New cannabis trade policy outlined by academics at United Nations

A report outlining a new approach to international cannabis trade policy will be presented by academics from Swansea University’s Global Drug Policy Observatory (GDPO) to the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna, Austria today (21 March 2019).

Illicit cannabis cultivation, Jamaica.courtesy Martin Jelsma (TNI) 2018Pictured: Illicit cannabis cultivation, Jamaica courtesy Martin Jelsma (TNI) 2018.

Professor David Bewley-Taylor, director of the GDPO, will be presenting the report entitled Fair(er) Trade Options for the Cannabis Market which recommends a new cannabis trade model, built around a rights-based, inclusive and environmentally sustainable approach. 

The report, which is co-authored by Martin Jelsma and Sylvia Kay from the international research and advocacy organisation Transnational Institute, comes as a result of research carried out into policy changes which over the past five years or so have dramatically reshaped the global cannabis market - both medical and non-medical. 

The team say that while recent policy changes relating to the cannabis market offer a clear range of benefits in terms of health and human rights, there are concerns that the activities of large cannabis companies mainly based in the wealthier countries of the Global North could threaten small-scale farmers from traditional cannabis producer countries in the Global South which may discourage these farmers from participating in the legal cannabis trade and instead continue to trade illegally.

A beneficial approach to this, the researchers say, is to adopt regulatory frameworks that allow small-scale farmers to work in mutually beneficial partnership or alongside large companies which could also contribute to achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals in those parts of the world where ending poverty remains a pressing concern.

Professor Bewley-Taylor said: “The development of a fairer system of cannabis trading requires a different approach and the consideration of a range of interconnected producer, quality and standards, consumer and market, finance and trade policy frameworks. While the rapidly expanding legal cannabis market and associated political, legislative and commercial landscapes remain complex and fluid, it is possible to develop a set of guiding principles on which a fairer trade cannabis model can be built.

The report outlines the main features of the framework including:

  • Ethical concerns such as solidarity and social justice.
  • Producer empowerment and community benefit sharing through more equitable terms of trade.
  • Environmental sustainability standards in production methods.
  • Labour protections to ensure worker safety, health, and satisfaction.
  • Democratic control in the participation and decision-making processes.
  • Transparency and traceability in operations and supply chains.
  • Longer-term strategies for cannabis producers from marginalised communities who are transitioning out of illegality.
  • Consideration of restorative justice for those previously excluded or criminalised.
  • The cultural and religious identities and practices of traditional growing communities.

More information can be found on the new Cannabis Innovate project website launched on the same day as the report presentation. Cannabis Innovate is a partnership between the GDPO at Swansea University and international cannabis company, Equinox International, with some activities undertaken in collaboration with the Transnational Institute (TNI).

Professor Bewley-Taylor said: “This new initiative aims to provide research and analysis across the three pillars of policy, legislation and technological innovation. In the midst the rapid expansion of medical cannabis markets around the world, it will operate as a knowledge hub offering clarity and solution-oriented outputs and activities to a range of end-users operating within an increasingly complex commercial and policy environment.”