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ILLE - Special Committee

Illegal Drugs (Special)




Chairman: Pierre Claude Nolin
Deputy Chairman: Colin Kenny





Part I - General Orientation

Chapter 1 - Our Mandate

Chapter 2 - Our Work
Two Working Principles
State of Knowledge
Research Program
Expert Witnesses
The Challenge of Synthesis
Taking Opinions into Account
Interpreting in Light of Principles

Chapter 3 - Our guiding principles
Ethics, or the principle of reciprocal autonomy
Governance:  maximizing the actions of individuals
Collective governance
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

Chapter 4 - 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
Judicial Activism
A National Crime Prevention Strategy
The Fight Against Organized Crime
A Societal Debate


D9THC Concentrations

Consumption by the population as a whole
Consumption among young people
Use patterns in other countries
To summarize
Cannabis in History
Trajectories of Use
Factors Related to Use
To summarize

Physiological Consequences of Chronic Use
Cognitive and Psychological Consequences
Behavioural and Social Consequences
Cannabis Dependence
Severity of Dependence
To summarize

Studies not involving accidents
Studies where an accident was involved
Epidemiological studies on youth
Risk assessment
Non-driving activities
While driving

Therapeutic uses
Marijuana as a drug?




Creation of the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse
Creation of Canada's Drug Strategy Secretariat

1908-1960: HYSTERIA
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
Narcotic Control Act (1961)
An Act respecting Food and Drugs and Barbiturates (1961)
The Le Dain Commission (1969-1973)
Bill S?19 and Cannabis
Controlled Drugs and Substances Act

Section 56 - Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Charter Challenges - Therapeutic Use of Marijuana 
Government Reaction 
Authorization to Possess
Licence to Produce
Other Provisions
Access to cannabis
Scientific Research 
Research-Grade Marijuana

TheCanada Customs and Revenue Agency
Provincial and Municipal Police
Searches and Seizures
Entrapment and Illegal Activity
Reported Incidents
Customs Act - Fines

Drug Treatment Courts 

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





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 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

Different Forms of Logic
An Integrated Public Policy
Legislative Framework
Key Reports
Statistics on Use and Offences
Dutch Pragmatism?
Essential Experts Reports
The Coffee Shop System
Data on Use
Ten-Year Strategy to Battle Drugs
Legislative Framework
Other Relevant Legislation in the Field of Drug Misuse
Debate in the UK
Recent Key Reports and Studies
National Strategy
Legislative Framework
Debate in Sweden
Recent Reports
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
Legislative Framework
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

Impact on Consumption
Impact on Supply
Strong Decision-making Body
A Shared Definition of Shared Objectives
Information Tools
Clarification of criminology 
Criteria for a Legal Policy on Cannabis







Glossary 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).


Acute effects

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 dose-related.



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 dependence.



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 cortex.


At-risk use

Use behaviour which makes users at-risk of developing dependence to the substance.



Endogenous 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 drugs, 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.


Chronic effects

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 chronic effects.


Commission 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 psychoactive effects.


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.


Fat soluble

Characteristic of a substance to irrigate quickly the tissues. THC is highly fat-soluble.


Gateway (theory)

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.



Time 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. 


International Conventions

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 pharmaceutical companies.


International 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.


Psychoactive substance

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 also psychoactive)

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.


Society of Nations (SDN)

International organisation of States until 1938; now the United Nations.


Tetrahydrocannabinol (D9-THC)

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 THC concentration.



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 overdose.


United 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 (WHO)

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 infirmity.

Part IV

Public Policy Options

Chapter 19

The International Legal Environment

This 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 considerations.

Very 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.

Currently, 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),[1] the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances (Psychotropics Convention)[2] and the 1988 Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Trafficking Convention).[3] They create not only international law concerning drugs but also control mechanisms and bodies, both political and bureaucratic.

Yet 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.



A genealogy


The 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.

China 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. [4]


While 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.

The drug 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 the U.S.


 [Translation] The 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. [5]


Naturally, 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.

The 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.


The 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. [6]


The 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.

Last but 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 brilliantly.

