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Bulletin on Narcotics
Volume LI, Nos. 1 and 2, 1999
Evolution of international drug control, 1945-1995
Former Director-General, National Institute of Pharmacy, Budapest
Director, Centre for Addiction Studies, Department of Addictive Behaviour and Psychological Medicine, University of London, St. George's Hospital Medical School, London
League of Nations
The international drug control system had its origins in Shanghai in 1909 and, a mere three years later, the first International Opium Convention was adopted, establishing, in rudimentary form, the present narcotics control regime. During the existence of the League of Nations, the Permanent Central Board was created; this was the predecessor of the International Narcotics Control Board and it effectively put an end to the large-scale diversion of manufactured narcotic drugs from the legal trade into illicit channels. A burgeoning international drugs trade led to an expansion in the number of conventions, protocols and agreements attempting to control it. The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs was therefore introduced in 1961, to integrate the measures of previous instruments and to extend the scope of international control to other drugs, such as cannabis and coca leaf. The rapid expansion of the pharmaceutical industry and the large number of manufactured psychotropic drugs led to the adoption of the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances which controls the products of the licit industry as well as "street drugs" that are not used in medical practice. However, the illicit drug trade continued to exploit all of the opportunities offered by globalization during the past two decades and it was recognized that new measures were required to counteract them. The 1988 Convention broke new ground by introducing measures to counteract money-laundering, to deprive those engaged in illicit traffic of the proceeds of their criminal activity and to prevent international traffic in substances frequently used in the illicit manufacture of drugs. In the present paper we have analysed some of the historic events in the evolution of the drug abuse problem and the international responses to them.
The development of the international drug control system has been and is a continuous and incremental process and there are no demarcation lines between three historical periods, namely, prior to the First World War (1909-1914); the period of existence of the League of Nations (1920-1940); and the first 50 years of the United Nations (1945-1995).
During the period 1909-1995, important and significant changes took place in respect of the drugs involved, as well as the form and extent of their abuse, but it was realized from the very beginning that national efforts aimed at restricting the availability of drugs of abuse to medical and scientific purposes must be supported by international action (see table). This remained the guiding principle of the international community in developing the international drug control system. International drug treaties constitute the backbone of this system.
Chronology of the development of the international
drug control system
I. Control of plants
II. Control of drugs
A. Plant materials
1925 (some measures in 1912)
1931 (some measures in 1925)
1931 (some measures in 1925)
1953 (some measures in 1925)
1961 (some measures in 1925)
1961 (some measures in 1925)
(Some measures in 1961)
B. Natural (and semi-synthetic) compounds
Morphine and other opiates
Analogues of narcotic drugs
C. Synthetic compounds
Some synthetic stimulants
Some synthetic sedatives
III.Control of substances used in the manufacture of drugs
A. Precursor compounds
Cocaine precursors (ecgonine and its derivatives)
Precursors of other narcotic drugs (e.g. opiates)
Some precursors of psychotropic substances
1931 (some measures in 1925)
B. Chemicals and solvents
Some chemicals and solvents
The first international narcotics conference was held at Shanghai, China, in 1909 when, upon the initiative of Bishop Charles H. Brent and the President of the United States of America, Theodore Roosevelt, 13 countries participated in the International Opium Commission. The delegates had no power to sign a diplomatic act but agreed unanimously on nine resolutions. Some of these resolutions were addressed to Governments which had, as a consequence of the Opium Wars, concession territories in China, requesting them to regulate the trade, distribution and consumption of opium in conformity with Chinese national legislation. The other resolutions, concerning the desirability of the gradual suppression of opium smoking, restriction of the use of morphine to medical purposes and national control of morphine and other derivatives of opium, can be considered the first universal appeal to fight drug abuse and the first declaration of the principles of a future international narcotics control system.
The most important consequence of the International Opium Commission was the organization at The Hague of the conference which led to the adoption of the first International Opium Convention in 1912; several years later, an agreement was signed at Geneva concerning suppression of the manufacture of, internal trade in and use of prepared opium. The significance of this Convention is twofold:
(a) it established narcotics control as an institution of international law on a multilateral basis; and
(b) it established, in rudimentary form, the present national narcotics control regime.
In the Hague Convention, the gradual suppression of opium smoking was agreed upon, the use of morphine, other opiates and cocaine was limited to medical and legitimate purposes, and their manufacture, trade and use were made subject to a system of permits and recording.
