Synthetic Drugs and International Action




Pages: 1 to 4
Creation Date: 1950/01/01


Synthetic Drugs and International Action

1 December 1949 marked the date of the coming into force of the Paris Protocol of 19 November 1948 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. It may be expected that the first application of this protocol will take place in the near future. In this connexion it might be interesting to analyse the juridical measures which led to its formulation.

The problem was as follows: certain synthetic drugs discovered after the conclusion of the 1931 Convention were or could be used for medical purposes in the place of other drugs which came within the scope of this Convention. These drugs were free from all international control. Although authoritative opinion in this field held that these drugs were addiction-forming, there was no international instrument by which they could be placed under the control established by the 1931 Convention. In other words, the manufacture of and trade in these synthetic drugs could neither be limited nor controlled in accordance with the provisions of the 1931 Convention: the measures provided by article 11 of this Convention, intended to bring new drugs within its scope, are limited to the phenanthrene alkaloids of' opium and the ecgonine alkaloids of the coca leaf.

It should be observed, however, that synthetic drugs could have been placed under the national and international control provided by the Convention of 1925, in virtue or its article 10. This Convention, however, although its aim was to control the trade in those drugs to which it applies, does not directly control their manufacture, nor the trade in them. Moreover, the conclusions and recommendations on the harmful quality of a new drug formulated in virtue of this article 10 by the technical international bodies set up by the Convention bind merely those parties to the Convention who agree to these conclusions and recommendations.

Bearing in mind therefore the experience acquired in respect of the international control of new drugs in virtue of articles 10 and 11 of the 1925 and 1931 Conventions respectively, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs requested the Secretariat to examine the possi- bility of combining the advantages of the procedure provided by article 10 of the 1925 Convention (wider scope) with those of the procedure provided by article 11 of the Convention of 1931 (immediate effect and the obligatory character of the decisions taken by the international technical bodies).

The study of this problem led the Secretariat to conclude that, to overcome the existing difficulties in placing new addiction-forming drugs under international control, it would be necessary both to place them under the control established by the 1931 Convention and to take measures to render immediately obligatory, for the contracting parties, the decisions taken in respect of' the harmful character of new drugs by the international technical bodies.

There were two possible ways of achieving this end: by amending the existing conventions, or by concluding a special international agreement.

Experience had shown that amending multilateral treaties having a large number of parties presented many difficulties and might give rise to juridical arguments. This was especially true when a convention, such as the 1925 Convention, contained no explicit provisions for its amendment, in addition to this general difficulty in amending the 1925 Convention, amending its article 10 would in no way have allowed new drugs to be placed under the control provided by the 1931 Convention. Indeed, all that could have been obtained by such a procedure was the possibility of placing the new drugs under the control provided by the 1925 Convention, which was, in the circumstances, quite insufficient.

Although article 33 of the 1931 Convention established a procedure for amending this Convention, an amendment to article 11 of this instrument would have met with the same general difficulties as an amendment to the 1925 Convention.

But a further, special difficulty also arose: the scope of the 1931 Convention is, as we said above, limited to the phenanthrene alkaloids of opium and the ecgo-nine alkaloids of the coca leaf as listed in its article 1, as well as to all products derived from these alkaloids which may be added to this list in accordance with the procedure provided by article 11. Any amendment of article 11 intended to widen the scope of the Convention so as to include all new addiction-forming drugs, of whatever origin, would thus have an effect on article 1 as it was formulated in 1931. This effect might have repercussions on those other articles of the Convention which contain references to the term "drug" as defined in article 1.

Considering these difficulties, the Secretariat decided to recommend the conclusion of a separate international agreement based on the following conditions:

  1. That the new agreement should be aimed at new addiction-forming drugs which did not come within the scope of the 1931 Convention;

  2. That it should subject these drugs to the control set up by the 1931 Convention, that is, that it should limit and control the manufacture and trade in these drugs on the basis of the estimate system established by the 1931 Convention, including the application measures provided by article 14 of this Convention,

  3. Finally, that it should contain provisions for the entry into force of the agreement which would be similar to those adopted for the 1931 Convention.

