OUR POSITION FOR A CANADIAN PUBLIC POLICY
REPORT OF THE SENATE SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON ILLEGAL DRUGS
VOLUME III : PART IV and CONCLUSIONS
Chairman: Pierre Claude Nolin
Deputy Chairman: Colin Kenny
I - General Orientation
- Our Mandate
- Our Work
Two Working Principles
State of Knowledge
The Challenge of Synthesis
Taking Opinions into Account
Interpreting in Light of Principles
3 - Our guiding principles
Ethics, or the principle of reciprocal autonomy
Governance: maximizing the actions of individuals
Governance of the self
The role of governance
Criminal law and the limits of prohibition
Requirement for distinctions
Criteria for distinction
Application to illegal drugs issues
Science or approximate knowledge
- A Changing Context
Changes in the International Sphere
Globalization and Integration
Difficulties of the Security Debate
From Anti-Drug Policies to Drug Policies
Changes in Canada
A National Crime Prevention Strategy
The Fight Against Organized Crime
A Societal Debate
PART II - CANNABIS: EFFECTS, TYPES OF USE, ATTITUDES
CHAPTER 5 - CANNABIS: FROM PLANT TO JOINT
ONE PLANT, VARIOUS DRUGS
PROPERTIES OF CANNABIS
CHAPTER 6 - USERS AND USES: FORM, PRACTICE, CONTEXT
PATTERNS OF USE
Consumption by the population as a whole
Consumption among young people
Use patterns in other countries
PATTERNS AND CIRCUMSTANCES OF USE
Cannabis in History
Trajectories of Use
Factors Related to Use
STEPPING STONE TOWARDS OTHER DRUGS?
CANNABIS, VIOLENCE AND CRIME
CHAPTER 7 - CANNABIS: EFFECTS AND CONSEQUENCES
EFFECTS AND CONSEQUENCES OF CANNABIS: WHAT WE WERE TOLD
ACUTE EFFECTS OF CANNABIS
CONSEQUENCES OF CHRONIC USE
Physiological Consequences of Chronic Use
Cognitive and Psychological Consequences
Behavioural and Social Consequences
TOLERANCE AND DEPENDENCE
Severity of Dependence
CHAPTER 8 - DRIVING UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF CANNABIS
FORMS OF TESTING
Studies not involving accidents
Studies where an accident was involved
Epidemiological studies on youth
CHAPTER 9 - USE OF MARIJUANA FOR THERAPEUTIC PURPOSES
Marijuana as a drug?
CURRENT THERAPEUTIC PRACTICES
CHAPTER 10 - CANADIANS' OPINIONS AND ATTITUDES
ATTITUDES AND OPINIONS SHARED WITH THE COMMITTEE
CHAPTER 11 - A NATIONAL DRUG STRATEGY?
PHASE I - DEVELOPMENT AND IMPLEMENTATION
Creation of the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse
Creation of Canada's Drug Strategy Secretariat
PHASE II - RENEWAL
PHASE III - RENEWAL WITHOUT SPECIFIED FUNDING
CANADA'S DRUG STRATEGY - A SUCCESS?
CHAPTER 12 - THE NATIONAL LEGISLATIVE CONTEXT
Opium Act, 1908
The Opium and Narcotic Drug Act, 1911
Amendments to the Opium and Narcotic Drug Act (1920-1938)
Amendments to the Act to Amend the Opium and Narcotic Drug Act in 1954
Senate Report of 1955
FROM 1960 TO THE LE DAIN COMMISSION: THE SEARCH FOR REASONS
Narcotic Control Act (1961)
An Act respecting Food and Drugs and Barbiturates (1961)
The Le Dain Commission (1969-1973)
Bill S?19 and Cannabis
AFTER LE DAIN: FORGING AHEAD REGARDLESS
Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
CHAPTER 13 - REGULATING THERAPEUTIC USE OF CANNABIS
BACKGROUND TO THE RECENT REGULATIONS
Section 56 - Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Charter Challenges - Therapeutic Use of Marijuana
MARIHUANA MEDICAL ACCESS REGULATIONS
Authorization to Possess
Licence to Produce
Access to cannabis
CHAPTER 14 - POLICE PRACTICES
CHARGES UNDER THE CONTROLLED DRUGS AND SUBSTANCES ACT IN 1999
TheCanada Customs and Revenue Agency
Provincial and Municipal Police
Searches and Seizures
Entrapment and Illegal Activity
Customs Act - Fines
CHAPTER 15 - THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM
Drug Treatment Courts
DISPOSITION AND SENTENCING
CHAPTER 16 - PREVENTION
INITIATIVES THAT FALL SHORT OF THE MARK
Not enough prevention
Prevention lacks focus
There is not enough evaluation of preventive measures
Preventive and social messages in contradiction
There is a body of knowledge on which we have to draw
PREVENTING WHAT AND HOW?
RISK REDUCTION AND HARM REDUCTION
CHAPTER 17 - TREATMENT PRACTICES
FORMS OF TREATMENT
EFFECTIVENESS OF TREATMENT
CHAPTER 18 - OBSERVATIONS ON PRACTICES
DIFFICULTIES IN HARMONIZING THE PLAYERS
INCONGRUITIES OF APPROACH
SIGNIFICANT ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COSTS
CHAPTER 19 - THE INTERNATIONAL LEGAL ENVIRONMENT
The 1909 Shanghai Conference
The 1912 Hague International Opium Convention
The 1925 Geneva Opium Conventions
The 1931 Geneva Narcotics Manufacturing and Distribution Limitation Convention / 1931 Bangkok Opium Smoking Agreement
The 1936 Geneva Convention for the Suppression of the Illicit Traffic in Dangerous Drugs
The Second World War
The 1946 Lake Success Protocol
The 1948 Paris Protocol
The 1953 New York Opium Protocol
THE THREE CURRENT CONVENTIONS
The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961
Convention on Psychotropic Substances
Protocol amending the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961
Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances
CHAPTER 20 - PUBLIC POLICIES IN OTHER COUNTRIES
Different Forms of Logic
An Integrated Public Policy
Statistics on Use and Offences
Essential Experts Reports
The Coffee Shop System
Data on Use
Ten-Year Strategy to Battle Drugs
Other Relevant Legislation in the Field of Drug Misuse
Debate in the UK
Recent Key Reports and Studies
Debate in Sweden
A Harm Reduction Policy
The Legal Framework
A Bill to Decriminalize Cannabis
Administration of Swiss Drug Policy
Statistics on Narcotics Use and Offences under the Narcotics Act
National Drug Strategy
Decriminilization in Australia
The Federal-State Legislative Framework
Current Legislation and Enforcement
Federal Drug Policy Goals and Objectives
Administration of the Policy
Current Issues and Debates
CHAPTER 21 - PUBLIC POLICY OPTIONS
INEFFECTIVENESS OF CRIMINAL POLICIES
Impact on Consumption
Impact on Supply
GENERAL ECONOMY OF A PUBLIC POLICY ON CANNABIS
COMPONENTS OF A PUBLIC POLICY
Strong Decision-making Body
A Shared Definition of Shared Objectives
Clarification of criminology
Criteria for a Legal Policy on Cannabis
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
LE DAIN - ALREADY THIRTY YEARS AGO
INEFFECTIVENESS OF THE CURRENT APPROACH
PUBLIC POLICY BASED ON GUIDING PRINCIPLES
A CLEAR AND COHERENT FEDERAL STRATEGY
NATIONAL STRATEGY SUSTAINED BY ADEQUATE RESOURCES AND TOOLS
A PUBLIC HEALTH POLICY
A REGULATORY APPROACH TO CANNABIS
A COMPASSION-BASED APPROACH FOR THERAPEUTIC USE
PROVISIONS FOR OPERATING A VEHICLE UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF CANNABIS
CANADA'S INTERNATIONAL POSITION
of key terms
Vague term with a variety of meanings depending on the social, medical
and legal contexts. Some equate any use of illicit drugs to abuse: for example,
the international conventions consider that any use of drugs other than for
medical or scientific purposes is abuse. The Diagnosis and Statistical Manual of
the American Psychiatric Association defines abuse as a maladaptive pattern of
substance use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress as
defined by one or more of four criteria (see chapter 7). In the report, we
prefer the term excessive use (or harmful use).
Refers to effects resulting from the administration of any drug and
specifically to its short term effects. These effects are distinguished between
central (cerebral functions) and peripheral (nervous system). Effects are
General term referring to the concepts of tolerance and dependency.
According to WHO addiction is the repeated use of a psychoactive substance to
the extent that the user is periodically or chronically intoxicated, shows a
compulsion to take the preferred substance, has great difficulty in voluntarily
ceasing or modifying substance use, and exhibits determination to obtain the
substance by almost any means. Some authors prefer the term addiction to
dependence, because the former also refers to the evolutive process preceding
A substance that acts on receptor sites to
produce certain responses.
Agonist neurotransmitter of the endogenous cannabinoid system. Although
not yet fully understood in research, these neurotransmitters seem to act as
modulators, THC increasing the liberation of dopamine in nucleus
accumbens and cerebral
Use behaviour which makes users at-risk of developing dependence to the substance.
receptors of the active cannabis molecules, particularly 9-THC. Two endogenous
receptors have been identified: CB1 densely concentrated in the hippacampus,
basal ganglia, cerebellum and cerebral cortex, and CB2
particularly abundant in the immune system. The central effects of cannabis
appear to be related only to CB1.
Three varieties of the cannabis plant exist: cannabis sativa, cannabis
indica, and cannabis ruredalis. Cannabis
sativa is the most commonly found, growing in almost any soil condition. The
cannabis plant has been known in China for about 6000 years. The flowering tops
and leaves are used to produce the smoked cannabis. Common terms used to refer
to cannabis are pot, marihuana, dope, ganja, hemp. Hashish is produced from the
extracted resin. Classified as a psychotropic drug
cannabis is a modulator of the central nervous system. It contains over 460
known chemicals, of which 60 are cannabinoids. Delta-9-tétrahydrocannabinol,
referred to as THC, is the principal active ingredient of cannabis. Other
components such delta-8-tétrahydrocannabinol, cannabinol and cannabidiol are
present in smaller quantities and have no significant impacts on behaviour or
perception. However, they may modulate the overall effects of the substance.
Refers to effects which are delayed or develop after repeated use. In the
report we prefer to use the term consequences of repeated use rather than
on narcotic drugs (CND)
The Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) was established in 1946 by the
Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. It is the central
policy-making body within the UN system for dealing with all drug-related
matters. The Commission analyses the world drug abuse situation and develops
proposals to strengthen international drug control.
Removal of a behaviour or activity from the scope of the criminal justice
system. A distinction is usually made between de jure decriminalization, which entails an amendment to criminal
legislation, and de facto
decriminalization, which involves an administrative decision not to
prosecute acts that nonetheless remain against the law. Decriminalization
concerns only criminal legislation, and does not mean that the legal system has
no further jurisdiction of any kind in this regard: other, non-criminal, laws
may regulate the behaviour or activity that has been decriminalized (civil or
regulatory offences, etc.).
The use of measures other than prosecution or a criminal conviction for
an act that nonetheless remains against the law. Diversion can take place before
a charge is formally laid, for example if the accused person agrees to undergo
treatment. It can also occur at the time of sentencing, when community service
or treatment may be imposed rather than incarceration.