In 1912, there were 46 nominally sovereign States; the conference was attended by representatives of 12 countries; and 34 countries were absent or not invited. Through diplomatic channels and the convening of two further international conferences, it was possible to attain the signatures of all countries, except five. It was therefore decided on 25 June 1914 that the Convention would come into force by the end of that year. Three days later, on 28 June, the Austrian Archduke Francis Ferdinand was assassinated at Sarajevo.
Universal ratification of the Convention finally came about as the result of the treaties of Versailles, since every peace treaty (in 1919, with Germany, Austria and Bulgaria; in 1920, with Hungary and Turkey) contained provisions about the obligation of the High Contracting Parties to ratify and apply the 1912 Convention.
League of Nations
A year after the convening of the Versailles conference, on 15 December 1920, the first Assembly of the League of Nations set up the Advisory Committee on the Traffic in Opium and Other Dangerous Drugs, the predecessor of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, established within the framework of the United Nations. This decision was based on article 23 of the Covenant, which entrusted the League with general supervision over the execution of agreements with regard to the traffic in opium and other dangerous drugs. The Advisory Committee held its first meeting from 2 to 5 May 1921 and continued its activities until 1940.
There is no space here to describe the creation and evolution of the international drug control system during the existence of the League of Nations and the brief summary below is limited to the major achievements of the League, so as to allow an understanding of the
status quo ante the Second World War.
As reflected in the resolutions of the 1909 International Opium Commission and in the 1912 Convention, the drug problem was at first perceived as the smoking of prepared opium, and abuse of morphine and other opiates (including heroin) and of cocaine in the Far East. Opium smokers and opiate and cocaine abusers were supplied by the unlimited production of opium in Asia and by the unlimited manufacture of opiates and cocaine (manufactured drugs) in Europe. The efforts of the League were consequently focused on the reduction of availability of prepared opium and manufactured drugs in the Far East. The suppression of opium smoking remained the aim of the conventions and agreements concluded during the existence of the League of Nations. It became evident, however, that this aim could not be achieved without international monitoring, and one of the greatest achievements of the League was the creation, pursuant to the International Opium Convention of 1925, of the Permanent Central Board (first known as the Permanent Central Opium Board, and subsequently as the Permanent Central Narcotics Board), the predecessor of the International Narcotics Control Board. This put an end to the large-scale diversion of manufactured narcotic drugs from the legal trade into illicit channels.
The 1925 Convention came into force only in 1928, and the Permanent Central Board started its work in 1929. There is documented evidence that, in the intervening period between 1925 and 1929, at least 100 tonnes of manufactured alkaloids (opiates and cocaine) passed into illicit traffic. Owing, however, to the new export-import authorization system and its supervision by the Board, the diversion of opiates became very difficult and some unscrupulous manufacturers started to market and export new morphine derivatives. Benzyl-morphine is the best example and can be regarded as the first designer drug, because it is an analogue and substitute for morphine. But it is also a precursor because morphine can easily be recovered from it. In this context, it should be noted that the control of codeine (methyl-morphine) was motivated more by its convertibility into morphine than by its actual abuse or potential for abuse. Thus, although it is often stated that control of precursors was introduced by the 1988 Convention, in reality precursors of opiates (including thebaine) have been under international control since 1931, and ecgonine and all of its derivatives (e.g. all of the cocaine precursors) were put under international control in 1925.
The 1925 Convention contained provisions for the control of coca leaf exports from producing countries to countries in which the manufacture of cocaine took place. The same controls were applied to crude cocaine (e.g. extracts) and to ecgonine and its derivatives which had also been used since 1885 for cocaine manufacture in Europe.
The 1925 Convention also contained the first provisions related to cannabis prohibiting the export of cannabis resin to countries that prohibited its use, and preventing illicit international trade in Indian hemp, especially in resin. During the League of Nations period, however, no international attempts were made to control the traditional use of cannabis, coca leaf chewing or opium eating.
The provisions of the 1925 Convention instituted the international system of supervision of international trade by the Permanent Central Board, but it was realized that with no limitation placed on the supply of raw materials for the manufacture of opiates and cocaine and the supply of opium and manufactured alkaloids to consumer countries, it would be impossible to reduce their use to that required for medical purposes.
