Seventh session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs


The proposed single convention on narcotics, which would replace the existing eight international instruments dating back to 1912, was the major concern of the seventh session of the United Nation Commission on Narcotic Drugs, held at United Nations Headquarters from 15 April to 9 May 1952.


Pages: 35 to 38
Creation Date: 1952/01/01


Seventh session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs

The proposed single convention on narcotics, which would replace the existing eight international instruments dating back to 1912, was the major concern of the seventh session of the United Nation Commission on Narcotic Drugs, held at United Nations Headquarters from 15 April to 9 May 1952.

The Commission approved in principle the text of thirteen out of fifty-one proposed articles of the new convention, which had already been discussed by the Commission at its two previous sessions.

Other main narcotics problems on the fourteen-item agenda included that of coca-leaf chewing in Bolivia and Peru; measured to combat the increase in illicit traffic in narcotics since the end of the Second World War; and the control of synthetic narcotic drugs, which have become a dangerous menace to many nations in the past few years.

The Commission by unanimous vote, elected the following officers for the seventh session: Dr. Oscar Rabasa (Mexico), Chairman; Charles Vaille (France), Vice-Chairman; Dragon Nikolic (Yugoslavia), Rapporteur.

The proposed single convention

The Commission considered the proposed single convention on narcotic drugs. Before the members was the draft prepared by the Secretariat (document E/CN.7/A.C.3/3) based on the previous discussions on the matter by the Commission and observations received from governments of six out of fifteen members of the Commission, as well as those submitted jointly by the Permanent Central Opium Board and the Drug Supervisory Body. During the session the Secretary-General received observations from the World Health Organization, which were also communicated to the Commission.

The Commission decided to proceed to a paragraph-by-paragraph study of the single convention. It also appointed a four-member drafting sub-committee with the task of summing up each day's work and drafting, in stages, a revised text for a latter approval of the Commission itself.

The Commission considered on several occasions the extent to which the new convention should be a mere codification, in the narrow meaning of the term, of the existing multilateral treaties for the control of narcotic drugs. There were two points of view on this question. On the one hand, it was argued that the changes to be made in the existing system of international control of narcotics should be limited to those which had been found by experience to be absolutely necessary; on the other, it was contended that the new convention should not necessarily be restricted in scope to a re-enactment of provisions contained in existing treaties, but should, in addition to extending the control to cover the opium poppy, poppy straw, the coca bush and the Indian hemp plant, incorporate such innovations as changed conditions might now warrant, and should also anticipate to some extent possible future developments in the field of narcotic drugs; and the Commission came to the conclusion that there was no fundamental difference between these two views, but merely that the emphasis was different. The Commission did not resolve this theoretical question but considered that each proposed change in the existing control régime should be examined on its particular merits.

After one week of discussions the Commission considered the report of the drafting Committee which had redrafted thirteen of the original fifty-one articles. The draft referred to the text in principle, rather than in a final form. The Secretariat is expected to work out a final version before the Commission's next session.

Among other things the Commission decided that the two main control organs, the Commission itself and the Permanent Central Opium Board, should under the new convention be known as the "International Narcotics Commission" and the "International Narcotics Board". The new commission would continue to be a functional body under the Economic and Social Council. The composition of the new commission was left for the Economic and Social Council to decide.

The Commission also agreed to include in the new convention a provision which would give effect to certain decisions and recommendations of the Commission without their being subject to approval by the Economic and Social Council. The text of the appropriate draft as adopted by the Commission reads as follows:

"Except as otherwise expressly provided for in this Convention, the coming into force of each decision or recommendation adopted by the Commission pursuant to the present Convention shall be subject:

"To the right of the Council to approve, set aside or modify the decision or recommendation at its first regular session immediately after the Commission has taken such decision or made such recommendation. If the Council does not exercise its right, the decision or recommendation shall immediately become effective one day after the day on which the Council's session is closed. The Council may waive this right."

In the draft prepared by the Secretariat a provision was made (in article 23) for an International Clearing House to be established under the new convention. This was rejected by the Commission in connexion with the deletion of the provision for governments to supply the Secretariat with names and addresses of authorized importers, exporters and manufacturers of drugs they import, export and manufacture, which are subject to international control.

Finally, the Commission agreed on a number of schedules to appear in the new convention and the categories of drugs to be listed in them. It was agreed that the fourth and last schedule should list the drugs the prohibition of which might be recommended either in the text of the convention itself or later by the Commission. Parties to the new treaties may decide not to act on a recommendation to place a drug in schedule IV, whether such recommendation is written into the instrument itself or made by the Commission after its conclusion, but they would, nevertheless, be bound to prohibit the export of the drug to a country which has accepted the recommendation.