Modification of the sentences provided in criminal legislation for a
particular behaviour In the case of cannabis, it generally refers to the removal
of custodial sentences.
State where the user continues its use of the substance despite
significant health, psychological, relational, familial or social problems.
Dependence is a complex phenomenon which may have genetic components.
Psychological dependence refers to the psychological symptoms associated with
craving and physical dependence to tolerance and the adaptation of the organism
to chronic use. The American Psychiatric Association has proposed seven criteria
(see chapter 7).
Neuromediator involved in the mechanisms of pleasure.
Generally used to refer to illicit rather than licit substances such
as nicotine, alcohol or medicines.
In pharmacology, the term refers to any chemical agent that alters the
biochemical or physiological processes of tissues or organisms. In this sense,
the term drug refers better to any substance which is principally used for its
European Monitoring Centre on
Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA)
The European Monitoring Centre was created in 1993 to provide member
states objective, reliable and comparable information within the EU on drugs,
drug addictions and their consequences. Statistical information, documents and
techniques developed in the EMCDDA are designed to give a broad perspective on
drug issues in Europe. The Centre only deals with information. It relies on
national focal points in each of the Member States.
Characteristic of a substance to irrigate quickly the tissues. THC is
Theory suggesting a sequential pattern in involvement in drug use from
nicotine to alcohol, to cannabis and then “hard” drugs. The theory rests on
a statistical association between the use of hard drugs and the fact that these
users have generally used cannabis as their first illicit drug. This theory has
not been validated by empirical research and is considered outdated.
needed for the concentration of a particular drug in blood to decline to half
its maximum level. The half-life of THC is 4.3 days on average but is faster in
regular than in occasional users. Because it is highly fat soluble, THC is
stored in fatty tissues, thus increasing its half life to as much as 7 to 12
days. Prolonged use of cannabis increases the period of time needed to eliminate
is from the system. Even one week after use, THC metabolites may remain in the
system. They are gradually metabolised in the urine (one third) and in feces
(two thirds). Traces on inactive THC metabolites can be detected as many as 30
days after use.
Resinous extract from the flowering tops of the cannabis plant and transformed into a paste.
Various international conventions have been adopted by the international
community since 1912, first under the Society of Nations and then under the
United Nations, to regulate the possession, use, production, distribution, sale,
etc., of various psychotropic substances. Currently, the three main conventions
are the 1961 Single Convention, the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substance
and the 1988 Convention against Illicit Traffic. Canada is a signatory to all
three conventions. Subject to countries’ national constitutions, these
conventions establish a system of regulation where only medical and scientific
uses are permitted. This system is based on the prohibition of source plants
(coca, opium and cannabis) and the regulation of synthetic chemicals produced by
Narcotics Control Board (INCB)
The Board is an independent, quasi-judicial organisation responsible for
monitoring the implementation of the UN conventions on drugs. It was created in
1968 as a follow up to the 1961 Single Convention, but had predecessors as early
as the 1930s. The Board makes recommendations to the UN Commission on Narcotics
with respect to additions or deletions in the appendices of the conventions.
Disturbance of the physiological and psychological systems resulting from
a substance. Pharmacology generally distinguishes four levels: light, moderate,
serious and fatal.
Cigarette of marijuana or hashish with or without tobacco. Because joints
are never identical, scientific analyses of the effects of THC are more
difficult, especially in trying to determine the therapeutic benefits of
cannabis and to examine its effects on driving.
Regulatory system allowing the culture, production, marketing, sale and
use of substances. Although none currently exist in relation to « street-drugs »
(as opposed to alcohol or tobacco which are regulated products), a legalisation
system could take two forms: without any state control (free markets) and with
state controls (regulatory regime).
Mexican term originally referring to a cigarette of poor quality. Has now
become equivalent for cannabis.
Substance which can induce stupor or artificial sleep. Usually restricted
to designate opiates. Sometimes used incorrectly to refer to all drugs capable
of inducing dependence.
Office of national drug
control policy (ONDCP) USA
Created in 1984 under the Reagan presidency, the Office is under the
direct authority of the White House. It coordinates US policy on drugs. Its
budget is currently US $18 billion.
Substance derived from the opium poppy. The term opiate excludes
synthetic opioids such as heroin and methadone.
Historically, the term designates the period of national interdiction of
alcohol sales in the United States between 1919 and 1933. By analogy, the term
is now used to describe UN and State policies aiming for a drug-free society.
Prohibition is based on the interdiction to cultivate, produce, fabricate, sell,
possess, use, etc., some substances except for medical and scientific purposes.
Substance which alters mental processes such as thinking or emotions.
More neutral than the term “drug” because it does not refer to the legal
status of the substance, it is the term we prefer to use.
Psychotropic substance (see
Much the same as psychoactive substance. More specifically however, the
term refers to drugs primarily used in the treatment of mental disorders, such
as anxiolytic, sedatives, neuroleptics, etc. More specifically, refers to the
substances covered in the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances.
Control system specifying the conditions under which the cultivation,
production, marketing, prescription, sales, possession or use of a substance are
allowed. Regulatory approaches may rest on interdiction (as for illegal drugs)
or controlled access (as for medical drugs or alcohol). Our proposal of an
exemption regime under the current legislation is a regulatory regime.
of Nations (SDN)
International organisation of States until 1938; now the United Nations.
Main active component of cannabis, D9-THC is very fat-soluble and has a lengthy half-life. Its psychoactive
effects are modulated by other active components in cannabis. In its natural
state, cannabis contains between 0.5% to 5% THC. Sophisticated cultivation
methods and plant selection, especially female plants, leads to higher levels of
Reduced response of the organisms and increased capacity to support its
effects after a more or less lengthy period of use. Tolerance levels are
extremely variable between substances, and tolerance to cannabis is believed to
be lower than for most other drugs, including tobacco and alcohol.
Characteristic of a substance which induces intoxication, i.e.,
“poisoning”. Many substances, including some common foods, have some level
of toxicity. Cannabis presents almost no toxicity and cannot lead to an
Nations Drug Control Program (UNDCP)
Established in 1991, the Programme works to educate the world about the
dangers of drug abuse. The Programme aims to strengthen international action
against drug production, trafficking and drug-related crime through alternative
development projects, crop monitoring and anti-money laundering programmes.
UNDCP also provides accurate statistics through the Global Assessment Programme
(GAP) and helps to draft legislation and train judicial officials as part of its
Legal Assistance Programme. UNDCP is part of the UN Office for Drug Control and
the Prevention of Crime.
World Health Organization
The World Health Organization, the United Nations specialized agency for
health, was established on 7 April 1948. WHO’s objective, as set out in its
Constitution, is the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of
health. Health is defined in WHO’s Constitution as a state of complete
physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or
chapter could begin and end with the same words: The international drug control
conventions are, with respect to cannabis at least, an utterly irrational
restraint that has nothing to do with scientific or public health
useful restraint, to be sure, if one favours prohibition, for when the advocates
of such policy run out of scientific and public health arguments, they can
simply fall back on the conventions that Canada has signed. More than signed, in
fact: owing to the efforts of certain men, police officers and federal public
servants, Canada was a leading proponent of those conventions.
three conventions govern the entire life cycle of drugs, from cultivation of the
plants to their consumption: the Single
Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961 (Single Convention),
the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances (Psychotropics Convention)
and the 1988 Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic
Substances (Trafficking Convention).
They create not only international law concerning drugs but also control
mechanisms and bodies, both political and bureaucratic.
these agreements have a history that began well before the Single Convention, a
history that sheds light on the issues that led to their development and on
their contemporary significance. That is the subject of the first section. The
conventions create obligations, as shown in the second section, detailed
obligations that are morally rather than legally binding. And they are a
patchwork of compromises that leave states with some leeway, as we shall see in
the third section.
genealogy of the international conventions governing drug production and trade
is fascinating and unique. The story begins in the mid-19th century, when
Britain and China fought two opium wars, both quickly won by the British. In
this era, the roles were reversed: the British owned the lucrative opium
monopoly of the East India Company and refused to relinquish it, while the
Chinese had been trying for decades to stamp out opium use, not so much for
health reasons as for economic ones, since this trade was exacting a heavy toll.
had long exercised the upper hand in its economic relations with the Occident.
Silks, teas, fine pottery, and other items flowed west. Yet the Middle Kingdom
desired little from the outside. (…) Encouraging the China opium trade
therefore solved several related problems for colonial governments. Opium
production provided a living for numerous peasants, merchants, bankers, and
governments officials. Exports to China earned hard currency, thereby reducing
specie outflow. 
Britain balked at introducing control mechanisms that would deprive it of hard
currency, the United States realized at the turn of the century that this was a
perfect opportunity to assert itself on the international scene.
story’s geopolitical ingredients blended with well-known domestic political
interests, racist attitudes and economic interests in a complex cocktail. In
Chapters 11 and 12, we touched on certain aspects of the anti-Chinese racism
that marked the turn of the century in Canada. The same phenomenon existed in
United States had a number of reasons for acting on this proposal. The official
reason was a moral one: at a time when the temperance leagues and the churches
were demanding Prohibition, puritan America decided to take the lead in
civilization’s world crusade. It claimed to be protecting uncivilized races
from the ravages of opium and alcohol. But it also had some less virtuous
reasons. Under pressure from the trade unions, which feared competition from
Chinese labour, it passed the Exclusion Laws, openly xenophobic legislation
whose purpose was to control the yellow peril. It therefore spread the myth of
the ‘unsavoury Chinese opium addict,’ devoted to his habit and ready to
contaminate American youth. 
the Chinese government vigorously protested against the Exclusion Laws, but the
Middle Kingdom, a victim of its conflicts and its internal disorganization,
lacked the resources to make an impact on the international scene. While
continuing to combat opium use within its own territory, China set about
promoting poppy cultivation at the local level.
pharmaceutical industry, which had been booming since the mid-19th
century, was able to produce more and more low-priced medicines, many of which
contained extracts of coca or opium.
mid-1880s euphoric reaction of cocaine set off a chain reaction. Pharmaceutical
companies rushed to fill orders, but fresh coca leaf was unavailable in
sufficient quantity. Consequently, the price skyrocketed. To meet demand and
share in the profit, several imperial powers stepped up efforts to develop
commercially saleable coca. (…) Within a few years, coca production increased
dramatically, coca paste processing became commonplace, coca leaves became a
commodity traded on the international market and pharmaceutical manufacturers
competed for business on the basis of price, availability, and quality of
product. Hardly available in 1885, cocaine became quickly emblematic of the
modern, technological, international, political economy. (…) By the early
twentieth century, cocaine ranked third in terms of dollar value among drugs.