The 1931 Convention can be considered a response to this situation and it is justified to call it the "Limitation Convention" because of the introduction of the system of estimates. Each Government was obliged to furnish annual estimates of its need for narcotic drugs for medical and scientific purposes. These estimates were examined by the Drug Supervisory Body which drew up an annual statement of the estimated world requirements. Compliance with the estimates was under the control of the Permanent Central Board which was authorized to intervene in any case in which the limits were not respected.
The suppression of opium smoking remained one of the main aims of the conventions and agreements concluded during the existence of the League of Nations, including the Agreement concerning the Control of Opium Smoking, signed at Bangkok in 1931. The League was, however, no longer functioning when prohibition was introduced by the colonial powers in their territories in the Far East.
Illicit traffic during this period was considerably facilitated by the lack of cooperation among national authorities and by the differences between national criminal jurisdiction systems. The first international provisions intended for the prosecution and extradition of traffickers and for direct police cooperation appeared in the 1936 Convention, which was initiated by the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) because there was no platform for the establishment of closer cooperation among national police authorities in respect of drug offences. The Convention followed, to a large extent, the International Convention for the Suppression of Counterfeiting Currency of 1929, and although its provisions were never properly implemented, its principles were used for the development of the 1961, 1971 and 1988 Conventions.
A. Mandates and structures
The transfer of powers and functions from the League of Nations to the United Nations was achieved by a number of legal and administrative arrangements. In the field of narcotic drugs, the 1946 Protocol served this purpose and subsequently served as a model for similar legal documents in other technical fields.
The primary responsibility for the general supervision of narcotic matters was assigned to the Economic and Social Council which, at its first meeting, created the Commission on Narcotic Drugs to continue the work of the Advisory Committee, which had ceased to exist when the League of Nations was dissolved. The Commission was given the following terms of reference:
(a)To assist the Council in exercising such powers of supervision over the application of international conventions and agreements dealing with narcotic drugs as may be assumed by or conferred on the Council;
(b)To carry out such functions entrusted to the League of Nations Advisory Committee on Traffic in Opium and Other Dangerous Drugs by the international conventions on narcotic drugs as the Council may find necessary to assume and continue;
(c)To advise the Council on all matters pertaining to the control of narcotic drugs, and prepare such draft international conventions as may be necessary;
(d)To consider what changes may be required in the existing machinery for the international control of narcotic drugs and submit proposals thereon to the Council;
(e)To perform such other functions relating to narcotic drugs as the Council may direct.
Within the United Nations Secretariat, the Division of Narcotic Drugs was set up and entrusted with the monitoring of the implementation of decisions made at policy level for the control of narcotic drugs. The Division was subsequently integrated into the United Nations International Drug Control Programme.
Since the Permanent Central Board and the Drug Supervisory Body were created by treaties and not by the League of Nations, there was no need for the establishment of new bodies to ensure continuity; in accordance with the 1961 Convention, the two bodies were merged to form the International Narcotics Control Board.
The important tasks performed by the Health Committee of the League of Nations and by the Office international d'hygiène publique were continued by the World Health Organization (WHO). The responsibility of WHO in the field of narcotic drugs was substantially increased by the 1948 Protocol.
1. Protocol amending the Agreements, Conventions and Protocols on Narcotic Drugs, 1946
The Protocol summarized the six existing international treaties together with the necessary corrections (e.g. transfer of responsibilities of the bodies of the League of Nations to the new United Nations bodies), without the addition of new provisions.
2. Protocol bringing under International Control Drugs Outside of the Scope of the 1931 Convention for Limiting the Manufacture and Regulating the Distribution of Narcotic Drugs, 1948
The 1931 Convention had placed under international control compounds derived from natural raw materials, for example, natural alkaloids, such as morphine or cocaine, and semi-synthetic derivatives of opium alkaloids, such as heroin. Completely synthetic dependence-producing narcotic analgesics were marketed after the adoption of the 1931 Convention and, in the aftermath of the Second World War, it became evident that the problems connected with the use of these synthetic drugs (pethidine, methadone etc.) were identical with the consumption of natural opiates.
