INCB’s Cannabis Guidelines: NGOs From 56 Countries Ask for Transparency & Accountability

On the 2nd of December, the 1st anniversary of the historic UN cannabis vote, 181 NGOs from 56 countries called upon the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) drugs agency to create transparency and accountability in their Cannabis Guidelines.

The INCB is creating documentation inside the drug control system to facilitate the worldwide medicinal cannabis trade and research. However, the activists note that the INCB’s proposed global ‘Cannabis Guidelines’ and the drafting process seem to contradict last year’s key scheduling vote by favoring an increase of restrictions.

Open letters to UN and INCB on Cannabis Guidelines

The NGOs have endorsed two letters, one to the new INCB President Jagjit Pavadia and the other to the UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

As they highlight in their press release, the INCB’s Guidelines will orient and shape governments’ regulations, impact the lives of many patients and farmers across the globe and undermine the work of doctors, health authorities, and many others.

Since 2020, the INCB has been developing its Guidelines in complete opacity raising concerns about the legitimacy and scope of the process, a fuzzy mandate, and risks of conflicts of interest, the activists point out. While not binding, these Guidelines will impact and shape regulations of cultivation, trade, production, and use of traditional, herbal medicine and a plant indigenous to many regions of the world. It risks becoming a standard, particularly among smaller nations with less capacity to establish their own regulations.

In this light, they have summed up their suggestions in the following six recommendations:

-Disclose INCB documentation like other similar UN bodies;

-Opt-in to the UN online documentation access and archival system;

-Extend the civil society consultations to all areas of work of the Board;

-Call for and collect written contributions from non-State actors;

-Allow NGOs & non-State actors to participate as observers in INCB meetings;

-Scale-up “country visits,” inspired in the human rights treaty bodies Annual Review Mechanism.

”Our organizations strive for global health, human rights, and sustainability. We recognize INCB’s importance in helping governments ensure access to and availability of controlled medicines for all patients in need but INCB alone can not shape the economic, social, environmental, and cultural future of our communities.”, they conclude.

The UN Secretary-General António Guterres expressed his position on this issue with the following statement: ”The INCB is a member state body and 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”, said Guterres, adding it is not the role of the Secretary-General to mediate between the INCB and the NGOs.

”Change is in his power”

In the meantime, more organizations from across the globe joined to sign the open letters coordinated by Kenzi Riboulet-Zemouli and Michael Krawitz.

Kenzi Riboulet-Zemouli, independent researcher and an expert on cannabis policies, commented on the statement of the UN Secretary-General António Guterres. ”What I can say is that indeed, since Secretary-General is directly responsible for the job of INCB staff and secretariat, it’s not his role to mediate. He cannot mediate if he is a party involved. He should act directly without awaiting a third party to mediate. Change is in his power.”, says Kenzi Riboulet-Zemouli for Ilesol Pharmaceuticals.

Riboulet-Zemouli runs the INCB Monitor, an independent, public-interest webpage that closely monitors and documents the work of the INCB’s Cannabis Control Initiative.

The INCB consists of 13 members who are elected by the Economic and Social Council and who serve in their personal capacity, not as government representatives. Three members with medical, pharmacological, or pharmaceutical experience are elected from a list of persons nominated by the World Health Organization (WHO) and 10 members are elected from a list of persons nominated by Governments.

As it is said in their press release from the 5th of March 2021, the INCB Cannabis Control Initiative is being developed with the financial support of the Government of Japan. The Initiative supports the Member States with the harmonization of their monitoring, control, and reporting practices to ensure the availability of cannabis-based substances for medical and scientific purposes while preventing their diversion and abuse.

We have asked the INCB for comment on the NGOs initiative but did not get a response.

CBD industry as a hostage to misinterpretation

As we have already writtenthe lack of progress with the EU Novel Food applications combined with the launch of the INCB’s Cannabis Initiative has caused concerns in the European CBD industry.

”The hemp industry has for decades been held hostage to misinterpretation of the UN Single Convention 1961. The governments’ arbitrariness concerning hemp regulation and ignoring the Convention commentary published in 1962 has led to the practical closure of the hemp processing industry, along with a dozen different processing industries.”, said Sasha Bajilo, the Founder of Ilesol Pharmaceuticals.

The Commentary of the Single Convention 1961 explains that the control regime applies only to the cultivation of the cannabis plant for the production of cannabis or cannabis resin. Cultivation for any other purpose should consequently be exempted from the control regime.

Besides, future Cannabis Guidelines should not apply to CBD since the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has ruled that CBD is not a narcotic drug – the fact confirmed by the European Commission.

Reviewed by Sasha Bajilo, founder of ILESOL Pharmaceuticals, an industrial scale producer of CBD products and formulations. Expert on Hemp/Cannabis policy, member of the Croatian Ministry of Health regulatory commission for medical cannabis.