The popularity of the two drugs superseding cocaine, morphine and quinine,
resulted from the same constellation of factors – a burgeoning
pharmaco-industrial complex. 
third factor was the growing professionalism and social power of the medical
community. The latter was essentially working against a form of popular
medicine, ostensibly because it was a source of abuse and charlatanism, but
mostly because it was practised outside the medical establishment and thus was
less tightly controlled by scholarly medical “authority”. Certain of its
science, the powerful medical lobby would quickly swing into action and demand
the regulation of drugs and sole authority to diagnose and prescribe.
not least, there were moral considerations. The temperance movements fighting
the moral and social “vices” of alcohol and drugs were growing rapidly and
carried substantial political clout, which the prohibitionists wielded
The last piece of the puzzle was the 1906 decision by Britain’s new
Liberal government to oppose the forced opium trade between India and China,
which made it possible for the Chinese government to launch an extensive
campaign against opium consumption and production. In 1907, the British agreed
to reduce exports of Indian opium to China by 10 per cent a year, provided that
China would permit independent verification of its own production cuts. The
accord proved more effective than the two countries expected, until the Manchu
(Ch’ing) dynasty fell in 1911. After that, the Chinese warlords began
encouraging opium production on a large scale to finance their military
spending. Nevertheless, future prohibition advocates would view the 1907
“ten-year agreement” as the first successful opium “treaty”; for the
next 60 years. This agreement was to set the tone for international drug control
The stage was now set for the first in a long series of international
conferences, treaties and conventions, as shown in the table below.
Multilateral Agreements on Narcotics and Psychotropic
Date and place signed
Title of agreement
Date of entry into force
26 February 1909
Final Resolutions of the International Opium Commission 1
23 January 1912
International Opium Convention
11 February 1915 /
28 June 1919 2
11 February 1925
Agreement concerning the Manufacture of, Internal Trade in, and Use of
28 July 1926
19 February 1925
International Opium Convention
25 September 1928
13 July 1931
Convention for Limiting the Manufacture and Regulating the Distribution
of Narcotic Drugs 3
9 July 1933
27 November 1931
Agreement for the Control of Opium Smoking in the Far East
22 April 1937
26 June 1936
Convention for the Suppression of the Illicit Traffic in Dangerous
26 October 1939
11 December 1946
Lake Success, New
Protocol amending the Agreements, Conventions and Protocols on Narcotic
Drugs concluded at The Hague on 23 January 1912, at Geneva on 11
February 1925 and 19 February 1925 and 13 July 1931, at Bangkok on 27
November 1931, and at Geneva on 26 June 1936
11 December 1946
19 November 1948
Protocol Bringing under International Control Drugs outside the Scope
of the Convention of 13 July 1931, for Limiting the Manufacture and
Regulating the Distribution of Narcotic Drugs, as amended by the
Protocol signed at Lake Success, New York, on 11 December 1946
1 December 1949
23 June 1953
New York, USA
Protocol for Limiting and Regulating the Cultivation of the Poppy
Plant, the Production of, International and Wholesale Trade in, and Use
8 March 1963
30 March 1961
New York, USA.
Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961
13 December 1964
21 February 1971
Convention on Psychotropic Substances
16 August 1976
25 March 1972
Protocol amending the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961
8 August 1975
20 December 1988
United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and
11 November 1990
1 This is the only document in
the table that is not an enforceable multilateral treaty. It is included because
it marks the beginning of substantial international cooperation on drug control.
2 China, the Netherlands, and
the U.S. implemented the Convention in 1915 (Honduras and Norway followed suit
later that year). It did not come into force globally until it was incorporated
into the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.
3 As amended by the Protocol
signed at Lake Success, New York, on 11 December 1946.
U.S. interest in international drug control grew substantially following
the Spanish-American War, which led to its acquisition of the Philippines in
The acquisition brought with it what the American administration perceived as a
serious problem: a government-run opium supply monopoly. Under the guidance of
the new Episcopal Bishop of the Philippines, Charles Henry Brent, the monopoly
was shut down. Yet smuggling continued, and Brent, who regarded the opium issue
as a moral question and use of the drug as “a
social vice … a crime,” persuaded President Theodore Roosevelt to
support holding an international meeting in Shanghai to remedy what was clearly
a regional problem.
In February 1909, the International Opium Commission
met in Shanghai, with Brent as its president. However, because the participants
did not have the necessary plenipotentiary powers to conclude a treaty, the
result was simply a collection of facts and a set of non-binding
recommendations. In the discussions on the Commission’s terms of reference,
one question that arose was whether drug-related medical issues, such as
addiction and its treatment, should be considered; the proposal was defeated (by
a majority of one) because it was felt that there was insufficient medical
expertise present at the meeting.
This set a telling precedent: most subsequent drug meetings would be attended
predominantly by diplomats and civil servants, with little significant input
from medical experts.
The negotiations during the Commission’s meetings laid the groundwork
for future conferences. The U.S., aggressively represented by Hamilton Wright,
tried to persuade the colonial powers to support a narrow definition of
“legitimate use” of opium, under which any non-medical or non-scientific
use–by Western medical and scientific standards–would be considered illicit.
The colonial powers advocated a softer approach, which would permit
“quasi-medical use”. In the final wording of Resolution 3, the
Commission concluded “that the use of opium in any form otherwise than for
medical purposes is held by almost every participating country to be a matter for prohibition or
for careful regulation; and that each country in the administration of its
system or regulation purports to be aiming, as opportunity offers, at
progressively increasing stringency” (emphasis as in original).
The Commission was, in fact, far from “international”. The focus was
on China’s opium problems–five of the nine resolutions mentioned China by
name–and the U.S. and Britain dominated the discussions. The U.S. was pushing
for prohibition and felt that China needed assistance with its domestic opium
problems. Britain worked to protect its lucrative Indian opium trade, arguing
that curbing such trade would be useless until China brought its domestic
production under control.
Underlying the U.S. delegation’s hard-line stance at the Shanghai
meeting were key domestic political and economic goals that would also colour
later negotiations. It was assumed that if other countries controlled their own
opium production and exports, the U.S. would not be burdened with the task,
because the poppy and the coca leaf had never been grown in appreciable
quantities in North America. Furthermore, international agreements calling on
countries to take drastic internal measures provided ammunition for Brent and
Wright, who were pressuring the U.S. government to develop stringent domestic
drug control laws.
At the Shanghai meeting, the Americans had proposed a future conference
to draft an international drug control treaty that would include the Shanghai
resolutions in an expanded and more stringent form. This proposal was contested
by the other countries and went nowhere. In the years that followed, however,
the U.S. lobbied continually and forcefully around the world for a new
conference. Addressing the opium problem directly, publicly and internationally
was a way for the U.S. to achieve its domestic control objectives, to put an end
to the profitable drug trade dominated by the colonial powers, and to curry
favour with the Chinese and thereby improve Sino-American economic relations.
Twelve countries agreed to meet at The Hague on 1 December 1911 to draft
Once again, the meeting was chaired by Brent, and Wright led the U.S.
delegation. Most states had demanded amendments to the U.S. draft agenda, which
focused on stringent control of opium production, manufacture and distribution
in Asia. For example, Britain insisted that manufactured drugs such as morphine,
heroin, and cocaine be considered. This was an attempt to dilute the opium
agenda and deflect attention from Indian opium production. Britain also hoped
that a fair treaty would create a level playing field for British pharmaceutical
companies to compete with the dominant German synthetic drug industry.
Chapters I and II of the 1912 International
(1912 Hague Convention) dealt with raw and prepared opium. For example, Article
1 required parties to “enact effective laws or regulations for the control of
the production and distribution of raw opium” unless such laws were already in
place. The Convention also recognized the U.S.-initiated principle of
restricting opium use to medical and scientific purposes. Chapter IV was aimed
at reducing drug trafficking in China.
Chapter III focused on licensing, manufacturing and distribution controls
on synthetic drugs, but Germany ensured that the provisions were weak and vague.
Article 10 allowed countries to simply make their “best
endeavours” to implement these controls. Furthermore, Germany refused to
sign the treaty until it was agreed that all countries would have to ratify
the Convention before it came into force. This was an effective tactic for
delaying control measures as it took almost a decade for all countries to ratify
the agreement. Germany did so only because ratification was a condition of the
Treaty of Versailles that ended the First World War in 1919.
Wright used the 1912 Hague Convention in his campaign for U.S. domestic
legislation, arguing that a federal law was necessary for the U.S. to fulfil its
obligations under the Convention. In 1916, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that
this was not so, but by then the Harrison
Narcotics Act of 1914 had become the first federal drug control law in the
U.S.; it would remain a pillar of U.S. drug policy for the next few decades.
The establishment of the League of Nations in 1919 following the First
World War provided the international community with a centralized body for the
administration of drug control. In 1920, the League created the Advisory
Committee on the Traffic in Opium and other Dangerous Drugs, commonly known as
the Opium Advisory Committee (OAC), the precursor to the United Nations (UN)
Commission on Narcotic Drugs. The League Health Committee, forerunner of the UN
World Health Organization, was also formed. Administration of the 1912 Hague
Convention had originally been the responsibility of the Netherlands, but was
transferred to the Opium Control Board (OCB) created by the OAC. Enforcement of
the Convention was sporadic as the countries on the OCB were the ones profiting
most from the drug trade.
The League began to consider demand-side socio-medical issues such as why
individuals use drugs, what constitutes drug abuse, and what social factors
affect abuse. However, prohibition and supply-side issues soon regained the
ascendancy as preparations began and talks were held, again at the instance of
the U.S., for a new treaty in the mid-1920s. In general, the international
regime has tended to separate the study of drug-related medical and social
problems, including etiological questions, from that of drug control problems.
Even though the U.S. had chosen not to join the League of Nations, its
influence in international drug control matters remained strong. Worried by the
1912 Hague Convention’s limited effect on the smuggling of opium and,
increasingly, drugs manufactured in East Asia, the U.S. pressured the League to
convene a new conference. The League feared that if it did not comply, the U.S.
might act independently.
Between November 1924 and February 1925, two back-to-back conferences
were held, and two separate treaties were concluded. The first Geneva Convention
focused on opium-producing nations; signatories were permitted to sell opium
only through government-run monopolies and were required to end the trade
completely within 15 years.
The second Geneva Convention, the International
(1925 Geneva Convention), was intended to impose global controls over a wider
range of drugs, including, for the first
time, cannabis, which was referred to as “Indian hemp” (marijuana) in
Article 11 of the Convention. Articles 21 to 23 required Parties to provide
annual statistics on drug stocks and consumption; the production of raw opium
and coca; and the manufacture and distribution of heroin, morphine and cocaine.
Chapter VI replaced the OCB with an eight-member Permanent Central Opium Board
Chapter V of the second Convention set up a PCOB-monitored import certification
system to control the international drug trade by limiting the amount that each
country could legally import.
While the 1912 Hague Convention had focused on domestic controls, the
Geneva Conventions were an attempt to improve transnational control. The U.S.
had proposed strict adherence to the principle that drugs should be used only
for medical and scientific purposes and that there should be stringent controls
on drug production at the source. When these proposals were flatly rejected at
the second conference, the U.S. delegation walked out of the conference and
never signed the treaties. The Chinese delegation withdrew as well, because no
agreement could be reached on the suppression of opium smoking.
Instead, the two countries concentrated on enforcing the 1912 Hague Convention.
1931 Geneva Narcotics Manufacturing and Distribution Limitation Convention /
1931 Bangkok Opium Smoking Agreement
The import control system put in place following the 1925 Geneva
Convention was only partially effective, as drugs were simply transhipped
through non-signatory countries. In 1931, the League of Nations convened a
further conference in Geneva to place limits on the manufacture of cocaine,
heroin and morphine, and to control their distribution. The result of the
conference was the Convention for Limiting
the Manufacture and Regulating the Distribution of Narcotic Drugs
(1931 Limitation Convention).