The 1948 Protocol was therefore intended to bring synthetic narcotic drugs under international control, but the extension of the scope of control was not limited to synthetic compounds. The Protocol applies to all drugs liable to the same kind of abuse and productive of the same kind of harmful effects as the drugs specified in article I, paragraph 2 of the 1931 Convention. This provision makes it possible to place under international control not only new synthetic drugs but also any addiction-forming drug, whether already discovered or to be discovered in the future. This provision can be considered as the birth of the similarity concept. It must be emphasized that prevention of the uncontrolled marketing (and eventual abuse) of new drugs constituted the basic philosophy of the Convention. This is reflected in two provisions.
In accordance with the Protocol, every State party to the Protocol is obligated to inform the Secretary-General of any drug used or capable of being used for medical or scientific purposes (and not falling within the scope of the 1931 Convention) which that party considers capable of abuse and of producing harmful effects. Second, the Protocol authorized the Commission on Narcotic Drugs to place such a drug under provisional control. The provisional control measures might be altered in the light of the conclusions and decisions of WHO (and subsequently in the light of experience).
The need for prompt action by the Commission, which resulted in the adoption of the 1948 Protocol, was confirmed by the Permanent Central Opium Board in 1951. In its report, the Board pointed out that the licit consumption of pethidine quantitatively exceeded morphine consumption; some national authorities reported that pethidine was abused in 28 per cent of addiction cases and that most morphine abusers had switched to methadone.
3. Protocol for Limiting and Regulating the Cultivation of the Poppy Plant, the Production of, International and Wholesale Trade in, and Use of Opium, 1953
The principle of limiting the manufacture and use of natural and semi-synthetic opium alkaloids was adopted and applied in the 1931 Convention, and extended to the synthetic narcotic analgesics by the 1948 Protocol, but there were no international agreements limiting the production and non-medical use of opium (except for the prohibition of opium smoking). The limitation of the production of raw materials had been considered by the League of Nations but follow up to the project was cut short by the war. The 1953 Protocol therefore specifically prohibited the non-medical use of opium, and it required each producing country to establish a monopoly to control the cultivation of the opium poppy and the production of opium. The Protocol enumerated, by name, seven countries authorized to produce opium for export (Bulgaria, Greece, India, Iran, Turkey, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and Yugoslavia).
The practical merits of the 1953 Protocol cannot be evaluated on the basis of the treaty itself because it never became a vital international instrument. Rather, it must be considered as a forerunner of the provisions of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs dealing with the control of cultivation of "narcotic plants" and production of natural materials. The drafting and the adoption of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs was facilitated by the existence of the 1953 Protocol because some of the latter's provisions could be incorporated into the text of the Single Convention, and it was possible to avoid reopening discussions on such overambitious and unrealistic proposals as the establishment of an international opium monopoly or an international inspection system which were debated for several years during the development of the 1953 Protocol.
4. Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961
The extreme complexity of the provisions of the conventions, agreements and protocols on narcotic drugs was realized as early as 1948, when the Economic and Social Council invited the Secretary-General to prepare a single draft convention integrating the control systems of previous treaties. With the adoption of the 1953 Protocol, the number of treaties was increased to nine.
Furthermore, in the 1950s, there was an important change in the philosophy of the international community. Prior to the Second World War, opium smoking and the abuse of heroin, morphine and cocaine in the Far East were considered the main drug problems in the world, while problems connected with the abuse of cannabis resin were studied by the League of Nations. It was only after the War that discussions started on the possibilities of suppressing the traditional opium eating habit
and cannabis consumption in Asia, and the coca chewing habit in South America. From a historical perspective, therefore, it can be concluded that in the 1950s no distinction was made between traditional use and abuse. This is reflected in the report of the Permanent Central Opium Board for 1955 on coca chewing, which states that, in 1954 a long-standing controversy had been brought to an end when it was agreed between the Governments concerned, WHO and the Commission on Narcotic Drugs that the habit constituted a form of drug addiction, even though it did not possess all of the characteristics of addiction, and that it should be suppressed.
The new philosophy was translated into the respective provisions of the 1961 Convention, which led to the suppression of the opium eating habit and cannabis consumption in some Asian countries and, to some extent, a reduction in coca chewing in South America.
