We, as a civilization, are at a critical juncture in our shared history. Never before have we had so great a potential for the actualization of humanity’s promise, while facing such onerous possibilities for our self-destruction. With such systemic and pervasive challenges as climate change, economic inequality and fragility, world hunger, natural resource depletion, and social injustice, we face a choice as to whether to act decisively and effectively, or continue with the status quo and suffer the potentially catastrophic consequences.
Cannabis sativa L. offers a wealth of benefits for humanity, and has for centuries. The current prohibition of this plant deprives global society of a scientifically proven source of medicine and industrial products, while perpetuating devastating collateral damage on our communities. A major and substantive step forward in addressing the critical, transformational issues of our time is ending the prohibition of any form of cannabis, and replacing it with a unified policy of responsible regulation, harm reduction, transparency, and accountability.
In the efforts to end global prohibition there are signs of profound change. Public opinion is moving towards acceptance of the many uses of cannabis; particularly noteworthy is the change in public sentiment in the United States, historically the leader in anti-cannabis legislation. Swayed in large part by the potential to reduce the grip of drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) over the cannabis market, voters in many countries have begun to demand alternative approaches. These hold the potential to transfer the majority of the global cannabis industry out of the hands of criminal enterprises and into the control of responsible entrepreneurs. Policymakers as well have become weary of the international War on Drugs that squanders limited economic resources and has not produced intended outcomes. The call to address international drug policy has been strong enough in recent years that 96 countries, led by Mexico, Colombia, and Guatemala, sponsored a resolution to move up the next United Nations General Assembly Special Sessions on Drugs (UNGASS) from 2019 to 2016.
Leadership and Consensus
Unified leadership by the cannabis industry on the global stage is needed and the time to act is now. The International Coalition of Compassionate Cannabis Organizations (ICCCO) aims to unite the wide range of cannabis-related businesses and organizations into a singular voice on the international stage to craft, direct, and steward regulatory policy. Guided by the industry it supports and represents, ICCCO will build a model regulatory framework for cannabis in the three major areas of policy: medical marijuana, responsible adult recreational use, and industrial hemp. By building a policy consensus utilizing a bottom-up approach from a democratic ICCCO membership of cannabis industry stakeholders, policy experts, and the medical and scientific communities, standards and best practices will be codified and guideline recommendations made to regulators. In doing so, the nascent cannabis & hemp industry can continue to develop as a safe and legitimate business practice, while upholding the highest standards of responsible corporate citizenship.
Because we are in a transitional period from illicit to licit trade, the collective global cannabis companies and organizations have a duty to be the standard-bearers of fair and ethical trade practices, environmental stewardship, and human rights. ICCCO maintains that adopting these values are not merely in accord with the best business practices for the cannabis industry, but imperative to its continued growth and acceptance. Unlike most industries, a willing and ready customer base for cannabis is already in place, and market growth is most likely assured. Therefore, the onus is on the cannabis industry to develop a socially acceptable method of doing legal business that can be transparent and trustworthy, without deceptive and unethical business practices such as those that have been historically undertaken by the tobacco industry. Along with the economic opportunities that come from ending prohibition, there is an opportunity to positively impact many issues such as social injustice, environmental stewardship, and public health, all of which would benefit from an industry-led approach.
Social Justice and Abating Criminality
Today, nearly the entirety of the global cannabis industry is connected to criminal elements in some regard or another. While there is a diverse array of DTOs ranging from international cartels, regional syndicates, and gang-related activities, a significant percentage of the supply of marijuana is produced and distributed by ordinary citizens who are technically criminals but do not engage in any violent or otherwise illegal behavior. In the United States, no small amount of marijuana is distributed by medical marijuana dispensaries and recreational retail stores that make good faith efforts to comply with laws in states that have passed major cannabis reform, in spite of the blanket prohibition by the federal government. Nevertheless, these businesses account for less than 10% of all cannabis sold, despite the potential growth of the industry outstripping that of the market for smartphones.
Meanwhile the illicit market is, and has been for decades, dominated by the activities of DTOs, many of which systematically engage in terrorism, violence, human trafficking, and other human rights abuses. Along with the humanitarian toll this takes, the product distributed by such organizations is often sub-par, of unreliable quality, produced by methods destructive to the environment, and may in fact be adulterated with dangerous chemicals.
The prohibition on cannabis has also had a devastating impact on our communities, especially among the poor and people of color, who are nearly four times as likely to be arrested for possession than whites. By combining the efforts of all cannabis stakeholders, we can develop an industry-guided roadmap to global legalization and regulation that can help end the discriminatory and wasteful prosecution of patients, users, and producers.