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 negotiations.[7] The stage was now set for the first in a long series of international conferences, treaties and conventions, as shown in the table below.[8]


Multilateral Agreements on Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances[9]

Date and place signed

Title of agreement

Date of entry into force

26 February 1909

Shanghai, China

Final Resolutions of the International Opium Commission 1

Not applicable

23 January 1912

The Hague, Netherlands

International Opium Convention

11 February 1915 /

28 June 1919 2

11 February 1925

Geneva, Switzerland

Agreement concerning the Manufacture of, Internal Trade in, and Use of Prepared Opium

28 July 1926

19 February 1925

Geneva, Switzerland

International Opium Convention

25 September 1928

13 July 1931

Geneva, Switzerland

Convention for Limiting the Manufacture and Regulating the Distribution of Narcotic Drugs 3

9 July 1933

27 November 1931

Bangkok, Thailand

Agreement for the Control of Opium Smoking in the Far East

22 April 1937

26 June 1936

Geneva, Switzerland

Convention for the Suppression of the Illicit Traffic in Dangerous Drugs

26 October 1939

11 December 1946

Lake Success, New York, USA

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

Paris, France

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 of, Opium

8 March 1963

30 March 1961

New York, USA.

Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961

13 December 1964

21 February 1971

Vienna, Austria

Convention on Psychotropic Substances

16 August 1976

25 March 1972

Geneva, Switzerland

Protocol amending the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961

8 August 1975

20 December 1988

Vienna, Austria

United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances

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.

The 1909 Shanghai Conference

U.S. interest in international drug control grew substantially following the Spanish-American War, which led to its acquisition of the Philippines in 1898.[10] 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.[11] 

In February 1909, the International Opium Commission[12] 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.[13] 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.[14] 

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.[15]


The 1912 Hague International Opium Convention

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.[16]

Twelve countries agreed to meet at The Hague on 1 December 1911 to draft a treaty.[17] 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.[18]

Chapters I and II of the 1912 International Opium Convention[19] (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[20] 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.[21] 

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.[22] 

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.[23] 

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.[24]


The 1925 Geneva Opium Conventions

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.[25]

Between November 1924 and February 1925, two back-to-back conferences were held, and two separate treaties were concluded. The first Geneva Convention[26] 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 Opium Convention[27] (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 (PCOB).[28] 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.[29] Instead, the two countries concentrated on enforcing the 1912 Hague Convention.


The 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[30] (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.[31]

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.[32]

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.[33]

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.[34] 

In late 1931, another conference was held in Bangkok to address opium smoking in the Far East. The treaty[35] 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.[36] 


The 1936 Geneva Convention for the Suppression of the Illicit Traffic in Dangerous Drugs

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.[37]

In 1936, the Convention for the Suppression of the Illicit Traffic in Dangerous Drugs[38] (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.[39] 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 trafficking. 

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.


The Second World War

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.[40] 

Ironically, in anticipation of war, many countries (in particular the U.S.) built up stockpiles of opium and opium products intended for medical purposes.[41] The Second World War put further development of the international drug control apparatus on hold.


The 1946 Lake Success Protocol

Following the war, the drug control bodies and functions of the League of Nations were folded into the newly formed United Nations.[42] 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[43] signed at Lake Success, New York, on 110 December 1946.


The 1948 Paris Protocol

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.[44] This authority was given to the WHO in an international Protocol[45] 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 treaties.


The 1953 New York Opium Protocol

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 prohibition-based controls.[46] 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.[47] 

The Protocol[48] (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 those countries.[49] 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.



The three current conventions

The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961

The 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 conference.[50] 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.”[51]

William 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 possible agreement.


·        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 agreement. 


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.[52] 

The principal foundations of the previous treaties remained in place in the Single Convention.[53] 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.[54] 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.[55] 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.[56] Furthermore, the granting of extradition was described as “desirable.”[57] 

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 Opium Protocol.[58] 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,[59] 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.[60] 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.”[61] 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.[62] 

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.[63] 

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.


Convention on Psychotropic Substances

In the 1960s, following the signing of the Single Convention, drug use and abuse exploded around the world, especially in developed Western nations.[64] 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.[65] 

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 Convention.[66] 

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 carefully compared.[67] The overwhelming influence of the multinational pharmaceutical industry on the Psychotropics Convention was particularly obvious.[68] 

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.[69] 

A 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 schedules. 

