The vote by the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna on Wednesday to remove cannabis from a list of narcotic drugs paves the way for Nepal to revive the plant’s traditional benefits, and cash in on its export potential.
Nepal’s ambassador to Austria, Prakash Kumar Suvedi, voted for lifting the ban, along with 27 other member states and narrowly defeating the 25 countries in favour of keeping the narcotic tag. There are 53 members in the Commission secretariat, and there was one abstention.
In November, the European Union Court of Justice (ECJ) also ruled that cannabis-based products are not a narcotic, thus opening the possibility of Nepal cashing in on a market in hemp fabric, cannabis oil and other export products.
Cannabidiol (CBD) derivatives may now be legally allowed the same free movement of goods between and among EU member as other commodities, although some experts say it may take another two years for other legal hurdles to be crossed.
There is growing trade in CBDs within Europe, but France had banned the trade. The ECJ ruled on an appeal, and overturned the French ban.
ednesday’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 the 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.
Pro-hemp campaigners in Nepal say the UN and ECJ ruling mean that the country can now also legalise the crop — especially since 25 states in America itself allow it now for medicinal and commercial purposes.
The reported benefits of cannabis in the prevention and treatment of Covid-19 patients have also bolstered the argument for lifting the ban. Studies have shown that the Cannabis sativa plant can block SARS-CoV-2 from entering a person’s body. CBDs also have anti-inflammatory properties and Israeli researchers are conducting clinical trials using CBDs to treat lung infections in Covid-19 patients.
“Cannabis has cooling effect and it has been used in traditional medicine to reduce fever. Unsurprisingly this aligns with the recent findings,” legalisation activist Rajiv Kafle told Nepali Times earlier this year. “I’m a strong believer that the use of chemicals in the cannabis plant can lead us to Covid-19 treatment.”
Last month in its ruling, the ECJ said extracts from the Cannabis sativa, including from itsflowers is not a narcotic, and its trade cannot be banned by a EU member state.
Unlike The Netherlands and some Nordic countries, France has strict laws against CBD derivatives and the cultivation of cannabis flowers but allows hemp fibre and seeds. The ECJ ruling overturns an earlier European Commission decision that cannabis flowers were a narcotic.
“This is a big day for the hemp industry,” Daniel Kruse, President of the European Industrial Hemp Association told the portal Hemp Today. “If the industry now comes up with safety standards, the products will be legally marketable all over Europe – at the latest, in three years. And then the market potential explodes.”
The ECJ decision clarified that the present scientific consensus was that CBD does not have any psychotropic effect that could harm human health.
The ruling will help Europe’s health industry, and could ultimately pave the way for imports of hemp-based textile, oils and other products from countries like Nepal. Already, there is a big demand for hemp fabric to make masks because the fibre also has anti-germicidal properties.
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