Environmental Impacts and Natural Resource Depletion
By legalizing and regulating the production of cannabis for medical or recreational purposes, many of the resource-intensive environmental effects of cannabis cultivation can be mitigated. From energy and water needs to waste product disposal, solutions can be found that can make cannabis cultivation an environmentally sustainable practice. By the industry developing, adopting, and self-policing these practices, detrimental impacts can be reduced prior to governmental or regulatory intervention. Further, clandestine and destructive growing operations that take place on public lands will be greatly reduced or eliminated.
There is significant evidence that industrial hemp would help remediate current environmental degradation by reducing greenhouse gasses and increasing carbon sequestration. Industrial hemp has thousands of industrial applications, most notably as a non-petroleum-based fiber and fuel, carbon-negative building materials, as well as a wholesome food source. Because industrial hemp is a cultivar of Cannabis sativa L. it is still classified as a Schedule 1 narcotic drug in the United States, regardless of the fact that it contains negligible amounts of psychoactive compounds. While over 30 nations today cultivate industrial hemp for its multitude of beneficial uses in a legal and regulated manner, many others continue to conflate it with marijuana and follow lockstep with the United States federal drug policy and ban hemp agriculture outright. Until the worldwide prohibition of cannabis ends, the adoption of widespread industrial hemp agriculture will remain an unrealized environmentally sustainable and commercially viable resource.
Medical Benefits and Harm Reduction
There is strong evidence of the medical benefits of cannabis as a safe and effective medicine. However, because of the prohibition of cannabis, the extent of research on medicinal cannabis has been limited, and most patients have had to rely on anecdotal evidence as to dosage, effects, and therapeutic benefits. ICCCO believes it is a basic human right for patients to have open and affordable access to pure, safe, and standardized cannabis as a medicine and wellness agent. To that end, ICCCO supports the expansion of biomedical research with human trials to better understand and utilize cannabis as a pharmacological product and make these benefits available to a much broader population.
By developing the best practices and standards for the medical cannabis industry, potential harm from cannabis use can be mitigated from a public health perspective. Research indicates that medical marijuana legalization does not increase teen usage, and underage use can continue to be reduced by a properly regulated system. ICCCO firmly believes that evidence-based, peer-reviewed science needs to drive all areas of cannabis policy. Only by discovery of factual information will public education on risk and benefits be credible and effective.
Opportunity and Imperative
Currently, the only international body with jurisdiction to reform global cannabis policy is the United Nations, which through its International Drug Control Panel (INDCP) monitors national changes in drug policy with no real enforcement mechanisms in place. The aforementioned UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS 2016) affords little confidence in real and substantive drug policy reform. First, the infamously slow pace of UN procedure casts serious doubts on the ability of the General Assembly (GA) to hammer out a new, comprehensive cannabis control treaty in any meaningful time frame. Second, the majority of the membership of the GA – comprised of delegations by world governments which, on the whole, have been slower to embrace reform than voter-organized coalitions – discourages any hope of a new progressive global cannabis policy favorable to businesses and consumers. Third, and finally, the GA’s procedural requirements for consensus across the entire permanent Security Council means that objection by the Russian, Chinese or United States delegation will prove fatal to any proposal; and the governments of those three nations have proven stubbornly resistant to cannabis legalization.
There is therefore both a profound opportunity and an urgent need for a group of visionary cannabis entrepreneurs to form a system of multi-national self-regulation. Such a system can curb the power of violent DTOs with market-based solutions: consumers, assured through the group’s supply chain transparency, will be able to buy cannabis with confidence that they will receive a quality product from only ethical producers; and producers, by developing and self-enforcing the highest standards and best practices, will be able to grow their business with security and impunity.
Such a system can create a common global language across the planet’s cannabis companies through the promulgation of clear and authoritative standards, creating the first opportunities in over sixty years for compliant businesses to engage in production and commerce in a way that is totally ethical and responsible. Such a system can cultivate the global cannabis industry more effectively than the UN, balancing social responsibility with the fiscal needs of a growing industry.
These are the motivations behind the creation of ICCCO. As the world’s first international cannabis trade association, ICCCO is poised to deliver on the demands of citizens worldwide: the creation and maintenance of a global cannabis industry which codifies standards and best practices, enforces social responsibility, generates jobs and tax revenues, and ensures a thriving, profitable industry based on ethics and integrity.