The studies and conclusions of the Secretariat were examined by the Commission on Narcotic Drugs at its second session. The Commission decided that amendments to the 1925 and 1931 Conventions would be insufficient for its purpose and expressed itself convinced that the conclusion of a new international instrument, which would systematically subject all addiction-forming drugs to the control provided by the 1931 Convention, was indispensable. The Commission accordingly recommended to the Economic and Social Council that the latter should request the Secretariat to prepare a draft protocol based on its studies and on the observations of the Commission on this subject.

Having noted the opinion expressed by the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, the Economic and Social Council, on 15 August 1947, adopted a resolution requesting the Secretary-General to prepare a draft protocol which would be communicated to the Governments concerned for their observations. It was also communicated to the World Health Organization to which the new protocol was to give important powers similar to those formerly given to the Health Committee of the League of Nations and to the Office international d'Hygiene publique.

The draft protocol was submitted to the States Members of the United Nations, as well as to the non-member States Parties to the international conventions on narcotic drugs, on 16 December 1947. The Governments of the latter States were thus enabled to participate in the drafting of the new instrument.

At its third session in May 1948, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs studied the draft prepared by the Secretary-General in the light of observations made by the Governments concerned and, after certain amendments, recommended its approval by the Council. In turn, the World Health Assembly approved the draft protocol at its session in July 1948. The Economic and Social Council was thus enabled, at its seventh session, to give its opinion on a text which had been carefully studied by the Secretariat, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs and the World Health Organization.

Having made several minor amendments to the text submitted, the Council adopted a resolution approving the draft protocol and recommending its adoption by the General Assembly. This resolution requested the Secretary General to communicate the draft to Governments in order to enable them once more to present observations. The resolution also proposed a series of measures to speed the General Assembly's adoption of the protocol and to hasten its signature by the plenipotentiaries designated by Governments. Thus the Council recommended that, taking into account any further observations submitted by Governments, the General Assembly should approve the protocol as early as possible in its third session, that it should set, as early as possible during this session, the date on which the Protocol would be open for signature, that it should invite all States to adhere to the protocol in the shortest possible time, that it should request States, as soon as possible, to take the necessary steps to extend the application of the protocol to their territories, and finally that it should see to it that the representatives of States Members of the United Nations to the third session of the General Assembly be provided with the credentials necessary to enable them to adhere to the protocol.

This meticulous technical and juridical preparation of the draft protocol was fully effective: on 30 September 1948, in a single meeting, the Third Committee of the General Assembly, which was meeting in Paris, after making some very slight drafting changes, approved, the draft protocol as it had been adopted by the Economic and Social Council. A few days later, on 8 October, the General Assembly, in turn, gave its approval to the Protocol and requested the Secretary-General to set the earliest possible date as that on which the Protocol would be open for the signature of States. On 19 November, at a ceremony held at the Palais de Chaillot, the governmental plenipotentiaries signed the new instrument destined to reinforce the international control of narcotic drugs.

In accordance with the provisions of chapter I of the Protocol every State Party to the Protocol is obligated to inform the Secretary-General of the United Nations of any drug used or capable of being used for medical or scientific purposes, and not coming within the scope of the 1931 Convention, which that Party considers capable of abuse and of producing harmful effects. The Secretary-General is held immediately to communicate this opinion to the other States Parties to the Protocol as well as to the Commission on Narcotic Drugs and to the World Health Organization. The World Health Organization must then decide whether the drug in question is addiction-forming or capable of conversion into an addiction-forniing product. The Secretary-Gen- eral of the United Nations must be advised of the decision at once. He must then communicate this decision to all Member nations of the United Nations, to the non-member States Parties to the Protocol and to the Commission on Narcotic Drugs. Upon being informed of the decision of the World Health Organization, the States Parties to the Protocol must subject the drug to the appropriate control.

Chapter I of the Protocol also stipulates that, on receipt of the communication of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs may, pending notification of the conclusions of the World Health Organization, make the decision that appropriate measures should be provisionally applied to the drug with which the communication is concerned. Finally, chapter I stipulates that the conclusions and decisions reached either by the World Health Organization or, provisionally, by the Commission on Narcotic Drugs may be altered in the light of experience.