In 1931, Canada abandoned its policy of simply reacting to international
drug control efforts and began playing an active role in supporting U.S. efforts
to expand control at the source. Colonel Charles Henry Ludovic Sharman, Chief of
the Narcotics Division in the Department of Pensions and National Health, was
the principal architect of Canada’s domestic and international drug policy
until the 1960s. Canada, through Sharman, was heavily involved in the
negotiations leading up to the 1931 Limitation Convention.
A new player also emerged from within the U.S. delegation: Harry J.
Anslinger, first Commissioner of the newly created Federal Bureau of Narcotics,
a position he would hold for 33 years. A firm believer in prohibition and the
control of drug supplies at the source, Anslinger is widely recognized as a
prime mover in the development of U.S. drug policy and, by extension,
international drug control into the early 1970s.
The centrepiece of the 1931 Limitation Convention was the manufacturing
limitation system set out in Chapters II and III. Parties were required to
provide the PCOB with estimates of their national drug requirements for medical
and scientific purposes, and on the basis of those estimates, the PCOB would
calculate manufacturing limits for each signatory. A Drug Supervisory Body (DSB)
was created to administer the system. The Convention’s effectiveness was
seriously undermined by Article 26, which absolved states of any
responsibilities under the Convention for their colonies. Article 15 required
states to set up a “special administration” for national drug control,
modelled to some extent on the U.S. domestic control apparatus.
The Convention came into force quickly because various countries and the
League of Nations thought it might provide a useful model for arms control
negotiations. The League even prepared a report explaining how the principles
set out in the 1925 Geneva Convention and the Limitation Convention could be
applied to disarmament issues.
In late 1931, another conference was held in Bangkok to address opium
smoking in the Far East. The treaty
it produced was weak, primarily because the U.S. attended only as an observer
and the European colonial powers were unwilling to implement effective controls
on opium use while there was significant opium overproduction and smuggling. The
fact that the U.S. strategy of absolute prohibition had made little impact on
opium trafficking and use in the Philippines did not strengthen the U.S.’s
hand in pushing for the elimination of poppy cultivation. The key result of the
Bangkok conference was that it convinced the U.S. that a firmer approach was
needed to combat raw material production and illicit drug trafficking.
Based on initiatives of the International Police Commission, forerunner
of the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL), negotiations had
begun in 1930 to develop a treaty to stem illicit drug trafficking and punish
traffickers severely through criminal sanctions.
In 1936, the Convention for the
Suppression of the Illicit Traffic in Dangerous Drugs
(1936 Trafficking Convention) was concluded in Geneva. The U.S., led by
Anslinger, had attempted to include provisions that would criminalize all
activities–cultivation, production, manufacture and distribution–related to
the use of opium, coca (and its derivatives) and cannabis for non-medical and
non-scientific purposes. Many countries objected to this proposal, and the focus
remained on illicit trafficking.
Article 2 of the Convention called on signatory countries to use their national
criminal law systems to “severely” punish, “particularly by imprisonment
or other penalties of deprivation of liberty,” acts directly related to drug
The U.S. refused to sign the final version because it considered the
Convention too weak, especially in relation to extradition, extraterritoriality
and the confiscation of trafficking revenues. The U.S. was also worried that if
it signed, it might have to weaken its domestic criminal control system to
comply with the Convention. In fact, the Convention never gained widespread
acceptance, as most countries interested in targeting traffickers concluded
their own bilateral treaties.
Despite its minimal overall effect, the 1936 Trafficking Convention
marked a turning point. All the previous treaties had dealt with the regulation
of “legitimate” drug activities, whereas the 1936 Trafficking Convention now
made such activities an international crime subject to penal sanctions.
In the late 1930s, the Opium Advisory Committee (OAC) of the League of
Nations began to question the international drug control regime’s emphasis on
prohibition and law enforcement. Some countries proposed combating abuse through
public health approaches, including psychological treatment, dispensary clinics
and educational programs. Asserting the U.S. belief that addicts could only be
cured through institutionalization, Anslinger, supported by Sharman, was able to
block all OAC efforts to consider social and etiological approaches to drug
problems. Instead, at Anslinger’s insistence, the focus remained on developing
a new treaty to impose prohibition and supply control worldwide.
Ironically, in anticipation of war, many countries (in particular the
U.S.) built up stockpiles of opium and opium products intended for medical
The Second World War
put further development of the international drug control apparatus on hold.
Following the war, the drug control bodies and functions of the League of
Nations were folded into the newly formed United Nations.
The UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) took over primary responsibility
through its Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), which replaced the OAC. Under
the CND, the Division of Narcotic Drugs (DND) was charged with the preparatory
work for conferences. The PCOB and the DSB continued under the CND in their
respective roles of compiling statistics for national estimates and
administering previous treaties. Canada’s Sharman became the first Chair of
the CND and also held a seat on the DSB.
All these changes in responsibility and organization meant that the
existing international drug control treaties had to be amended. The amendments
were made in a Protocol
signed at Lake Success, New York, on 110 December 1946.
Anslinger and Sharman campaigned hard to ensure that the CND would report
directly to ECOSOC as an independent organization. They were afraid that if the
main drug control apparatus was a larger health or social issues organization,
such as the World Health Organization (WHO) or the United Nations Educational,
Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), etiology and treatment issues
might take precedence over the prohibition focus. In particular, they wanted to
ensure that governments would be represented by law enforcement officials rather
than physicians or others with sociology or public health backgrounds.
Furthermore, the USSR showed interest in considering the social factors
underlying drug abuse. For the Western powers to have agreed with the Soviet
Union would have undermined their hard-line stance against Moscow and communism
in the looming Cold War.
Although control remained principally with ECOSOC, the World Health
Organization (WHO), in particular its Drug Dependence Expert Committee, became
responsible for deciding what substances should be regulated.
This authority was given to the WHO in an international Protocol
signed in Paris in 1948. Article 1 stated that if the WHO found a drug to be “capable
of producing addiction or of conversion into a product capable of producing
addiction,” it would decide how to classify the drug within the
international drug control structure. The Protocol also brought under
international control specific synthetic opiates not covered by previous
By the late 1940s, it became clear that the large number of international
drug treaties, with their differing types and levels of control, had become
confusing and unwieldy. Anslinger, Sharman and their allies had the CND
recommend to ECOSOC the idea of consolidating all existing treaties into one
document. It would also be an opportunity to bring in more stringent
This plan was sidelined for a decade when the Director of the DND, Leon Steinig,
proposed the creation of an “International Opium Monopoly” in an attempt to
end the illicit trade and guarantee wholesale licit opium supply.
Throughout the 1950s, Cold War tensions pushed Anslinger to rebuild the
U.S. stockpile of opium and opium derivatives, often by making large purchases
from Iran through U.S. pharmaceutical companies. Many European countries were
also stockpiling. The multinational pharmaceutical companies in Europe and the
U.S. feared that a monopoly like the one proposed by Steinig would lead to
restrictions and higher prices. Anslinger and Sharman along with the British,
Dutch and French killed the monopoly discussions in the CND. The French
representative on the CND, Charles Vaille, suggested a new opium protocol as an
interim solution until the treaties could be consolidated. ECOSOC approved a
plenipotentiary conference, and Anslinger seized the new protocol initiative as
an opportunity to impose strict global controls on opium production.
(1953 Opium Protocol), finalized in New York in 1953, Article 2 stated bluntly
that Parties were required to “limit the
use of opium exclusively to medical and scientific needs.” Various
provisions were included to control the cultivation of the poppy and the
production and distribution of opium. Article 6 restricted opium production to
seven states, and Parties could only import or export opium produced in one of
The Protocol comprised the most stringent international drug control provisions
yet, but it never gained the support Anslinger had hoped for. It did not receive
sufficient ratifications to bring it into force until 1963, and by then it had
been superseded by the 1961 Single Convention.
Single Convention has played a central role in the creation of the modern
prohibitionist system of international drug control. It is a continuation and
expansion of the legal infrastructure developed between 1909 and 1953.
The work of consolidating the existing international drug control
treaties into one instrument began in 1948, but it was 1961 before an acceptable
third draft was ready to be presented for discussion at a plenipotentiary
The conference began in New York on 24 January 1961, and was attended by 73
countries, each “with an agenda based on its own domestic priorities.”
B. McAllister has divided the participating states into five distinct categories
based on their drug control stance and objectives.
Organic states group:
As producers of the organic raw materials for most of the global drug supply,
these countries had been the traditional focus of international drug control
efforts. They were open to socio-cultural drug use, having lived with it for
centuries. While India, Turkey, Pakistan and Burma took the lead, the group also
included the coca-producing states of Indonesia and the Andean region of South
America, the opium- and cannabis-producing countries of South and Southeast
Asia, and the cannabis-producing states in the Horn of Africa. They favoured
weak controls because existing restrictions on production and export had
directly affected large segments of their domestic population and industry. They
supported national control efforts based on local conditions and were wary of
strong international control bodies under the UN. Although essentially powerless
to fight the prohibition philosophy directly, they effectively forced a
compromise by working together to dilute the treaty language with exceptions,
loopholes and deferrals. They also sought development aid to compensate for
losses caused by strict controls.
Manufacturing states group:
This group included primarily Western industrialized nations, the key players
being the U.S., Britain, Canada, Switzerland, the Netherlands, West Germany and
Japan. Having no cultural affinity for organic drug use and being faced with the
effects that drug abuse was having on their citizens, they advocated very
stringent controls on the production of organic raw materials and on illicit
trafficking. As the principal manufacturers of synthetic psychotropics, and
backed by a determined industry lobby, they forcefully opposed undue
restrictions on medical research or the production and distribution of
manufactured drugs. They favoured strong supranational control bodies as long as
they continued to exercise de
facto control over
such bodies. Their strategy was essentially to “shift as much of the
regulatory burden as possible to the raw-material-producing states while
retaining as much of their own freedom as possible.”
Strict control group:
These were essentially non-producing and non-manufacturing states with no direct
economic stake in the drug trade. The key members were France, Sweden, Brazil
and Nationalist China. Most of the states in this group were culturally opposed
to drug use and suffered from abuse problems. They favoured restricting drug use
to medical and scientific purposes and were willing to sacrifice a degree of
national sovereignty to ensure the effectiveness of supranational control
bodies. They were forced to moderate their demands in order to secure the widest
Weak control group: This group was led by the Soviet Union and often included its allies in
Europe, Asia and Africa. They considered drug control a purely internal issue
and adamantly opposed any intrusion on national sovereignty, such as independent
inspections. With little interest in the drug trade and minimal domestic abuse
problems, they refused to give any supranational body excessive power,
especially over internal decision-making.