The Single Convention was not simply a synthesis of previous international instruments. It also extended the scope of control to other drugs (e.g. cannabis and coca leaf) and introduced a number of new control measures. Its main provisions are as follows:
(a)It prohibits the production, trade and use for non-medical purposes of all narcotic drugs;
(b)It extends the scope of control to cannabis and coca leaf;
(c)It limits possession of narcotic drugs to medical and scientific purposes and to persons authorized to possess them;
(d)It makes obligatory, for manufactured drugs, the limitation based on estimates introduced by the 1931 Convention (narcotic raw materials were excluded);
(e)It incorporates the basic provisions of the 1953 Protocol (national opium monopoly, licensing of farmers etc.) and extends these provisions also to cannabis and coca leaf;
(f)It extends the system of import certificates and export authorizations, introduced by the 1925 Convention, to poppy straw;
(g)It completes the international system of statistical control by extending it over the entire range of transactions concerning all drugs covered by the Convention.
In addition, the Single Convention introduced new obligations for dealing with the medical treatment and rehabilitation of addicts and it divided drugs into four schedules so that greater or lesser degrees of control could be exercised in respect of the various substances and compounds.
Under the 1961 Convention, the Permanent Central Board and the Drug Supervisory Body were merged into one single body, the International Narcotics Control Board, and the tasks of the Board were substantially increased, mainly because the estimates and the statistical return systems were extended to all narcotic drugs.
The responsibility of WHO was also increased: scheduling decisions of the Commission were to be based on the recommendations of WHO which set up an expert committee
for the study of the scientific and medical aspects connected with the use and abuse of new drugs.
The functioning and the provisions of the 1961 Convention (and of the other drug control treaties) were analysed by the International Narcotics Control Board and the United Nations International Drug Control Programme in reports submitted to the Commission on Narcotic Drugs which was requested by the General Assembly in 1994 to evaluate the functioning of the international drug control system. Without entering into the content of the reports on cannabis, coca leaf etc., it is necessary to draw attention to their main finding that the 1961 Convention had been successful in preventing the diversion of narcotic drugs from legal sources toward illicit channels so that black markets were no longer supplied by legally manufactured narcotic drugs. It should be emphasized that the provisions of the 1961 Convention were intended to prevent diversion but were not aimed at combating illicit traffic in clandestinely produced or manufactured drugs, which became a large-scale organized criminal activity after the adoption of the Convention.
5. Convention on Psychotropic Substances, 1971
The international control of synthetic opioids, introduced in 1948, was followed by the extension of the scope of control to other synthetic drugs only in 1971. The hesitation of some industrialized countries to acknowledge the necessity for control over the international trade in amphetamines and barbiturates contributed to the delay and to the adoption of inadequate control measures.
The scope of international control was substantially increased by the Convention on Psychotropic Substances, with its extension to three drug classes: sedatives (at that time mainly barbiturates); amphetamine-type stimulants; and LSD-type hallucinogens.
For several decades, most Governments were of the opinion that national controls were sufficient for the prevention of the public health and social consequences of the abuse of barbiturates and amphetamines. Following reports on the increase in the non-medical use of both drug classes and the appearance of new forms of abuse (e.g. the intravenous administration of amphetamines in excessive doses assumed epidemic proportions in some countries), it was realized that national control measures must be complemented by international action.
In addition, the abuse of LSD and some other hallucinogens suddenly emerged as a new problem; the rapid spread of the abuse of such new drugs, their clandestine manufacture and the increase in their illicit trafficking warranted immediate international intervention.
In theory, international control of those substances could have been solved through the amendment of the 1961 Convention but such proposals were constantly rejected by the majority of the members of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs because of their fear of the dilution of the narcotic control system by extending it to cover a huge number of pharmaceutical preparations. It must be noted that, in many countries, thousands of products were marketed which contained barbiturates in combination with other pharmaceuticals (including amphetamines)
as compared to the current situation where most such combination products have disappeared from the market. Similarly, in 1971, in many countries, the number of pharmaceutical preparations containing amphetamines was substantial, in contrast to the present, when in most countries most of the amphetamines (and practically all of their combination products) have been withdrawn from the market.
It can be seen that the 1971 Convention is the combination of two completely different control regimes: one for the LSD-type hallucinogenic drugs (e.g. "street drugs" which are not used in medicine and are manufactured in clandestine laboratories) in Schedule I, and another for stimulants, hypnotics, sedatives and anxiolytics, which are products of the licit pharmaceutical industry, in Schedules II, III and IV. It must be noted that, owing to the spectacular decrease in the prescription and licit manufacture of amphetamine and methamphetamine, the black market in these drugs is today mainly supplied by clandestine laboratories.
