The Shanghai Opium Commission

Abstract

It is now fifty years since the International Opium Commission met at Shanghai from 5 to 26 February 1909, setting afoot the development of the international control of narcotics. The initiative for organizing the Commission came from US President Theodore Roosevelt's government, which in 1908 had canvassed Far Eastern and interested European powers.

Details

Pages: 45 to 46
Creation Date: 1959/01/01

The Shanghai Opium Commission

It is now fifty years since the International Opium Commission met at Shanghai from 5 to 26 February 1909, setting afoot the development of the international control of narcotics. The initiative for organizing the Commission came from US President Theodore Roosevelt's government, which in 1908 had canvassed Far Eastern and interested European powers.

Representatives of the following countries took part: United States of America, Austria-Hungary, China, France, Germany, United Kingdom, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Persia, Portugal, Russia and Siam.

Bishop Brent, the US Chief Delegate, was elected President. The delegates to the Commission, which was expressly differentiated from a " conference ", had no power to sign a diplomatic Act - indeed, they did not even sign the final resolutions (even though these were all carefully qualified recommendations): instead, they voted that the President should sign for all.

The international ramifications of the Chinese opium problem were the primary motive for convoking the Commission. In 1906 an imperial edict had been published prohibiting the cultivation and smoking of opium in the Chinese Empire over a period of ten years. This was being implemented with greater success than had been anticipated, and meanwhile the Indian Government, pressed by rising British public opinion, had agreed to a contemporaneous reduction in the export of Indian opium to China, the revenue alone from which had amounted to almost ?3,000,000 sterling in 1907.

While the regional aspect of opium smoking and of international trade in prepared opium constituted the primary concern of the Commission, its members were already well aware of the wider geographical scope of the narcotics problem in general, including addiction to manufactured opiates. In the consideration of the principal problem of opium smoking and its supplies one could already notice two divergent viewpoints which continued to play an important part during the decades preceding World War II. One, mainly represented by the US delegation, urged a very early or immediate suppression of opium smoking; the other advocated regulation and gradual prohibition.

The Commission as a whole adopted the latter view. It passed a number of resolutions urging gradual suppression of opium smoking and measures intended to stop the smuggling of narcotics, including opium, especially by prohibiting their export to territories which did not legally admit them. Appeal was also made to the governments controlling foreign concessions and settlements in China to take various measures to co-operate with the efforts of the Government in China, including the closing of opium divans and the application of domestic pharmacy laws in the concessions and settlements.

As regards manufactured opiates the Commission strongly urged governments to take drastic measures to control the manufacture and distribution of morphine, addiction to which was spreading, and of other derivatives of opium liable to similar abuses.

Although the Commission was not intended to establish binding obligations, it nevertheless accelerated the efforts which only three years later led to the conclusion of The Hague Opium Convention of 1912, establishing narcotics control as an institution of international law on a multilateral basis.

The recommendations adopted by the Shanghai Commission react as follows:

BE IT RESOLVED:

  1. That the International Opium Commission recognizes the unswerving sincerity of the Government of China in their efforts to eradicate the production and consumption of opium throughout the Empire; the increasing body of public opinion among their own subjects by which these efforts are being supported; and the real, though unequal, progress already made in a task which is one of the greatest magnitude.

  2. That in view of the action taken by the Government of China in suppressing the practice of opium smoking, and by other governments to the same end, the International Opium Commission recommends that each delegation concerned move its own government to take measures for the gradual suppression of the practice of opium smoking in its own territories and possessions, with due regard to the varying circumstances of each country concerned.

  3. That the International Opium Commission finds 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 of regulation purports to be aiming, as opportunity offers, at progressively increasing stringency. In recording these conclusions, the International Opium Commission recognizes the wide variations between the conditions prevailing in the different countries, but it would urge on the attention of the governments concerned the desirability of a re-examination of their systems of regulation in the light of the experience of other countries dealing with the same problem.

  4. That the International Opium Commission finds that each government represented has strict laws which are aimed directly or indirectly to prevent the smuggling of opium, its alkaloids, derivatives and preparations into their respective territories; in the judgement of the International Opium Commission it is also the duty of all countries to adopt reasonable measures to prevent at ports of departure the shipment of opium, its alkaloids, derivatives and preparations, to any country which prohibits the entry of any opium, its alkaloids, derivatives and preparations.

  5. That the International Opium Commission finds that the unrestricted manufacture, sale and distribution of morphine already constitute a grave danger, and that the morphine habit shows signs of spreading : the International Opium Commission, therefore, desires to urge strongly on all governments that it is highly important that drastic measures should be taken by each government in its own territories and possessions to control the manufacture, sale and distribution of this drug, and also of such other derivatives of opium as may appear on scientific inquiry to be liable to similar abuse and productive of like ill effects.

  6. That as the International Opium Commission is not constituted in such a manner as to permit the investigation from a scientific point of view of anti-opium remedies and of the properties and effects of opium and its products, but deems such investigation to be of the highest importance, the International Opium Commission desires that each delegation shall recommend this branch of the subject to its own government for such action as that government may think necessary.

  7. That the International Opium Commission strongly urges all governments possessing concessions or settlements in China, which have not yet taken effective action toward the closing of opium divans in the said concessions and settlements, to take steps to that end, as soon as they may deem it possible, on the lines already adopted by several governments.

  8. That the International Opium Commission recommends strongly that each delegation move its government to enter into negotiations with the Chinese Government with a view to effective and prompt measures being taken in the various foreign concessions and settlements in China for the prohibition of the trade and manufacture of such anti-opium remedies as contain opium or its derivatives.

  9. That the International Opium Commission recommends that each delegation move its government to apply its pharmacy laws to its subjects in the consular districts, concessions and settlements in China.