On 7th May 2018, the INCB met with a number of civil society representatives ahead of their 122nd Session in Vienna, to hear their views on ‘the use cannabis for medical and non-medical purposes’. The meeting was initiated by the Board and was the first occasion on which civil society was invited to such a hearing. There was no dialogue, since the INCB Board members were given a brief to listen but not respond; nonetheless, the session was productive and collegiate, and will hopefully be the seed of future dialogues.
The civil society involvement was orchestrated by the Vienna NGO Committee on Drugs (VNGOC), which selected ten representatives with the necessary expertise to take part. Each gave a presentation, some by video and others in person. Almost all members of the Board attended, including Dr Viroj Sumyai, the INCB President, who introduced the meeting along with Jamie Bridge, Chair of the VNGOC.
The presentations reached across a wide range of views, from legal reformist to prohibitionists. Several speakers sought increased flexibility of legal control surrounding cannabis, particularly with regard to the medicinal use of the substance. Others expressed concern about legalization, specifically at the prospect of the rise of ‘Big Marijuana’ – a powerful new commercial block driven by profits rather than health. Whether this is worse that the current regime, in which control is in the hands of organised criminals, who are also not noted for their public health spirit, is a moot point.
It remains to be seen how debates over cannabis develop and whether the meetings between the INCB and its civil society interlocutors grow into real processes of dialogue. But this is certainly a step in the right direction for the Board.