Change the world


The United Nations’ International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) is warning in its Annual Report 2022 that legalising the non-medical use of cannabis, which contravenes the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, “seems to result in higher consumption and a lower perception of risk, especially among young people”.

The report was released by INCB board member, Professor Zukiswa Zingela, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at Nelson Mandela University today (Friday, 10 March) at a launch event on its South Campus. The report is a comprehensive survey of the drug control situation in various parts of the world. As an impartial body, the INCB is an independent and quasi-judicial monitoring body for the implementation of the United Nations international drug control conventions. It tries to identify and predict dangerous trends and suggests necessary measures to be taken.

In South Africa, adult individuals may legally grow and consume cannabis in private, as well as purchase it for medical purposes. However, the report indicates that “legalising cannabis seems to result in higher consumption especially among young people and a lower perception of the risk involved and does not reduce criminal activity.”

It indicates that evidence from jurisdictions where cannabis has been legalised for recreational use, shows a higher consumption of cannabis and an increase in adverse health effects, psychotic disorders and a negative impact on road safety.

“About 4% of the global population, roughly 209 million people, use cannabis (figures from 2020) making it the world’s most widely used illicit drug,” said the report.

Cannabis cultivation has shown an upward trend over the past decade, and the number of people who use it has risen by 23%. Cannabis use varies widely by region and is highest in North America, Oceania and West Africa.

The report indicates that: “Legalising the use of cannabis results in higher consumption and lowers risk perception. The most concerning effect of cannabis legalisation is the likelihood of increased use, particularly among young people, according to estimated data.”

In the United States, it has been shown that adolescents and young adults consume significantly more cannabis in federal states where cannabis has been legalised compared with other states where recreational use remains illegal.

“There is also evidence that general availability of legalised cannabis products lowers the perception of risk and of the negative consequences involved in using them.”

Furthermore, new products, such as edibles or vaping products marketed in appealing packaging have contributed to increased use of cannabis.

“INCB finds that this has contributed to a trivialisation of the impacts of cannabis use in the public eye, especially among young people.”

In some instances, inaccurate or misleading labelling, as well as unchecked access for children, has also led to negative outcomes and incidents of poisoning as a result.  

The report indicates that some governments are unsure if cannabis and cannabis-related substances should still be classified as harmful and whether the controls laid out in the drug control conventions are still relevant regarding cannabis use. These governments are looking for alternative solutions including the legalisation of non-medical use of cannabis.

Increased use and the higher potency of some cannabis products are having negative health effects and pose health risks for people of all ages. In all jurisdictions where cannabis was legalised, data shows that cannabis-related health problems have increased. Between 2000 and 2018, global admissions related to cannabis dependence and withdrawal, increased 8-fold. More importantly, due to the vulnerability of the growing brain in children younger than 18 years, the potential negative impact on the developing brain should not be underestimated.

Admissions for cannabis-related psychotic disorders have also quadrupled worldwide. In Colorado, United States, emergency department visits and hospitalisations due to excessive cannabis use rose considerably after legalisation was implemented. Hospital visits for injuries from accidents related to cannabis also increased by 30%.  

Investigations on the impact of cannabis legalisation on road safety found a significant increase in fatal crashes in Washington State and Colorado after legal cannabis dispensaries were opened.

Cannabis legalisation has created a new economic market with a large potential for growth and investment opportunities. Large corporations aiming to broaden their commercial profits are expanding into the cannabis industry and have lobbied for lifting controls on cannabis. Many corporations are looking to expand into the medical and adult cannabis market emerging around the world. In the United States, the legal supply of cannabis products is one of the fastest growing industries, generating $25 billion in sales in 2021 – a 43 per cent increase on 2020.

Africa is among the regions with the lowest levels of availability of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances for medical and scientific purposes. Determining levels of consumption of psychotropic substances for Africa is difficult, as for the past several years, only a quarter of the countries have provided INCB with consumption data on any psychotropic substance. “This remains a concern for The Board because of the implications for access to essential controlled medications for people in need in Africa. This includes those with acute or chronic conditions that require effective pain medication, medication to treat serious mental illness, treatment for people living with substance dependence, and medications for those requiring intensive or high care interventions,” said the report.

The report indicates that the INCB is clear that the legalisation of cannabis for non-medical use is a violation of the drug conventions, although there is a certain flexibility in the conventions when it comes to decriminalisation and depenalisation as alternative routes for cannabis offences. The same flexibility can be said for cannabis use specifically for medical use or for industrial use because these last two uses are in line with the conventions.

Contact information
Director: Communication & Marketing
Tel: 0415043057