Neutral group: This was a diverse group including most of the African countries, Central
America, sub-Andean South America, Luxembourg and the Vatican. They had no
strong interest in the issue apart from ensuring their own access to sufficient
drug supplies. Some voted with political blocs, others were willing to trade
votes, and others were truly neutral and could go either way on the control
issue depending on the persuasive power of the arguments presented. In general,
they supported compromise with a view to obtaining the broadest possible
The result of all these competing interests was a document that
epitomized compromise. The Single Convention clearly upheld and expanded
existing controls and in its breadth was the most prohibitionist document yet
concluded, though it was not as stringent as it might have been. It was free of
the costly features of the 1953 Opium Protocol, such as the provision
restricting opium production to the seven specified countries. Sharman no longer
negotiated for Canada, and Anslinger had played a minor role in the conference
owing to conflicts with the U.S. State Department. The latter was content with
the Convention because U.S. influence was assured within the UN supervisory
bodies and the prohibitive framework had been expanded to include tight controls
over coca and cannabis. Since the U.S. originated the idea of the Single
Convention, walking out of the conference would have meant losing face in the UN
and given the impression of weakness vis-à-vis the Soviet Union during a tense
Cold War period.
The principal foundations of the previous treaties remained in place in
the Single Convention.
Parties were still required to submit estimates of their drug requirements and
statistical returns on the production, manufacture, use, consumption, import,
export, and stockpiling of drugs.
The import certification system created by the 1925 Geneva Convention was
maintained. Parties were required to license all manufacturers, traders and
distributors, and all transactions involving drugs had to be documented.
The Single Convention built on the trend of requiring Parties to develop
increasingly punitive criminal legislation. Subject to their constitutional
limitations, Parties were to adopt distinct criminal offences, punishable
preferably by imprisonment, for each of the following drug-related activities in
contravention of the Convention: cultivation, production, manufacture,
extraction, preparation, possession, offering, offering for sale, distribution,
purchase, sale, delivery on any terms whatsoever, brokerage, dispatch, dispatch
in transit, transport, importation and exportation.
Furthermore, the granting of extradition was described as “desirable.”
The Convention assigned substances to one of four schedules based on
level of control. Schedules I and IV were the most stringent and covered
primarily raw organic materials (opium, coca, cannabis) and their derivatives,
such as heroin and cocaine. Schedules II and III were less strict and contained
primarily codeine-based synthetic drugs. At the U.S.’s insistence, cannabis
was placed under the heaviest control regime in the Convention, Schedule IV.
This regime included drugs such as heroin (the WHO considered any medical use of
heroin to be “obsolete”). The argument for placing cannabis in this category
was that it was widely abused. The WHO later found that cannabis could have
medical applications after all, but the structure was already in place and no
international action has since been taken to correct this anomaly.
The U.S. was pleased with the Single Convention as it broadened control
over cultivation of the opium poppy, coca bush and cannabis plant, though the
measures were not as stringent as the ones Anslinger had negotiated in the 1953
Articles 23 and 24 of the Convention set up national opium monopolies and put
very strict limitations on international trade in opium.
Article 49 of the Convention required Parties to completely eliminate all
quasi-medical use of opium,
opium smoking, coca leaf chewing, and non-medical cannabis use within 25 years
of the coming into force of the Convention. All production or manufacture of
these drugs was also to be eradicated within the same period. Only Parties for
which such uses were “traditional” could take advantage of delayed
implementation; for others, prohibition was immediate. Since the implementation
period ended in 1989, these practices are today fully prohibited, and the drugs
may be used only for regulated medical and scientific purposes.
Apart from consolidating the previous treaties and expanding control
provisions, the Single Convention also streamlined the UN’s drug-related
supervisory bodies. The PCOB and the DSB were merged in a new body, the
International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), responsible for monitoring
application of the Convention and administering the system of estimates and
statistical returns submitted annually by Parties.
The INCB was to have eleven members, three nominated by the WHO and eight by
Parties to the Convention and UN members. The manufacturing lobby’s
effectiveness in the negotiations was evident in the knowledge requirement for
WHO nominees: “medical, pharmacological or pharmaceutical experience.”
The INCB was given a limited power of embargo: it could recommend that Parties
stop international drug trade with any Party that failed to comply with the
provisions of the Convention.
The Convention’s emphasis on prohibition was reflected in the minimal
attention paid to drug abuse problems. Only Article 38 touched on the social
(demand) side of the drug problem by requiring Parties to “give special attention to the provision of facilities for the medical
treatment, care and rehabilitation of drug addicts.” Furthermore, it was
considered “desirable” that Parties “establish adequate facilities for the
effective treatment of drug addicts,” but only if the country had “a
serious problem of drug addiction and its economic resources [would] permit.”
The inadequate recognition of demand/harm reduction approaches, such as
prevention through education, has been one of the key criticisms of both the
Single Convention and international drug control treaties in general.
The Single Convention effectively consolidated several decades’ worth
of assorted drug control machinery into one key document administered by one
principal body, the United Nations.
In the 1960s, following the signing of the Single Convention, drug use
and abuse exploded around the world, especially in developed Western nations.
The increase was particularly evident in the pervasive use and availability of
synthetic psychotropic substances developed since the Second World War, such as
amphetamines, barbiturates and LSD. Most of these drugs were not subject to
international control, and because national systems of regulation differed
widely, trafficking and smuggling flourished.
Throughout the 1960s, the CND and the WHO debated the issue of control of
psychotropic drugs at regular meetings and made various recommendations to
member states concerning the national control of particular substances,
including stimulants, sedatives and LSD. In January 1970, the CND discussed a
draft treaty prepared by the UN Division of Narcotic Drugs on the international
control of psychotropic drugs. Following some modifications by the CND, this
document became the basis for negotiations at a plenipotentiary conference
convened in Vienna on 11 July 1971; this conference produced the Psychotropics
The 1961 Single Convention had been used as a template for the draft
Psychotropics Convention, and many of the former’s features are found in the
latter: CND/INCB administrative authority, schedules establishing different
levels of control for different drugs, mandatory transaction documentation and
licensing, an import/export control system, illicit trafficking provisions and
criminal sanctions. Though superficially quite similar, the two Conventions are
in fact extremely different. The Psychotropics Convention imposes much weaker
controls. The reason for this becomes apparent when the positions of the
negotiating stakeholders are examined and selected parts of the two treaties are
The overwhelming influence of the multinational pharmaceutical industry on the
Psychotropics Convention was particularly obvious.
In contrast to the five negotiating groups identified by McAllister for
the Single Convention, there were only two distinct blocs with conflicting
positions at the Vienna conference. One group included mostly developed nations
with powerful pharmaceutical industries and active psychotropics markets; this
was essentially the “manufacturing group.” The other group consisted of
developing states, supported by the socialist countries, with few psychotropic
manufacturing facilities; this was to a large extent the “organic group.” At
the 1971 negotiations, however, the positions of the two groups were completely
reversed. The manufacturing group adopted the traditional arguments of the
organic group: weak controls, national as opposed to international controls, and
national sovereignty taking precedence over any supranational UN body. The
rationale for these positions was that strict controls would be difficult to
enforce and would cause financial loss. The organic group, on the other hand,
pushed hard for strict controls similar to those it had been forced to accept in
the Single Convention.
comparison of the Preambles of the two Conventions is revealing. Although the
Preamble is not legally binding, it encapsulates the spirit of the instrument.
In the Single Convention, addiction is described as “a serious evil for the individual … fraught with social and
economic danger to mankind.” It is recognized, however, that “the medical use of narcotic drugs continues to be indispensable for
the relief of pain and suffering and that adequate provision must be made to
ensure the availability of narcotic drugs for such purposes.” By contrast,
the Psychotropics Convention makes no mention of the “serious evil” of
“addiction,” but rather notes “with
concern the public health and social problems resulting from the abuse of
certain psychotropic substances.” As well, it is recognized that “the
use of psychotropic substances for medical and scientific purposes is
indispensable and that their availability for such purposes should not be unduly
restricted.” The overall tone of the Psychotropics Convention Preamble is
less harsh, and it implies that “abuse
of certain,” not all, psychotropics, is not as serious a problem as
“addiction to narcotic drugs” in general.
The approach to categorizing drugs by means of schedules with varying
levels of control also differed between the two Conventions. In the 1961 Single
Convention negotiations, when the placement of a drug in a particular schedule
was disputed, the drug almost always ended up in a schedule not favoured by the
organic group – for example, the placement of cannabis in Schedule IV. The
manufacturing group’s insistence on this classification method was based on
the idea that narcotic drugs should be considered hazardous until proven
otherwise. This reasoning did not apply, however, when U.S. economic interests
were at stake. In 1971, the U.S. delegation argued forcefully and often
successfully that organic raw materials should be assigned to the strictest
schedules, while their manufactured derivatives should be placed in the weaker
The Psychotropics Convention also contains four schedules of control, but
they are substantially different in nature and organization from those of the
Single Convention. For example, the most stringent schedule in the Single
Convention is Schedule IV,
which is equivalent to Schedule I
in the Psychotropics Convention. In both cases, the drugs included may be used
only by authorized persons in government-operated medical or scientific
institutions, and their manufacture, import and export are strictly controlled.
The weakest schedule in the Psychotropics Convention is Schedule IV, which
contains tranquilizers. Some manufacturing states tried to eliminate Schedule IV
by arguing that such drugs were sufficiently regulated by national controls and
that international control was therefore unnecessary. In the end, Schedule IV
was retained, albeit with a much shorter list of drugs. However, the principle
on which drugs were classified was completely reversed, in particular by the
U.S.: “unless there was substantial
proof that a substance was harmful, it should remain uncontrolled.”
Another key difference between the two Conventions is revealed by a close
comparison of the schedules. Previous treaties, including the Single Convention,
not only covered the base substances but also extended control to include their
salts, esters, ethers and isomers, i.e., their derivatives. In contrast,
derivatives were completely absent
from the schedules of the Psychotropics Convention. As a result, every substance
to be covered under the treaty regime must be specified by name. In practical
terms, that is impossible because new derivatives are constantly being produced,
and they comprise 95 per cent of the substances developed by pharmaceutical
firms. If a general reference to derivatives had been included, new substances
would have been covered automatically. This omission was apparently the result
of a deal made between political representatives when the technical experts were
not present; the derivatives had to be sacrificed in order to get the
manufacturing states to sign the treaty.
The system of estimates set out in Article 19 of the Single Convention
requires Parties to report annually to the INCB how much of each controlled
substance they will need for the next year. This system is one of the pillars of
the international drug control regime and dates back to the second Geneva
conference, which led to the 1925 International Opium Convention. It was completely
excluded from the Psychotropics Convention. As McAllister has pointed out, “[t]his omission was clearly in the interests of the manufacturing
states, because without estimates of need it is impossible to calculate whether
more of a substance than can legitimately be put to use is being fabricated.”
This allowed multinationals to manufacture unlimited quantities of psychotropic
substances without being constrained by annual production limits based on licit
omissions–derivatives and estimates–were largely corrected during the 1970s
and 1980s through quiet recourse to customary international law by the DND and
the INCB. The latter asked Parties to submit psychotropics information and
statistics not required by the Convention. The initial positive responses from
various organic group states were then used to persuade others to follow suit.
Similarly, the CND and the WHO simply announced that derivatives would be
included in the schedules. Some governments complied and others were eventually
forced by international pressure to do likewise.
Article 3 of the Single Convention gives the WHO the key role in
determining whether, on the basis of a medical or scientific analysis, a new
drug should be added to a schedule and thus placed under international control.