The control regime for substances in Schedule I is stricter than that provided by the 1961 Convention for narcotic drugs, whereas the provisions for psychotropic substances in the other three Schedules of the 1971 Convention are mainly national control measures. Most of the international obligations (estimates, export-import authorizations etc.) were omitted from the new treaty.
The 1971 Convention was drawn up in conformity with the intentions of several industrialized countries which also wanted to limit the number of substances in Schedules II, III and IV. Unfortunately, this intention led to the elimination of some substantial elements of the preventive structure of the international drug treaty system:
(a)In order to avoid the control of all barbiturates, the "similarity concept" of previous treaties was replaced by new scheduling criteria. In consequence, it is impossible to put under control similar substances containing the same basic chemical structure (this possibility had existed since 1925). Thus, every new drug, including designer drugs, must be evaluated individually by a complicated and time-consuming process;
(b)In order to limit the number of drugs in the Schedules, the possibility of the control of precursors (which existed in previous treaties since 1925) was also excluded. The consequence was a 17-year delay in the introduction of the international control of LSD and amphetamine precursors, through the adoption of a new treaty.
A few years after the entry into force of the 1971 Convention, it became apparent that its provisions were insufficient to prevent the diversion of substances in Schedules II, III and IV. The provision for the prohibition or restriction of importation of specified psychotropic substances on an individual basis was not a substitute for monitoring. The Commission and the Economic and Social Council reacted to that situation by requesting parties to apply additional control measures on a voluntary basis. The adequacy of this action has been confirmed by the compliance of most countries with the requests.
Despite some major weaknesses and deficiencies, the 1971 Convention constitutes an important step in the development of the international drug control system. One of its merits is the inclusion of demand reduction provisions, which means that the prevention of drug abuse through early identification, treatment, education, aftercare, rehabilitation and social reintegration etc. has become an obligation of Governments.
6. Protocol Amending the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1972
The 1972 Protocol amending the 1961 Convention can be considered the first response to the increased illicit cultivation of the opium poppy and the cannabis plant, the increased illicit production of cannabis, cannabis resin and opium, the increased illicit manufacture of heroin, and the increased illicit traffic in all of those drugs. It was expected that strengthening the respective obligations of parties and expanding the role of the Board would lead to a greater efficacy of national efforts in the suppression of such illicit activities and to better cooperation among national authorities, with the assistance of the Board in preventing the international expansion in trafficking. The provisions of the Protocol were, however, unable to counteract the further increase in the illicit cultivation, production and manufacturing trends. It was only in 1988 that the international community realized the necessity of undertaking more concentrated action and the importance of developing new methods of combating the activities of organized criminal cartels.
There are two other elements in the 1972 Protocol which should be mentioned:
(a)The 1961 Convention was amended by demand reduction provisions which were patterned after the respective provisions of the 1971 Convention;
(b)The provisions of the 1961 Convention, intended to limit the availability of narcotic drugs to medical and scientific purposes, were supplemented by the obligation of parties to ensure the availability of those drugs for such purposes.
Both amendments are very important. First, because they reflect the realization that without the reduction of illicit demand, supply reduction measures will bring temporary results only, and, second, one of the basic principles of international drug control is that reduction in the availability of drugs for non-medical purposes should not affect and limit their therapeutic use.
7. United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, 1988
After the adoption of the 1961 Convention and the emergence of cannabis abuse in industrialized countries, it became evident that the provisions of that Convention, intended to eliminate the traditional use of cannabis, were inadequate to prevent the large-scale illicit traffic in cannabis which was a consequence of the increase in its new illicit demand. There are no reliable statistics on the number of new cannabis abusers in Western countries but the explosion in demand can be illustrated by the example of the United States where, prior to the decriminalization of the possession of marijuana for personal use, one million persons were arrested between 1970 and 1973 for marijuana-related crimes. The propagation of the modern (e.g. non-traditional, non-medical, non-ceremonial) form of cannabis smoking in Western European countries in the 1970s created further large markets for illicit traffic in cannabis and cannabis resin.