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,[70] which is equivalent to Schedule I[71] 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.”[72] 

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.[73]

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.”[74] This allowed multinationals to manufacture unlimited quantities of psychotropic substances without being constrained by annual production limits based on licit need.

These 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 question. 

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 members.[75] 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 find:


 (a)  that the substance has the capacity to produce

 (i)           (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

 (ii)          similar abuse and similar ill effects as a substance in Schedule I, II, III or IV, and

that 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. 


Taking the lead for the manufacturing group on this point, the U.S. and Britain were the most adamant about including such highly restrictive criteria.[76] 

The 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 Single Convention.

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 alternative.[77] 

On the 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.[78] 


Protocol amending the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961

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.[79] 

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.[80] 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.[81] 

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.”[82] 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.[83] 

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.[84] 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.[85] 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.[86] 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 Convention.[87] 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.[88] 

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 trafficking.


Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances

Numerous national and regional drug control initiatives were launched in the 1970s and 1980s.[89] 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.”[90] 

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.[91] 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[92] (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.[93] 

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.”[94] The mandatory offences, set out in Article 3(1), include the following:

·        The production, manufacture, distribution or sale of any narcotic drug or psychotropic substance in violation of the provisions of the Single Convention or the Psychotropics Convention;

·        The cultivation of the opium poppy, coca bush or cannabis plant in violation of the above Conventions;

·        The possession or purchase of any narcotic drug or psychotropic substance for the purpose of illicit trafficking;

·        The manufacture, transport or distribution of materials, equipment and substances for the purpose of illicit cultivation, production or manufacture of narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances;

·                      The organization, management or financing of any of the above offences.[95] 

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.



Some leeway?


Three points bear making concerning the substance of the current conventions.

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.[96] 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 control.”

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 prohibitionist policies.

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.[97] 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.[98]

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.[99] 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.[100] It has also been argued that drug use is a human right and should be recognized as such in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.[101] 

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 environment.

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 on drugs.

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.[102] 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.”[103] 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.”[104]

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.






As we 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.



Conclusions of Chapter 19


Ø            The series of international agreements concluded since 1912 have failed to achieve their ostensible aim of reducing the supply of drugs.

Ø            The 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.

Ø            When cannabis was included in the international conventions in 1925, there was no knowledge of its effects.

Ø            The international classifications of drugs are arbitrary and do not reflect the level of danger those substances represent to health or to society.

Ø            Canada should inform the international community of the conclusions of our report and officially request the declassification of cannabis and its derivatives.



[1]  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.

[2]  Convention on Psychotropic Substances, RTC 1988/35. It came into force in Canada in 1988.

[3]  Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, RTC 1990/42, which came into force in Canada in 1990.

[4]  McAllister, W.B., (1999) Drug Diplomacy in the Twentieth Century. An international history, pages 10-11.

[5]  Caballero, F., and Y. Bisiou (2000) Droit de la drogue. Paris: Dalloz, 2nd edition, page 36.

[6]  McAllister, op. cit., pages 15-16.

[7]  McAllister, op. cit., pages 24-27.

[8]  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 .

[9]  Sources: 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 & Dangerous Drugs.

[10]  Lowes, P.D. (1966) The Genesis of International Narcotics Control. Geneva: Droz, page 102.

[11]  Bewley-Taylor, D.R. (1999) The United States and International Drug Control. page 19.

[12]  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 Austria-Hungary. (McAllister (2000), page 28)

[13]  Bruun et al. (1975), page 11; Lowes (1966), page 187-188.

[14]  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.

[15]  Musto (1999), page 36-37.

[16]  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.

[17]  Germany, China, the United States, France, Britain, the Netherlands, Italy, Japan, Persia [now Iran], Portugal, Russia and Siam [now Thailand].

[18]  McAllister (2000), page 32-33; Bruun et al. (1975), page 11-12.

[19]  Done 23 January 1912; in force 28 June 1919.

[20]  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.

[21]  McAllister (2000), page 36-37; Bruun et al. (1975), page 12; Lowes (1966), page 182-186.