The WHO’s recommendation is submitted to the CND, which makes the final
decision. However, any Party may appeal the CND’s decision to ECOSOC within 90
days. ECOSOC’s decision is final. While a decision is being appealed, the CND
may still require Parties to place control measures on the substance in
Under the Psychotropics Convention, the WHO continues to make
recommendations based on medical and scientific criteria. However, Article 2(5)
explicitly directs the CND to bear in mind “the
economic, social, legal, administrative and other factors it may consider
relevant” in coming to its decision. Furthermore, Article 17(2) states
that the CND’s decision is subject to approval by a two-thirds majority of CND
The CND’s decision may still be appealed to ECOSOC, and Parties have up to 180
days to do so. In addition, ECOSOC’s decision is not necessarily final; there
is the possibility of continual appeals. Lastly, while a decision is being
appealed, Article 2(7) allows a Party to take “exceptional action” and
exempt itself from certain control measures ordered by the CND pending the
outcome of the appeal. The cumulative effect of all of these additions to the
Psychotropics Convention is that it can be much harder for the WHO to bring a
new psychotropic drug within the control system than to add a new narcotic drug
to the Single Convention.
The criteria for placing a new drug under control also differ between the
two Conventions. According to Article 3 of the Single Convention, a narcotic
drug will come within the control regime if it is “liable to similar abuse and productive of similar ill effects as the
drugs” in the relevant schedule. The prerequisites under Article 2(4) of
the Psychotropics Convention are significantly more stringent. The WHO must
that the substance has the capacity to produce
(1) a state of dependence, and
(2) central nervous system stimulation or depression,
resulting in hallucinations or disturbances in motor function or thinking or
behaviour or perception or mood, or
similar abuse and similar ill effects as a substance in Schedule I, II,
III or IV, and
there is sufficient evidence that the substance is being or is likely to be
abused so as to constitute a public health and social problem warranting the
placing of the substance under international control.
the lead for the manufacturing group on this point, the U.S. and Britain were
the most adamant about including such highly restrictive criteria.
Psychotropics Convention is far ahead of the Single Convention’s superficial
attempt to address the demand side of drug problems (Article 38 described
above). Article 20 of the 1971 treaty is a milestone in that it introduced the
concepts of public education and abuse prevention into the legal infrastructure
of international drug control. In particular, it enjoins Parties to “take
all practical measures for the prevention of abuse of psychotropic substances
and for the early identification, treatment, education, after-care,
rehabilitation and social reintegration of the persons involved, and [to]
coordinate their efforts to these ends.” Parties are also required to
promote “as far as possible” the training of personnel to carry out these
tasks and encouraged to further the study and public awareness of etiological
issues related to abuse. Although these provisions leave plenty of room for
countries to avoid taking measures, they are a definite improvement over the
penal provisions in Article 22 of the Psychotropics Convention allow states to
use treatment, education, after-care, rehabilitation and social reintegration
instead of just conviction or punishment in dealing with abusers who commit
offences under the Convention. While the acknowledgement of treatment and
rehabilitation is an improvement over previous strictly penal provisions, such
measures are intended as a supplement to imprisonment rather than as an
whole, the 1971 negotiations resulted in a treaty that was significantly weaker
than the Single Convention. Furthermore, any possibility of revisiting the
provisions of the Psychotropics Convention was not realistic in the early 1970s,
as a new chapter in the U.S. “war on drugs” was beginning.
In the early 1970s, U.S. President Richard Nixon officially declared
“war on drugs” in response to the massive drug abuse in the U.S. and the
social damage it was causing. This announcement had global repercussions.
In 1971, as part of the Nixon administration’s international
anti-narcotics campaign, U.S. officials suggested creating a government-funded,
UN-administered fund to combat drug abuse.
The United Nations Fund for Drug Abuse Control (UNFDAC) was launched in 1971
with an initial $2 million donation from the U.S. Other governments were
reluctant to contribute because of the motives behind the Fund. This reluctance
was well founded as UNFDAC essentially became a U.S. tool. The emphasis was on
law enforcement and crop substitution rather than abuse and demand-oriented
strategies. Money went primarily to projects that involved U.S. allies and
focused on countries where the U.S. had been unable to stop opium production.
The Fund was also sharply criticized for succumbing to the inefficiency
of the UN’s bureaucratic machinery: “A
large proportion of the money allocated to the Fund’s various programs is in
fact spent on supporting an ever-expanding bureaucracy to administer the
programs. Indeed many of the Programs appear to serve no purpose other than to
provide occupation for the enlarged secretariats.”
It was also argued that the UNFDAC should be transferred from the drug control
bodies under ECOSOC to the United Nations Development Program, which was better
able to assess the development and aid needs of recipient countries.
Another key initiative of the Nixon administration was to strengthen the
Single Convention. As a result of heavy U.S. lobbying, a UN plenipotentiary
conference was convened in March 1972 to amend the Convention.
What came out of the conference was the Single Convention Protocol. The main
goal of the amendments was to expand the INCB’s role in controlling licit and
illicit opium production and illicit drug trafficking in general. The U.S.
wanted to revive certain aspects of the 1953 Opium Protocol by attempting to
reduce licit opium production. However, in 1972, licit production was just
meeting licit demand, and few countries were willing to risk a global shortage
of opium for medical use.
Consequently, the U.S. proposals were significantly diluted.
The backbone of the Single Convention Protocol consists of provisions
that enhance the INCB’s powers, especially in relation to illicit trafficking.
In Article 2 of the Single Convention, the definition of the INCB’s functions
now includes an explicit reference to the prevention of “illicit cultivation, production and manufacture of, and illicit
trafficking in and use of, drugs.” Article 35 encourages Parties to supply
the INCB and the CND with information on the illicit drug activity in their
territory; as well, the INCB is empowered to advise Parties on their efforts to
reduce illicit drug trafficking. When Parties conclude extradition treaties with
one another, such agreements are now deemed to automatically include the
drug-related offences set out in the Single Convention, including trafficking.
Article 22(2) of the Psychotropics Convention says only that it is
“desirable” that such offences be made extraditable.
The Protocol amended the Single Convention’s abuse prevention
provisions to bring them into line with Article 20 of the Psychotropics
The amended Single Convention also echoes the Psychotropics Convention by now
allowing countries to use “treatment,
education, after-care, rehabilitation and social reintegration” either as
an alternative to or in addition to conviction or punishment.
Although not as stringent as originally intended by the U.S., the Single
Convention Protocol continued the prohibitive tradition of the international
drug control regime, especially against opium, and stepped up the war on illicit
Numerous national and regional drug control initiatives were launched in
the 1970s and 1980s.
In Europe, the Co-operation Group to Combat Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking
in Drugs, also known as the “Pompidou Group,” was created to facilitate
discussions between countries. In addition, the Heads of National Law
Enforcement Agencies (HONLEA) met regionally - in Asia and the Pacific in the
1970s, and in Africa, Latin America and Europe in the 1980s - to improve police
and customs drug enforcement cooperation. INTERPOL expanded its operations and
became “an important clearinghouse for information and a sponsor of local,
regional, and global drug enforcement meetings.”
Meanwhile, concerns arose within the UN and among its main
control-oriented members that the anti-trafficking efforts of the international
drug control system were being compromised by the fact that certain nations were
not Parties to the Conventions or did not have domestic law enforcement systems
capable of properly combating illicit trafficking.
In 1984, the UN General Assembly adopted resolution 39/141, which called on
ECOSOC to instruct the CND to prepare “as a matter of priority” a draft
convention considering “the various
aspects of the problem [of illicit drug trafficking] as a whole and, in
particular, those not envisaged in existing international instruments.”
Thus, the goal was to add an additional, trafficking-specific layer to the drug
control system to complement the two existing Conventions.
The draft treaty was finalized at the 1987 UN Conference on Drug Abuse
and Illicit Trafficking. Also at this Conference, a Comprehensive
Multidisciplinary Outline of Future Activities in Drug Abuse Control
(CMO) was adopted to encourage states to fulfil their existing treaty
obligations. The CMO focused on four areas: (1) prevention and reduction of
illicit demand; (2) control of supply; (3) suppression of illicit trafficking;
and (4) treatment and rehabilitation. Many of the objectives described in the
CMO were reflected in the draft treaty. Between 25 November and 20 December
1988, representatives of 106 states met in Vienna to negotiate a final text. The
result was the Trafficking Convention.
The Trafficking Convention is essentially an instrument of international
criminal law. Its aim is to harmonize criminal legislation and enforcement
activities worldwide with a view to curbing illicit drug trafficking through
criminalization and punishment. Under the Convention, Parties are required to
enact and implement very specific criminal laws aimed at suppressing illicit
trafficking. These laws relate to such aspects of the problem as money
laundering, confiscation of assets, extradition, mutual legal assistance,
illicit cultivation, and trade in chemicals, materials and equipment used in the
manufacture of controlled substances. As with the other two Conventions, the CND
and the INCB are charged with administration of the Convention. Furthermore, for
minor offences, the Trafficking Convention allows demand-side measures to be
used as an alternative to conviction or punishment.
The Preamble describes illicit trafficking as “an international criminal activity” and points out the “links
between illicit traffic and other related organized criminal activities which
undermine the legitimate economies and threaten the stability, security and
sovereignty of States.” It also stresses “the
importance of strengthening and enhancing effective legal means for
international co‑operation in criminal matters for suppressing the
international criminal activities of illicit traffic.” Even the single
reference in the Preamble to demand-side issues is couched in terms specific to
criminal law: “Desiring to eliminate the root causes of the problem of abuse of
narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, including the illicit demand for such drugs and substances and the enormous
profits derived from illicit traffic” (emphasis added). The implication is
that drug users also are to be considered criminals. The Preamble clearly
reflects its prohibitionist roots, even explicitly reaffirming “the
guiding principles of existing treaties in the field of narcotic drugs and
psychotropic substances and the system of control which they embody.”
Accordingly, the cornerstone of the Trafficking Convention is Article 3:
“Offences and Sanctions.” Here the treaty breaks new ground by requiring
that Parties “legislate as necessary to establish a modern code of criminal
offences relating to the various aspects of illicit trafficking and to ensure
that such illicit activities are dealt with as serious offences by each
State’s judiciary and prosecutorial authorities.”
The mandatory offences, set out in Article 3(1), include the following:
manufacture, distribution or sale of any narcotic drug or psychotropic substance
in violation of the provisions of the Single Convention or the Psychotropics
of the opium poppy, coca bush or cannabis plant in violation of the above
or purchase of any narcotic drug or psychotropic substance for the purpose of
manufacture, transport or distribution of materials, equipment and substances
for the purpose of illicit cultivation, production or manufacture of narcotic
drugs or psychotropic substances;
organization, management or financing of any of the above offences.
Furthermore, Article 3(2) of the Trafficking Convention requires each
Party, subject to its constitutional principles and the fundamental principles
of its legal system, to establish criminal offences for the possession, purchase
or cultivation of drugs for personal consumption.
Three points bear making concerning the substance of the current
The first has to do with the absence of definitions. The terms drugs,
narcotics and psychotropics are not defined in any way except as lists of
products included in schedules. It follows that any natural or synthetic
substance on the list of narcotics is, for the purposes of international law, a
narcotic, and that a psychotropic is defined in international law by its
inclusion in the list of psychotropics.
