purposes.

Jeanroy commented: “We need to put some subtlety and finesse in our regulations. Depending on what you’re using it for, cannabis can be regulated in different ways. We’re starting to see that with cannabis at a certain level, even in Europe and through Novel Foods.

“We are putting different rules if you’re using hemp for industrial purposes, or for medical cannabis. So, putting a plant that has so much active and non-active ingredients and therefore so much different use – putting it in one place, and very rigidly regulating is definitely outdated.”

The EU can be a leader in reform

The EU is in a position to lead the way in policy change through decriminalisation, the paper argues, explaining that international drug control systems should not serve as a bar to national-level reforms.

Historical shortcomings and the current hegemony of a particular interpretation around prohibition “may have impacted interpretive frames and driven legal scholarship away from the study of these exemptions for non-medical uses, purposefully added in the treaty”. 

It states: “This existing, good faith, legitimate international legal regime for adult-use cannabis opens an alternative pathway for national decision-makers, appeasing legal tensions and rerailing international relations on cannabis matters not only on less conflictual tracks, but also on more contextually appropriate roads.”

As countries like Luxembourg, Spain and Belgium are now beginning the process of adopting more progressive cannabis policies, the white paper points to Malta as a prime example of placing laws around cannabis use outside of drug control and instead, under harm reduction.

Jeanroy commented: “I think we have a growing number of member states in the EU and in Europe that are starting to experiment with alternative drug policies. The EU today is in a middle seat position between reformist countries that are mostly coming from the Americas, and more prohibitionist countries that mostly come from Asia and Africa. 

“We advocate for Europe to take a further stance, to go much more in the direction of reformist countries. In that respect, Malta, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands could take the lead to start informal discussions about cannabis and drug policies in general. That would be the first step. 

“The second step would be formal meetings and potentially establishing other positions, or at least to fight within the EU in order to move the position of the EU. Ultimately, they can take the lead in order to change the Conventions because those Conventions are dying out and are mostly outdated. However, that cannot happen until you have a sufficient number of countries willing to engage in reform.”

Key recommendations

The paper sets out key recommendations in the short term for EU Member States intending to craft drug policy in a way that reduces harm and drug abuse:

  • Inform the annual tonnage of non-medical tonnage in reporting to the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB)
  • Implement prevention and harm reduction policies
  • Open regional, informal discussions on cannabis and illicit drug policies
  • Weigh up legal and political pros and cons of different options in the context of their own domestic and geopolitical priorities
  • Make efforts to promote high-level dialogue on how to resolve emerging tensions between the need for reform, and obligations under interpretations under the treaty regime
  • Create expert advisory groups analysing various formal reform channels  

To see the full list of recommendations, click here.

To read the full whitepaper please visit the Augur Associates website at: en.augur.associates.

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