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UN spokesperson responds to cannabis guidelines letter enquiry

A spokesperson for the UN secretary-general has responded to two letters calling on the INCB for transparency and accountability regarding its Cannabis Initiative Guidelines effort, stating that it is not the role of the secretary to facilitate discussion.

Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for United Nations (UN) secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, responded to an enquiry regarding two letters sent on 2 December raising concerns regarding the secretive work surrounding the Cannabis Initiative Guidelines, calling for transparency and accountability.

The letters have been sent by 181 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) from 56 countries to Guterres and International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) president, Jagjit Pavadi.

The Cannabis Initiative Guidelines effort is being developed to support Member States with the harmonisation of monitoring, control, and reporting practices regarding cannabis in order to “ensure availability of cannabis-based substances for medical and scientific purposes” – whilst preventing their diversion and abuse. The initiative is being supported financially by the Government of Japan.

When questioned on whether the secretary-general would be willing to facilitate a mediation with the INCB and concerned NGOs due to the lack of transparency, he commented: “The narcotics control board is a Member State body – they set their own rules. As a matter of principle, the secretary-general always believes that civil society should be heard and should be given space to express their opinion.

And that: “It is not the role of Sectary general to do that.”

The UK’s Cannabis Industry Council is one of the 181 NGOs backing the letter. Chair of the CIC, Professor Mike Barnes, leading medical cannabis expert in the UK, commented: “The INCB is producing an important document that will determine the future of cannabis worldwide in terms of international controls.

“However, the process is mired in secrecy despite the secretary-general’s office publicly stating that such processes should be open and civil society should be heard. This is just not good enough.

“The secretary-general must not hide behind nuanced regulations but openly state that the INCB must open the process to scrutiny and be transparent about a vitally important public health issue.”

The NGOs highlight that the INCB President pledged to organise consultations with civil society stakeholders during the Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting in March 2021, but that the organisations are still waiting to see this commitment upheld.

The letters were sent on the one year of the medical cannabis vote by the UN to remove cannabis from Schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, recognising the medicinal value of the plant.

The document states: “…since 2020, INCB has been developing Guidelines in complete opacity, raising concerns about the legitimacy and scope of the process, a fuzzy mandate, and risks of conflicts of interest. While not binding, these Guidelines will impact and shape trade and production of a traditional, herbal medicine and a plant indigenous to many regions of the world. It will directly impact the lives of many of us…

“…we believe INCB should not shape alone – without us – the economic, social, environmental, and cultural future of our communities. INCB has made many questionable statements on “medical cannabis” that science subsequently invalidated. The trust in a functioning international legal order that the 2 December 2020 vote affirmed is being threatened by INCB’s isolated initiative. There has been such a noticeable lack of transparency and accountability, coupled with the controversial positions taken by INCB, that many have expressed concerns.”

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