The only thing that the 1961 Convention tells us about the substances to which
it applies is that they can be abused. The 1971 Psychotropics Convention, which,
as noted earlier, reversed the roles in that the synthetic drug producing
countries wanted narrower criteria, indicates that the substances concerned may
cause dependence or central nervous system stimulation or depression and may
give rise to such abuse as to “constitute
a public health problem or a social problem that warrants international
The second point, following from the first, relates to the arbitrary
nature of the classifications. While cannabis is included, along with heroin and
cocaine, in Schedules I and IV of the 1961 Convention, which carry the most
stringent controls, it is not even mentioned by name in the 1971 Convention,
though THC is listed as a Schedule I psychotropic along with mescaline, LSD and
so on. The only apparent criterion is medical and scientific use, which explains
why barbiturates are in Schedule III of the 1971 Convention and therefore
subject to less stringent controls than natural hallucinogens. These
classifications are not just arbitrary, but also inconsistent with the
substances’ pharmacological classifications and their danger to society.
Third, if there was so much concern about public health based on how
dangerous “drugs” are, one has to wonder why tobacco and alcohol are not on
the list of controlled substances.
We conclude from these observations that the international regime for the
control of psychoactive substances, beyond any moral or even racist roots it may
initially have had, is first and foremost
a system that reflects the geopolitics of North-South relations in the 20th
century. Indeed, the strictest controls were placed on organic substances -
the coca bush, the poppy and the cannabis plant - which are often part of the
ancestral traditions of the countries where these plants originate, whereas the
North's cultural products, tobacco and alcohol, were ignored and the synthetic
substances produced by the North’s pharmaceutical industry were subject to
regulation rather than prohibition. It is in this context that the demand made
by Mexico, on behalf of a group of Latin American countries, during the
negotiations leading up to the 1988 Convention, that their use be banned must be
understood. It was a demand that restored the balance to a degree, as the
countries of the South had been forced to bear the full brunt of the controls
and their effects on their own people since the inception of drug prohibition. The result
may be unfortunate, since it reinforces a prohibitionist regime that history has
shown to be a failure, but it may have been the only way, given the mood of the
major Western powers, to demonstrate the irrationality of the entire system in
the longer term. In any case, it is a short step from there to questioning the
legitimacy of instruments that help to maintain the North-South disparity yet
fail miserably to reduce drug supply and demand.
Putting aside such questions of substance, we will now examine how much
leeway countries have within the current conventions to adopt less
Several states have adjusted their criminal enforcement systems to allow de
facto possession of small amounts of certain soft drugs, such as cannabis
and its derivatives, for personal consumption while remaining within the legal
bounds of the Conventions.
Although the Conventions do not permit legalization or even decriminalization of
possession, those countries have circumvented the limitations by criminalizing
possession, as required by the treaties, but not strictly enforcing the
legislation, or they have effectively “depenalized” the offences by
exempting them from punishment.
According to some observers, such approaches clearly violate the spirit
of the Conventions, especially the Trafficking Convention, which seems to use
the term “trafficking” very broadly to include demand-side activities within
a supply-oriented control regime. Yet there is a legal basis for these
“softer” approaches because the treaties do not explicitly forbid them.
The hard-nosed criminal law approach adopted by the international drug
control system has drawn criticism from human rights activists. Some maintain
that the imprisonment penalties are excessive for soft-drug offences such as
possession of a small amount of cannabis for personal consumption.
It is argued that imprisonment in such circumstances is disproportionate to the
offence and therefore violates the inherent dignity of persons, the right to be
free from cruel and degrading punishment, and the right to liberty, as set out
in such instruments as the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights, the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention
against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
It has also been argued that drug use is a human right and should be recognized
as such in the Universal Declaration of
The Trafficking Convention is the only one of the three Conventions that
mentions human rights. Article 14(2) of the Trafficking Convention explicitly
requires Parties “to respect fundamental human rights” when they take
measures to prevent and eradicate the illicit cultivation of plants containing
narcotic or psychotropic substances, such as opium, cannabis and coca. The same
provision also requires states to take into account traditional licit uses,
where there is historical evidence of such use, and protection of the
There are three factors that provide states, including Canada, with some
leeway. The first is the fact that the conventions recognize the primacy of
national legal systems. Indeed, the international drug agreements have no direct
application in national law. To make them enforceable within its territory, the
state must enact a law; in Canada, that law is the Controlled
Drugs and Substances Act. Specifically, the conventions variously state that
the proposed penalties are to be imposed “subject to [the Parties’]
constitutional provisions” or “having
due regard to their constitutional, legal and administrative systems.” In
Canada, the provisions of the Canadian
Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the interpretations given to them by the
Supreme Court are the framework for interpreting the international conventions
The second, slightly more technical point suggests that sanctions for
possession apply only to possession for the purposes of trafficking, especially
in view of this provision’s position between two articles on trafficking and
of its earlier wording.
Failing to punish people for possession for personal use would not be, strictly
speaking, prohibited. That is the legal opinion of an expert asked by
Switzerland’s Federal Office of Public Health to comment on its draft
legislation to legalize cannabis: [Translation] “The
statute’s general depenalization of the consumption and small-scale
cultivation of cannabis would be compatible with the conventions.”
With regard to cannabis trade and supply, the author writes: [Translation] “Even
though regulating cannabis trade with a licensing system does not appear to be
out of the question, some practical problems remain, partly because of the
control mechanisms required by the 1961 Convention, and partly because the
international community interprets the 1988 Convention as an obligation to
punish the buying and selling of cannabis.”
The third factor is that the conventions impose moral obligations on
states and not legal obligations, much less penalties or sanctions for violating
them, and that they also include review or amendment mechanisms.
have seen in Chapters 5, 6 and 7, cannabis is widely used in every part of the
world, does not have the harmful effects ascribed to it, and poses little risk
to public health. Consequently, it in no way deserves to be included in the
convention schedules that list what are supposed to be the most dangerous drugs.
Cannabis even has therapeutic uses recognized by Canadian courts. For the above
reasons, we recommend that Canada notify
the international community of its intent to seek the declassification of
cannabis as part of a public health approach that would include stringent
monitoring and evaluation.
series of international agreements concluded since 1912 have failed to
achieve their ostensible aim of reducing the supply of drugs.
international conventions constitute a two-tier system that regulates the
synthetic substances produced by the North and prohibits the organic
substances produced by the South, while ignoring the real danger which
those substances represent to public health.
cannabis was included in the international conventions in 1925, there was
no knowledge of its effects.
international classifications of drugs are arbitrary and do not reflect
the level of danger those substances represent to health or to society.
should inform the international community of the conclusions of our report
and officially request the declassification of cannabis and its
Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961 (RTC 1964/30), amended by
the Protocol amending the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961 (RTC
1976/48). The Single Convention came into force in Canada in 1964 and the
Protocol in 1976.
Convention on Psychotropic Substances, RTC 1988/35. It
came into force in Canada in 1988.
against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, RTC
1990/42, which came into force in Canada in 1990.
McAllister, W.B., (1999) Drug
Diplomacy in the Twentieth Century. An international history, pages
Caballero, F., and Y. Bisiou (2000) Droit
de la drogue. Paris: Dalloz, 2nd edition, page 36.
McAllister, op. cit., pages
McAllister, op. cit., pages
This table and the text of this section are taken from the excellent
report prepared by the Library of Parliament at the Committee’s request:
Sinha, J. (2001) The History and
Development of the Leading International Drug Control Conventions.
Ottawa: Library of Parliament, Parliamentary Research Branch, available on
the Committee’s Web site at www.parl.gc.ca/illegal-drugs.asp
Canadian Treaty Series; Kettil Bruun, Lynn Pan and Ingemar Rexed, (1975) The Gentlemen’s Club: International Control of Drugs and Alcohol,
Chicago: University of Chicago Press; United States, (1972) International
Narcotics Control: A Source Book of Conventions, Protocols, and Multilateral
Agreements, 1909-1971, Washington, D.C.: Bureau of Narcotics &
Lowes, P.D. (1966) The Genesis
of International Narcotics Control. Geneva: Droz, page 102.
Bewley-Taylor, D.R. (1999) The
United States and International Drug Control. page 19.
The Commission included all the colonial powers in the region –
Britain, France, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Portugal and Russia –
and China, Siam [now Thailand], Persia [now Iran], Italy and
(2000), page 28)
Bruun et al. (1975), page
11; Lowes (1966), page 187-188.
Walker III, William O., (1991) Opium
and Foreign Policy: The Anglo-American Search for Order in Asia, 1912-1954,
Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, page 16-17; Lowes
(1966), page 152-153.
Musto (1999), page 36-37.
William B. McAllister, (1992) “Conflicts of Interest in the
International Drug Control System,” in William O. Walker III,
ed., Drug Control Policy: Essays in
Historical and Comparative Perspective, University Park, Pennsylvania:
Pennsylvania State University Press, page 145.
Germany, China, the United States, France, Britain, the Netherlands,
Italy, Japan, Persia [now Iran], Portugal, Russia and Siam [now Thailand].
McAllister (2000), page 32-33; Bruun et
Done 23 January 1912; in force 28 June 1919.
Ratification is the process by which each country enacts national
implementing legislation – unless the new international obligations are
already met by domestic legislation – and thereby consents to the
treaty’s application within its territory.
McAllister (2000), page 36-37; Bruun et
al. (1975), page 12; Lowes (1966), page 182-186.
(1999), page 59-63. Since the U.S. Constitution did not allow a direct
federal role in criminalizing drug use, Wright designed the Harrison
Act as a tax statute; physicians, pharmacists, wholesalers and retailers
had to obtain a tax stamp to distribute drugs. The Treasury Department was
responsible for enforcing the statute. Thus, the use of drugs was limited
through access restrictions. (McAllister (2000), page 35)
McAllister (1992), page 145-146.
McAllister (2000), page 46-50; Lowes (1966), page 188.
McAllister (2000), page 50-51.
Agreement concerning the
Manufacture of, Internal Trade in, and Use of Prepared Opium, done 11
February 1925, in force 28 July 1926.
Done 19 February 1925; in force 25 September 1928.
The PCOB was intended to be impartial and politically disinterested,
but its operations remain extremely political to this day (it still exists).
Since its inception, its membership has always included a representative
from Britain, the U.S. and France. (McAllister (2000), page 83)
Bruun et al. (1975),
Done 13 July 1931; in force 9 July 1933.
Giffen et al. (2000),
See, for example, McAllister (2000), page 89-90; Bewley-Taylor
(1999), page 102-164; Bruun et al.
(1975), page 137-141; Inglis (1975), page 181-190. See also Harry J.
Anslinger and Will Oursler, “The War against the Murderers,” in William
O. Walker III, ed., Drugs in the
Western Hemisphere: An Odyssey of Cultures in Conflict, Wilmington,
Delaware: Scholarly Resources Inc., 1996.
Anslinger would use this provision continually in the future as a way
of protecting his position and the Federal Bureau of Narcotics from being
altered through reorganization. (McAllister
(2000), page 98, 108-109)
Ibid., page 110-111.
 Agreement for the Control of Opium Smoking in the Far East, done 27
November 1931, in force 22 April 1937.