[22]  Musto (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)

[23]  McAllister (1992), page 145-146.

[24]  McAllister (2000), page 46-50; Lowes (1966), page 188.

[25]  McAllister (2000), page 50-51.

[26]  Agreement concerning the Manufacture of, Internal Trade in, and Use of Prepared Opium, done 11 February 1925, in force 28 July 1926.

[27]  Done 19 February 1925; in force 25 September 1928.

[28]  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)

[29]  Bruun et al. (1975), page 14.

[30]  Done 13 July 1931; in force 9 July 1933.

[31]  Giffen et al. (2000), page 483.

[32]  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.

[33]  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)

[34]  Ibid., page 110-111.

[35]  Agreement for the Control of Opium Smoking in the Far East, done 27 November 1931, in force 22 April 1937.

[36]  Taylor (1969), page 275-279; McAllister (2000), page 106.

[37]  Taylor (1969), page 288-298.

[38]  Done 26 June 1936; in force 26 October 1939.

[39]  Taylor (1969), page 293-295.

[40]  McAllister (2000), page 126-127.

[41]  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)

[42]  See Bewley-Taylor (1999), page 54-59; Bruun et al. (1975), page 54-65.

[43]  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.

[44]  Bruun et al. (1975), page 70.

[45]  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.

[46]  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.

[47]  McAllister (2000), page 172-179.

[48]  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.

[49]  The seven producing countries were Bulgaria, Greece, India, Iran, Turkey, the USSR and Yugoslavia.

[50]  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.

[51]  McAllister (1992), page 148.

[52]  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)

[53]  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 trafficking.

[54]  Single Convention, Articles 19 and 20.

[55]  Ibid., Articles 21 and 29-32.

[56]  Ibid., Article 36.

[57]  Ibid., Article 36(2).

[58]  Single Convention, Articles 22-28.

[59]  The limit was 15 years for the quasi-medical use of opium.

[60]  Single Convention, Articles 5 and 9-16.

[61]  Ibid., Article 9(1)(a).

[62]  Ibid., Article 14(2).

[63]  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.

[64]  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.

[65]  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)

[66]  Kušević (1975), page 38.

[67]  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 two Conventions.

[68]  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)

[69]  McAllister (1992), page 154; Kušević (1975), page 39.

[70]  Which includes cannabis and heroin, for example.

[71]  Which includes hallucinogens, such as LSD.

[72]  McAllister (1992), page 158.

[73]  McAllister (2000), page 233.

[74]  McAllister (1992), page 157.

[75]  The U.S. tried to increase it to a three-quarters majority. (McAllister, 2000, page 161)

[76]  Ibid., page 159.

[77]  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.

[78]  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.

[79]  Musto (1999), page 248-259; Bruun et al. (1975), ch. 10.

[80]  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), page 236-237)

[81]  Ibid., page 238.

[82]  Bruun et al. (1975), page 281.

[83]  Ibid., page 282; Kušević (1975), page 51.

[84]  U.S. 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)

[85]  Kušević (1975), page 48. According to Kušević, it would have been better to try to reduce the diversion of licit demand into the illicit market.

[86]  Single Convention, Article 36, as amended by the Single Convention Protocol, Article 14.

[87]  Ibid., Article 38, as amended by the Single Convention Protocol, Article 15.

[88]  Ibid., Article 36, as amended by the Single Convention Protocol, Article 14.

[89]  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)

[90]  McAllister (2000), page 242-243.

[91]  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.

[92]  Declaration of the Conference on Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, and Comprehensive Multidisciplinary Outline of Future Activities in Drug Abuse Control, UN document ST/NAR/14, 1988.

[93]  For 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.

[94]  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.

[95]  See Stewart (1990), page 392; Gilmore (1991), page 5.

[96]  Caballero and Bisiou, op. cit., page 26.

[97]  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.

[98]  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 41-57.

[99]  See, for example, the following pages on the Web site of Human Rights Watch, a human rights non-governmental organization: and

[100]  The full text of these international instruments is available on the Web site of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights:

[101]  See 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.

[102]  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 .

[103]  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.

[104]  Ibid., page 15.


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