The control of synthetic drugs

The Commission adopted a resolution calling on governments to take strict measures to control synthetic narcotic drugs. The resolution, submitted by France and United States, notes "that the use of synthetic narcotic drugs is developing rapidly, and that production of these drugs already exceeds that of morphine intended for consumption as such". During the debate of this matter attention was drawn to the fact that increasing laboratory production of synthetic drugs likely to produce addiction had become a major concern. And while control for certain synthetics had been established, a variation in formula might produce a different and uncontrolled drug.

The resolution,

Requests the Secretary-General to draw the attention of governments to the desirability, should they not already have done so, of:

  1. Bringing all synthetic narcotic drugs under their national legislation on narcotic drugs as soon as they appear;

  2. Acceding without delay to the Protocol of 19 November 1948;

  3. Limiting their estimates to medical and scientific requirements;

  4. Exercising strict control over the manufacture and therapeutic use of these substances; and

  5. Making regulations to ensure that all packages containing a synthetic narcotic drug should be clearly marked with a double red line so that they may be identified by the competent services.

The coca leaf problem

In conformity with the instruction contained in Council resolution 395 D (XIII) of 9 August 1951, the Commission proceeded to examine the problems arising out of the chewing of the coca leaf, taking into consideration all available information. The information referred to was contained in the report of the United Nations Commission of Enquiry on the Coca Leaf, the statement made by the Peruvian representative at the fifth session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, the summary records of the Commission's fifth session, the observation of the Commission of Enquiry on the statements made by the Bolivian and Peruvian representatives at that session, and the communications from the Bolivia and Peru concerning the report and additional observation of the Commission of Enquiry. This documentary material was supplemented by the report of the WHO Expert Committee on Drugs Liable to Produce Addiction on its third session, and by a special issue of the United Nations Bulletin on Narcotics containing a series of articles on the coca leaf written by experts.

The Commission on Narcotic Drugs was assisted in its study of this problem by a Bolivian Government observer whom it had invited to participate in its work. When drafting and discussing the recommendations which it formulated at the conclusion of its work, in conformity with the Council's instruction, the Commission had the advice of a representative of the Technical Assistance Administration and the Technical Assistance Board.

During the discussion it became apparent that the Commission should devote some attention to the nature of coca leaf chewing. Several members of the Commission said that they could not give an opinion on a matter on which there were conflicting scientific opinions. Nevertheless two very different views were expressed. One of the views, based on the conclusions in the report of the Commission of Enquiry, which themselves took into account the definitions given by the World Health Organization in 1950 of addiction-producing and habit-forming drugs, was that coca leaf chewing was not an addiction but a dangerous habit with harmful effects from the point of view of the individual and of the nation. The other view, which was in accordance with the opinion on the nature of chewing expressed in 1952 by the World Health Organization's Expert Committee on Drugs Liable to Produce Addiction, was to consider it as an addiction. A third point of view was that of the Government of Peru, according to which it was premature to pronounce on the nature of the effects of chewing before new experiments had been made.

Several members questioned, therefore, the competence of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs to deal with this matter. They pointed out that the Commission of Enquiry had concluded in its report that coca leaf chewing was habit-forming only, but did not produce addiction. They felt that this was primarily a social and economic problem outside the scope of the Commission.

Other representatives, considering coca leaf chewing to be harmful both to individuals and to society, declared their belief in the Commission's competence to take a decision on the subject. It was pointed out that even if coca leaf chewing was not a real addiction, the Commission was none the less competent to study any question relating to a raw material which served for the manufacture of narcotics, and that the problem of control of cultivation of the coca bush and that of the surplus production of coca leaf which might go into the illicit traffic and thus contribute to the development of cocaine addiction were within the Commission's province.

At this stage in the discussion, the Commission was reminded that by resolution 395 D (XIII) the Council had formally requested it to submit recommendations on the matter and that there was agreement in principle between the Commission of Enquiry and the Peruvian Government with regard to the experiments to be carried out in certain test areas in order to determine the effects of chewing.

The Commission finally adopted a resolution on the coca leaf problem, the operative part of which recommended that the Economic and Social Council should request the technical assistance services and the specialized agencies, with the help of the Secretariat, to study the possibility of undertaking a field experiment in demonstration areas, within the framework of the existing technical assistance programmes in Bolivia and Peru. The resolution recommended further that the Governments of Bolivia and Peru should take the necessary steps to limit immediately the production of coca leaves to licit consumption and manufacture; and finally urged the Governments of Bolivia and Peru to take effective measures to prevent the introduction into trading channels of coca leaves and cocaine which could form a source of supply for the manufacture or illicit export of narcotic drugs.

