By Maria Cattaui and Richard Branson / Contributed to the Globe and Mail
Cannabis has been considered one of the “most dangerous” psychoactive substances with little to no medical benefit since the first United Nations drug control treaty was established in 1961. It was strictly prohibited and, for decades, countries have fought, literally, to enforce the ban on its production, sale, possession and consumption, with the aim of eliminating it from society.
Faced with reality, however, countries are now increasingly recognizing that prohibition enforced by repression has utterly failed to curb supply and demand, while exacting a heavy toll on society in terms of money wasted, lives lost to crime, incarceration, and discrimination.
The past decade has seen monumental change. Nearly 40 countries around the world have legalized the substance for some form of medical use and, in January, 2019 the World Health Organization published a review of the potential risks and benefits of cannabis (the first such review sanctioned by an intergovernmental body since 1936), acknowledging the medicinal usefulness of cannabis.
This situation has led to a growing trade of plant-based medical cannabis products among countries where it is legal in some form, with many of these concentrated in the Americas (Canada, Jamaica, Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay – and currently under consideration in Brazil). Canada alone exported almost 1,500 kg in 2018, three times the volume exported in 2017. Colombia, meanwhile, aims to produce more than 40 tons of cannabis for medical use per year as of 2019.
The market is clearly going mainstream, And this, despite the fact that the use of cannabis is still banned in most countries and that cross-border trade of medical cannabis is subjected to stringent regulations, with systems tracking the product from seed to sale. These international guidelines, however, are still set within the prohibitionist framework and fail to address some of the most important aspects – ethical as well as financial – of this burgeoning trade for medical cannabis, including: trade relations between the northern and southern hemispheres, environmental concerns, fair trade practices, social justice and other sustainable development goals.