Taylor (1969), page 275-279; McAllister (2000), page 106.
Taylor (1969), page 288-298.
Done 26 June 1936; in force 26 October 1939.
Taylor (1969), page 293-295.
McAllister (2000), page 126-127.
The possibility of war accentuated the hypocrisy and
opportunistic nature of the U.S. prohibitionist position. In 1939, Anslinger
“was simultaneously pursuing a League-sponsored treaty to curtail
agricultural production in far-off lands, a regional agreement that would
allow him to commence poppy cultivation at home, and a global acquisition
program that amassed the world’s largest cache of licit opium yet
assembled.” (McAllister (2000), page 133)
See Bewley-Taylor (1999), page 54-59; Bruun et al. (1975), page 54-65.
Protocol amending the
Agreements, Conventions and Protocols on Narcotic Drugs concluded at The
Hague on 23 January 1912, at Geneva on 11 February 1925 and 19 February 1925
and 13 July 1931, at Bangkok on 27 November 1931, and at Geneva on 26 June
1936, done 11 December 1946, in force 11 December 1946.
Bruun et al. (1975), page
 Protocol Bringing under International Control Drugs outside the Scope of
the Convention of 13 July 1931, for Limiting the Manufacture and Regulating
the Distribution of Narcotic Drugs, as amended by the Protocol signed at
Lake Success, New York, on 11 December 1946, done 19 November 1948, in
force 1 December 1949.
ECOSOC approved the recommendation in two resolutions: 159 II D (VII)
of 3 August 1948, and 246 D (IX) of 6 July 1949. See also McAllister (2000),
page 172; Bewley-Taylor (1999), page 137.
McAllister (2000), page 172-179.
 Protocol for Limiting and Regulating the Cultivation of the Poppy Plant,
the Production of, International and Wholesale Trade in, and Use of, Opium,
done 23 June 1953, in force 8 March 1963.
The seven producing countries were Bulgaria, Greece, India, Iran,
Turkey, the USSR and Yugoslavia.
One of the Canadian delegates to the CND, National Health and Welfare
official Robert Curran, played the leading role in drafting a document that
would be acceptable to all countries as a starting point for negotiations
(McAllister (2000), page 205). For an analysis of this third draft, see
Leland M. Goodrich, “New Trends in Narcotics Control”, International Conciliation, No. 530, November 1960.
McAllister (1992), page 148.
Anslinger was extremely disappointed with the Single Convention
because he believed that the opium control provisions were not stringent
enough (e.g., Article 25 still allowed any country to produce up to
five tons of opium annually, albeit subject to strict controls). He
attempted to derail the Convention by lobbying countries to ratify the 1953
Opium Protocol in hopes of obtaining the number of ratifications needed to
bring it into force. He failed, and his influence waned after that.
(Bewley-Taylor (1999), page 136‑161)
Only the 1936 Trafficking Convention was not included in the Single
Convention and remained in force separately, because agreement could not be
reached on which of its provisions should be included in the Single
Convention (McAllister (2000), page 207-208). Article 35 of the Single
Convention simply encouraged cooperation between countries to combat illicit
Single Convention, Articles 19 and 20.
Ibid., Articles 21 and
Ibid., Article 36.
Ibid., Article 36(2).
Single Convention, Articles 22-28.
The limit was 15 years for the quasi-medical use of opium.
Single Convention, Articles 5 and 9-16.
Ibid., Article 9(1)(a).
Ibid., Article 14(2).
See, for example, Report of the
International Working Group on the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961,
Toronto, Addiction Research Foundation, 1983, page 10-11; recommendations 4,
5, 15, 19 and 20.
See, for example, Vladimir Kušević, (1977) “Drug Abuse
Control and International Treaties”, Journal
of Drug Issues, Vol. 7, No. 1, page 35-53. See also McAllister
(2000), page 218-220; Musto (1999), ch. 11; McAllister (1992), page 153-162;
Bruun et al. (1975), ch. 16;
Inglis (1975), ch. 13.
The U.S. attempted to regulate psychotropic substances through the
Bureau of Drug Abuse Control, established under the Drug Abuse Control Act of 1965. This statute also shifted the
constitutional basis for drug control from the taxing power to interstate
and commerce powers, a change that led to the demise of Anslinger’s
Federal Bureau of Narcotics and the birth of the Bureau of Narcotics and
Dangerous Drugs (BNDD) under the federal Department of Justice. (Musto
(1999), page 239-240)
Kušević (1975), page 38.
McAllister (1992), page 154-162; Kušević (1975), page 38-41.
McAllister’s comparison is highly detailed, and well worth reading; Kušević
provides useful background and commentary. See also S.K. Chatterjee (1988) A
Guide to the International Drugs Conventions, London: Commonwealth
Secretariat, page 15-33, for a more technical, lower-level comparison of the
lead author of the preliminary draft, Arthur Lande, had ended his career at
the UN shortly before the Vienna conference. He attended the conference as
representative of the U.S. Pharmaceutical Manufacturer’s Association, one
of many industry observers. Another example of the industry’s blatant
influence involved a group of six small Latin American countries. They
uncharacteristically supported weakening the treaty and were all represented
by a Swiss national who was not fluent in Spanish and was not a government
official, a diplomat or a narcotics expert. He worked for the European
pharmaceutical giant Hoffmann-LaRoche. (McAllister
(2000), page 232; Kušević (1975), page 39)
McAllister (1992), page 154; Kušević (1975), page 39.
Which includes cannabis and heroin, for example.
Which includes hallucinogens, such as LSD.
McAllister (1992), page 158.
McAllister (2000), page 233.
McAllister (1992), page 157.
The U.S. tried to increase it to a three-quarters majority. (McAllister,
2000, page 161)
Ibid., page 159.
United Nations, Commentary on
the United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and
Psychotropic Substances, Done at Vienna on 20 December 1988, New York:
United Nations, 1976, page 353-354.
The U.S. war on drugs is considered to have begun with the enactment
of a federal drug control law known as the Harrison
Narcotics Act of 1914, and has continued ever since at varying levels of
intensity. The most recent supporters of the war on drugs include President
Nixon in the late 1960s and early 1970s, President Ronald Reagan in the
1980s, President George Bush in the late 1980s and early 1990s, President
Bill Clinton in the 1990s and now President George W. Bush. A great deal has
been written about the war on drugs. See, for example, Steven R. Belenko,
ed., Drugs and Drug Policy in America:
A Documentary History, Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2000; H. Richard
Friman, NarcoDiplomacy: Exporting the
U.S. War on Drugs, Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1996;
James A. Inciardi, The War on Drugs:
Heroin, Cocaine, Crime, and Public Policy, Palo Alto, California:
Mayfield Publishing Company, 1986; Kenneth J. Meier, The Politics of Sin: Drugs, Alcohol and Public Policy, Armonk, New
York: M.E. Sharpe, 1994; Musto (1999); William O. Walker III, Drug
Control in the Americas, revised edition, Albuquerque, New Mexico:
University of New Mexico Press, 1989; Steven Wisotsky, Beyond
the War on Drugs: Overcoming a Failed Public Policy, Buffalo, New York:
Prometheus Books, 1990.
Musto (1999), page 248-259; Bruun et
The U.S. campaign included massive international funding for crop
substitution, technical assistance to improve the administration and law
enforcement, initiatives to combat smuggling, and coordination of
educational programs. However, many developing countries were wary of U.S.
money with strings attached. The Americans saw the Fund as a way to get
around that reluctance. (McAllister (2000),
Ibid., page 238.
Bruun et al. (1975), page
Ibid., page 282; Kušević
(1975), page 51.
ambassadors were selected specifically for the purpose of visiting signatory
countries to persuade their leaders to support the amendments proposed by
the U.S. It is widely believed that the conference was largely an instrument
that Nixon planned to use in the approaching presidential election. (Kušević
(1975), page 47)
(1975), page 48. According to Kušević, it would have been better to
try to reduce the diversion of
licit demand into the illicit market.
Single Convention, Article 36, as amended by the Single Convention
Protocol, Article 14.
Ibid., Article 38, as
amended by the Single Convention Protocol, Article 15.
Ibid., Article 36, as
amended by the Single Convention Protocol, Article 14.
In the U.S., the war on drugs lost some momentum in the 1970s during
the administrations of Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. Eleven U.S.
states decriminalized certain aspects of marijuana regulation and were
supported by well-known organizations such as the American Medical
Association, the American Bar Association, the American Public Health
Association and the National Council of Churches. President Ronald Reagan
reversed this trend in the early 1980s. (Wisotsky
(1990), page xviii)
McAllister (2000), page 242-243.
Bewley-Taylor (1999), page 167; David P. Stewart,
“Internationalizing the War on Drugs: The UN Convention Against Illicit
Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances,” Denver
Journal of International Law and Policy, Vol. 18, No. 3, Spring
1990, page 387-404.
Declaration of the Conference
on Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, and Comprehensive Multidisciplinary
Outline of Future Activities in Drug Abuse Control, UN document
a detailed description of the provisions of the Trafficking Convention, see
William Gilmore, Combating
International Drugs Trafficking: The 1988 United Nations Convention Against
Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, London:
Commonwealth Secretariat, 1991; Stewart (1990). Since Stewart was a member
of the U.S. delegation that took part in the negotiations, his article
presents the U.S. perspective on the treaty.
United Nations, Commentary on
the United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and
Psychotropic Substances, Done at
Vienna on 20 December 1988, New York: United Nations, 1976, page 48.
See Stewart (1990), page 392; Gilmore (1991), page 5.
Caballero and Bisiou, op. cit.,
For example, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland and
some Australian states. Switzerland is currently considering a bill to
legalize cannabis. The next chapter provides more detail on the Australian,
Dutch and Swiss approaches in particular.
See Krzysztof Krajewski, “How flexible are the United Nations drug
conventions?” International Journal
of Drug Policy, No. 10, 1999, page 329-338. Krajewski provides an
excellent overview of the conventions’ legal limits in the area of
legalization and prohibition. He concludes that legalization or
decriminalization would probably require amendment of Article 3(2) of
the Trafficking Convention. See also the discussion on legalization in
Dupras (1998), page 24-33; and Alfons Noll, “Drug abuse and penal
provisions of the international drug control treaties,” Bulletin
on Narcotics, Vol. XXIX, No. 4, October/December 1977, page
The full text of these international instruments is available on the
Web site of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights:
Erik Van Ree, “Drugs as a Human Right,” International
Journal of Drug Policy, Vol. 10, 1999, page 89-98. Van Ree proposes
the addition of a new Article 31 to the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights: Everyone has the right to use psychotropic
substances of one’s own choice.
See Daniel Dupras (1998) Canada’s
International Obligations under the Leading International Conventions on the
Control of Narcotic Drugs. Ottawa: Library of Parliament, available on
the Committee’s Web site at www.parl.gc.ca/illegal-drugs.asp
Peith, M., (2001) “Compatibilité de différents modèles de dépénalisation
partielle du cannabis avec les conventions internationales sur les stupéfiants”
[Compatibility of various models of partial depenalization of cannabis with
international narcotics conventions]. Legal opinion requested by the Federal Office of Public Health of the
Swiss Confederation, page 14.
Ibid., page 15.
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