Illicit traffic

During the discussion on illicit traffic in narcotic drugs during the year 1951, the Commission examined summaries of illicit transactions and seizures reported by governments, and annual reports on illicit traffic re quired from parties to the 1931 Convention and paid special attention to the situation in the Far East.

At the end of the discussion on illicit traffic in narcotic drugs, the Commission considered measures to be taken against the illicit traffic in narcotics on merchant ships and aircraft which, members were informed, had increased considerably since the end of the Second World War.

At the Commission's fifth session, the United States representative had introduced a draft resolution on this subject requesting the Secretary-General to compile a list of merchant vessel personnel who had been convicted of crimes involving the smuggling of narcotics since 1946. In addition, the United States representative proposed that governments should take measures to revoke officers' licences and seamen's certificates held by persons who had committed offences against the narcotics laws.

The text of this resolution had been submitted to governments for their comments.

As several members proposed amendments, the resolution, as finally presented during the current session, was a joint text sponsored by Egypt, India, the United States and the United Kingdom.

It asked the Economic and Social Council, in its desire to take all measures possible to combat the illicit traffic which has increased since the war, to request the Secretary-General to compile as soon as may be convenient and thereafter to bring up to date at convenient regular intervals a list of merchant seafarers and members of civil air crews who have been convicted of offences against narcotic laws on or after 1 January 1953, setting out so far as possible the following information:

  1. Name (including aliases where appropriate);

  2. Nationality;

  3. Age;

  4. Nature of offence and disposition of the case.

The resolution further asked the Council to instruct the Secretary-General to send the list to the governments of all States with the recommendation of the Council:

  1. That they take appropriate measures:

    1. To revoke certificates and licences currently held by merchant seafarers or members of civil air crews so convicted; and

    2. To withhold the issue to such persons of such licences and certificates, such revocation or withholding of such licences or certificates to be either temporary or permanent as may be appropriate in the circumstances of any particular case, provided that if either course does not accord with national law or usage the government concerned shall send a copy of the list to the competent authorities for such action as the latter may decide to take under their own domestic laws, or shall have recourse to such other legal measures as may be open to that government to prevent merchant seafarers or members of civil air crews from carrying on their profession;

  2. That they send a copy of the list to the maritime and aeronautical unions and companies in their territories for their consideration in connexion with the exercise of their disciplinary functions and any functions which they may exercise in connexion with the engagement of crews.

The Commission further adopted a resolution submitted jointly by Egypt, France, Mexico and the United States, calling upon governments to exercise close international co-operation to control the illicit traffic in narcotics. The resolution asks the Economic and Social Council, in view of the fact that the international illicit traffic in narcotic drugs has increased dangerously, to request the Secretary-General:

  1. To advise governments that this baneful trade cannot be combated successfully by national efforts alone, but that international co-operation is of fundamental importance;

  2. To urge governments to take immediate steps to establish permanent direct communication between national administrations controlling the illicit traffic; if more than one administration exercises control thereof, the government concerned shall determine the manner in which such communication is to be conducted; and

  3. To ask governments to reinforce and alert their preventive organizations as soon as an increase in illicit traffic is discovered within their territories.

The control of heroin in Italy

During the past few years, the Commission was informed, the illicit traffic in diacetylmorphine (heroin) in Italy has risen to dangerous proportions. At its sixth session, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs discussed this problem and asked the Italian authorities to send a report on the question to the Secretary-General.

The Italian Government submitted its report and sent an observer to the Commission's session.

This observer reviewed the measures taken by the Italian authorities to prevent illicit traffic in Italy in the past few years. The production of heroin, he reported, had been suspended indefinitely and further restrictions of its use, even prohibition, were at present under consideration. Penalties for offences against the narcotic law had been increased. He said that Italian authorities, in close co-operation with the international control organs, were doing everything in their power to combat the illicit traffic.

Other business

The Commission also, during its seventh session, took note of reports of governments on the abolition of opium smoking in the Far East, and of a memorandum from the International Criminal Police Commission on the illicit traffic in narcotics in 1951. It recommended that the facilities for the United Nations laboratory, engaged in research on the origin of seized opium, should be enlarged.

The Commission further took note of a report from the Arab League Permanent Anti-Narcotics Bureau, which has been in operation for one year. Several members commended the Bureau for the excellent results in combating illicit traffic in narcotics and limiting cultivation of opium and other plants used in the production of narcotics in the Arab countries.

The Commission took note of the progress report of the Division of Narcotic Drugs and considered matters of priorities for the future work of the Division.

The Commission approved its report to the Economic and Social Council and recommended that its eighth session should be held during the months of April and May next year.