Wednesday’s vote at the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs removed cannabis from Schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which had lumped cannabis with narcotics like heroin and other opioids. But cannabis is still labelled by the Commission among substances that are ‘highly addictive and liable to abuse’.
Last year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) had recommended that controls on CBD should be lifted to allow research and development of cannabis-related preparations for medical use.
Sher Bahadur Tamang, MP from the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) who has been on a campaign to legalise the cultivation of cannabis in Nepal greeted this week’s Vienna vote as a victory. Last year he registered the Cannabis Cultivation (Management) Act in Parliament as a private bill.
“Now we will take our bill to Parliament and convert it into law,” Tamang said. “This is a cash crop that can lift Nepalis out of poverty. It is now up to us to pass it into law.”
If approved, Tamang’s bill will overturn a 1976 law that was forced on Nepal by the United States to criminalise the cultivation, sale and consumption of cannabis because of fears that it was leading American youth astray.
The Cannabis indica plant grows wild in Nepal, and its stem, leaves, flower resin and oil are traditionally used in the household for medicinal purposes, or sold. It was the open sale of marijuana in Kathmandu in the 1960s that drew hippies to Nepal.
US President Richard Nixon was worried about these ‘peaceniks’ supporting the anti-Vietnam War movement, and declared that marijuana was America’s “public enemy number one”. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger actually warned Nixon: “They come from Nepal to demonstrate against you because up there they can get free pot.”
However, the ban drove the cannabis trade underground and into the hands of the mafia, corrupting the police and politicians. Meanwhile, Nepal’s subsistence farmers lost an important cash crop — and this may have been a factor in sparking the Maoist revolution in the 1990s.