The establishment of the international drug control system contributed to a large extent to the elimination of the world's greatest addiction epidemics, which were created in the nineteenth century and at the beginning of the twentieth century by the legalization of the opium trade and opium smoking and the free sale of morphine and heroin, and also to the prevention of new epidemics.
In 1969, when the number of heroin addicts in the world was very low,
the death of 224 American teenagers due to heroin overdose can be regarded as the first sign of the beginning of a new wave of heroin abuse. The interaction between the spread of heroin abuse and the propagation of new clandestine heroin laboratories led to the problem becoming global and the adoption of the 1972 Protocol amending the 1961 Convention could not stop the flow of illicit opium to clandestine laboratories and the increasing availability of illicit heroin.
The international community was not prepared for the explosion in cocaine abuse in the 1980s, which was accompanied by the large-scale illicit manufacture of cocaine in some Latin American countries. The dramatic increase in cocaine abuse is illustrated by two reports submitted by the United States to the Secretary-General of the United Nations: in 1970, no cocaine abuse was reported, while in 1988, the number of cocaine abusers was estimated at 12,200,000, among them 1,242,000 daily abusers, and 1,696 cocaine-related deaths were registered.
It was, therefore, realized that the control methods of the existing international treaties, which had been successful against the diversion of narcotic drugs from legal sources to illicit channels, must be complemented by concentrated and coordinated international action and new, more efficient methods of combating organized illicit drug traffic. The adoption of the 1988 Convention should be considered a response to this new situation.
The International Conference on Drug Abuse and Illicit Traffic, held in 1987, was the prelude to the 1988 Convention, with a consensus on the following issues relating to illicit traffic:
(a)The time when the world was divided into producing countries and consuming countries was over. Drug abuse had become a global phenomenon and illicit cultivation, production and manufacture were no longer limited to a small number of countries;
(b)Illicit traffic had become an international criminal activity and there were close links between illicit drug traffic and other organized criminal activities;
(c)Illicit traffic generated large financial profits, thus enabling criminal organizations to penetrate and corrupt the structures of Governments, societies and legitimate commercial and financial business.
All of the above phenomena were drastically manifested in the South American countries that initiated the 1988 Convention, which introduced a number of new methods against illicit traffic, including,
(a)Measures that enabled Governments to deprive persons engaged in illicit traffic of the proceeds of their criminal activities;
(b)A comprehensive legal framework for close collaboration;
(c)Monitoring of substances (including some precursors of some psychotropic substances), chemicals and solvents frequently used by clandestine drug laboratories.
At the same time, implementation of the provisions of the 1961 and 1971 Conventions became a treaty obligation of parties to the 1988 Convention.
The provisions of the 1988 Convention contain practically all of the elements necessary to overcome constitutional and other obstacles hindering cooperation among national authorities with different legal and criminal jurisdiction systems. The possibilities for international police cooperation were widened by the Convention, including authorization of controlled delivery techniques. The success of the 1988 Convention now depends upon the determination of Governments to implement the complex and comprehensive provisions of this new international instrument.
The explosion in the abuse of cannabis (in the 1960s), heroin (in the 1970s) and cocaine (in the 1980s) has changed the world; countries in the western hemisphere became the major consumers of drugs, leading to the development of an international illicit supply network, while in many developing countries, the traditional use of some narcotic drugs has been replaced by "Western" types of drug abuse. The shift from opium to heroin and from eating or smoking to injection of drugs are examples of that frightening trend.
Figure 1 demonstrates that the increase in the number of natural drugs (including their semi-synthetic derivatives) under international control is negligible. Huge amounts of natural drugs are seized throughout the world but their number remains limited to cannabis and cocaine products and heroin. Figure 1 also demonstrates the steady increase in the number of synthetic compounds under international control over time. Owing to the unlimited possibilities offered by chemical synthesis, it is obvious that more and more synthetic drugs will be added to the schedules of the conventions. This process will be speeded up by a recent phenomenon that can best be described as illicit research. In the past, all new drugs were the result of pharmaceutical research, and the use of these drugs for non-medical purposes began after their marketing as pharmaceutical products. Now parallel research activity is undertaken to develop new drugs for non-medical purposes only. As a result of this illicit research, it can be foreseen that hundreds of new designer drugs (e.g. fentanyl derivatives, ecstasy-type compounds and others) will be developed and manufactured in clandestine laboratories. It is highly probable that all natural drugs will gradually be replaced by similar synthetic compounds. Such a development will lead to drastic changes in the cultivation, production and manufacture of illicit drugs and the international community should be prepared to adapt the treaty system to these new situations.