It should be emphasized that there are to imporptant innovations in the international control of narcotic drugs resulting from these provisions. In the first place, while the 1912 and 1925 Conventions define the drugs falling under their scope by their chemical formulae, and the 1931 Convention, adopting the same system, in addition placed under control drugs derived from certain raw materials, the Paris Protocol applies to all drugs capable of producing a specific effect, namely, drugs "liable to the same kind of abuse and produc- tive of the same kind of harmful effeds as the drugs specified in article 1, paragraph 2, of the said [1931] Convention". Accordingly, it makes possible the plac- ing under international control of not only new synthetic drugs, of which several have already been found par- ticularly dangerous, but also any addiction-forniing drug, whether already discovered or to be discovered in the future. In the second place, article 2 of the Protoco allows the Conunission on Narcotic Drugs to take in- terim measures provisionally to place under control, pending the receipt of the conclusions of the World Health Organization, a drug considered by a State Party to the Protocol as liable to produce addiction or as capa- ble of being transformed into such a drug.

The general provisions contained in chapter 11 of the Protocol are intended-and this intention has already been realized to a considerable extent-to ensure that the Protocol should enter into force quickly and that its application should be as wide as possible. Article 5 re- produces a formula first used in an international agree- ment concluded under the auspices of the United Nations in the case of the World Health Organization, and repro- duced immediately thereafter in the Protocol of 11December 1946 concerning the transfer to the United Nations of the functions and powers previously exer- cised by the League of Nations in the field of the inter- national control of narcotic drugs. According to this formula, States whose constitution authorizes. it, and who are willing to do so, are allowed to adhere to the Protocol merely by signing it. For other States this for- mula provides for a procedure of subjecting the signa- ture to a future acceptance or to the deposition of an acceptance equivalent to an adherence in the usual rele- vant meaning of the term in international law.

The provisions of article 6 were rapidly fulfilled. They were intended on the one hand to ensure uni- versal application of the new instrument, and on the other to guarantee that this instrument should enter into force only under certain conditions concerning the number of States participating in it. The first aim was to be achieved by interplay with the corresponding pro- visions of the 1931 Convention. As for the second, the entry into force of the Protocol was made subject to the actual participation of at least twenty-five States, of which a minimum of five were to be among the elever "most interested" States named in the article itself. Finally, the provisions of article 8 were concerned with territories represented, with regard to their foreign re- lations, by States Parties to the Convention. These pro- visions had, at the time when the Protocol was being examined, given rise to prolongued discussions. They did not, however, give rise to any particular difficulties at this last stage, the States concerned having bound themselves to apply the Protocol to these territories either at the time when they signed it, or in the future.

** *

The Paris Protocol came into force. A further step was made in the international control of narcotic drugs. It is now up to Governments to bring this work to com letion. It was with this in mind that, on the occasion of the ceremony of signing the Protocol, Mr. Henri Laugier, Assistant Secretary-General in charge of the Department of Social A-ffairs, anticipating the success- ful passing of the initial stages, expressed as follows the hope of its positive realization in the near future: "Today marks the end of the first phase of the effort by the United Nations, working as an organization, to bring synthetic drugs under international control. The next step must lie with individual Governments and it is now for them so to act that the Protocol may come into force at the earliest possible date. But in addition to this, one final but vitally important factor remains: it is that the successful control of illicit traffic in nar- cotic drugs is above all else dependent upon interna- tional co-operation. This fact was emphasized by every representative who took part in the debate in the Gen eral Assembly, where it was stated again and again that the provisions of the Protocol must be universally applied if the dangers from these drugs to which I have already referred are to be averted. I therefore trust that all States will scrupulously apply the provi sions of the Protocol at all times, in the spirit as well as the letter of the General Assembly's resolution of 8 October."


Date of becoming party
Date of becoming party
19 November 1948
11 January 1949
19 November 1948
17 January 1949
Byelorussian Soviet Socialist
26 January 1949
19 November 1948
3 March 1949
19 November 1948
14 March 1949
19 November 1948
5 May 1949
19 November 1948
24 May 1949
19 November 1948
l0 June 1949
19 November 1948
25 July 1949
New Zealand
19 November 1948
16 September 1949
Saudi Arabia
19 November 1948
19 October 1949
Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
19 November 1948
31 October 1949
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
19 November 1948
12 December 1949
Union of South Africa
8 December 1948
17 January 1950