In this situation, it must be realized that there are no substitutes for international drug control treaties, and conventions will continue to form the backbone of the international drug control system. The updating of that system remains one of the principal responsibilities of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs. It is expected that the increased size of the Commission and the large number of participants in its sessions (see figure 2), as well as the activity of delegations, will strengthen and not weaken the operational functioning of the treaty system.
At the request of the General Assembly, the shortcomings of the treaty system were evaluated by the International Narcotics Control Board and the United Nations International Drug Control Programme which submitted concrete proposals to the Commission. There is a need to accelerate the functioning of the international drug control system. This aim cannot be achieved without the elimination of loopholes in the preventive network of that control system. It is the duty of the Commission to consider amending the existing drug control treaties (first of all the scheduling provisions of the 1971 Convention) and/or simplifying the procedures for the review and evaluation of emerging drugs of abuse, otherwise the gap between the official detection of the appearance of a new drug of abuse on the illicit market and its scheduling (currently, usually, a four-year process) will be further widened.
- International Opium Convention, signed at the Hague on 23 January 1912 (League of Nations,
Treaty Series, vol. VIII, p.187).
- Agreement concerning the Suppression of the Manufacture of, Internal Trade in, and Use of, Prepared Opium, signed at Geneva on 11 February 1912 (League of Nations,
Treaty Series, vol. LI, p.337).
- International Opium Convention, signed at Geneva on 19 February 1925 (League of Nations,
Treaty Series, vol. LXXXI, p.317).
- Convention for Limiting the Manufacture and Regulating the Distribution of Narcotic Drugs, signed at Geneva on 13 July 1931 (League of Nations,
Treaty Series, vol. CXXXIX, p. 301).
- Agreement concerning the Suppression of Opium Smoking, signed at Bangkok on 27 November 1931 (League of Nations,
Treaty Series, vol. CLXXVII, p. 373).
- Convention for the Suppression of the Illicit Traffic in Dangerous Drugs, signed at Geneva on 26 June 1936 (League of Nations,
Treaty Series, vol. CXCVIII, p. 299).
- Protocol amending the Agreements, Conventions and Protocols on Narcotic Drugs, concluded at The Hague on 23 January 1912, at Geneva on 11 February 1925, 19 February 1925 and 13 July 1931, at Bangkok on 27 November 1931 and at Geneva on 26 June 1936, signed at Lake Success, New York, on 11 December 1946 (United Nations,
Treaty Series, vol. 12, p. 179).
- 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, signed at Paris on 19 November 1948 (United Nations,
Treaty Series, vol. 44, p. 277).
- Protocol for Limiting and Regulating the Cultivation of the Poppy Plant, the Production of, International and Wholesale Trade in, and Use of Opium, signed at New York on 23 June 1953 (United Nations,
Treaty Series, vol. 456, p. 3).
- Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, signed at New York on 30 March 1961 (United Nations,
Treaty Series, vol. 520, No. 7515); Convention on Psychotropic Substances, signed at Vienna on 21 February 1971 (United Nations,
Treaty Series, vol. 1019, No. 14956).
- Protocol amending the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961, signed at Geneva on 25 March 1972 (United Nations,
Treaty Series, vol. 976, No. 14152).
- United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, signed at Vienna on 20 December 1988 (see
Official Records of the United Nations Conference for the Adoption of a Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, Vienna, 25 November-20 December 1988, vol. I (United Nations publication, Sales No. E.94.XI.5)).
There was a difference of opinion between the United States and other countries. The United States' position that the use of opium products for other than medical and scientific purposes was abuse and not licit had been clearly stated in a memorandum in 1925.
The decision was based on the expert opinion of the World Health Organization.
There have been several changes to the name of the committee, which is currently known as the Expert Committee on Drug Dependence.
The situation can be illustrated by the example of a country where, after the entry into force of the Convention, 1,724 combination products containing small amounts of phenobarbital were exempted from some control measures.
In 1970, the following number of heroin abusers were reported to the United Nations:
|United States of America
United Kingdom of Great Britain
and Northern Ireland
Republic of Korea
Federal Republic of Germany