The cannabis problem: A note on the problem and the history of international action
Illegal Consumption and Illicit Traffic
Pages: 27 to 31
Creation Date: 1962/01/01
Main aspects of the problem
Illegal Consumption and Illicit Traffic
Not even a rough estimate of the number of persons illegally consuming cannabis can be made, but there is no evidence to show that the situation has essentially improved since 1956 when the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs noted that the consumers numbered millions in the world. [ 1] Cannabis drugs are also misused on the widest scale geographically, the areas of the world mostly concerned being Africa, north, south and central America, the Near East and the Middle East, the West Indies and the Indian-Pakistani sub-continent.
The drug is known by a great variety of names - bhang, chiras, ganja, hashish, maconha and marihuana being examples. Cannabis is usually smoked, with or without tobacco, but is also consumed as a beverage and mixed with food, such as curry and sweetmeats.
The illicit traffic in cannabis affects generally the same areas where illegal consumption occurs, the widespread nature and volume of the traffic being evidenced by reports of seizures from every continent. The illicit traffic in cannabis is largely domestic or between countries with common frontiers, although there are exceptions to this general picture; particularly, for example, the large-scale traffic in hashish (a concentratedform of the drug) in the Near East and the Middle East. There is also an international traffic covering great distances and largely carried on by merchant seamen.
Table 1 indicates the seizures taken from annual reports of governments (incomplete)and gives an idea of' the extent of the illicit traffic in cannabis
Total seizures (to the nearest thousand kg) of cannabis drugs reported for the world
It cannot, however, be definitely established how far this enormous increase in the figures of seizures over the years is due to improved measures of enforcement and better reporting, or is evidence of both increased illegal consumption and illicit traffic.
Medical Use of Cannabis Drugs
More is said on this subject later; but it may be mentioned here that in what is known as "western" medicine, cannabis drugs are generally regarded as obsolete and are hardly ever used. Cannabis is, however, still used extensively in the Ayurvedic, Unani and Tibbi systems of medicine of the Indian-Pakistani sub-continent. There is also still general use of cannabis for the treatment of domestic animals.
Legal Non-medical Use of Cannabis
This is now confined to the Indian-Pakistani sub-continent where consumption of ganja and bhang (milder forms of cannabis than the resin and resin preparations) is still permitted in large areas for purposes of pleasure, and in some places for use in connexion with religious rites. This non medical use of cannabis has long been traditional, and there is generally no stigma attached to such use. It is, however, the policy of the governments of India and Pakistan to prohibit this use of cannabis as soon as circumstances allow.
Cultivation of the Cannabis Plant for Industrial Purposes
The same plant from which cannabis and cannabis resin are produced is cultivated widely for its valuable fibre and seed. Cannabis could be produced from such plants without difficulty. It has, however, been claimed that climatic conditions affect the capacity of the plant to produce cannabis and that plants grown for industrial purposes in temperate regions do not have "narcotic" properties. [ 2] Moreover, there has not so far been much evidence that plants grown for industrial purposes are a serious source of illicit traffic in or use of cannabis.
Wild Growth of the Cannabis Plant
Another problem is the widespread wild growth of the cannabis plant - whether natural indigenous wild growth or "escaped" growth. This wild growth not only affects remote and sparsely populated areas, but sometimes also populated areas in countries with well developed administrations. Such wild growth is a source of illicit consumption of and traffic in cannabis. No estimate can be made of the extent of wild growth. In India it is reported that most of the cannabis produced legally is from wild-growing plants.
History of international control
The International Opium Conference and the International Opium Convention signed at The Hague on 23 January 1912
At this conference, an attempt was made by the delegation of the United States of America to include cannabis in the Convention. It was proposed that "Indian hemp drugs" be included among those for which statistical information would be exchanged through the Netherlands Government [ 3] (see article 21 of the International Opium Convention of 1912 [ 4] ). It was found that (i) the conference had no statistical information on cannabis to guide it; (ii) no definition of cannabis and its derivatives was available; and (iii) delegates had no instructions from their governments to discuss the matter. [ 3]
The conference, however, pronounced that:
"The Conference considers it desirable to study the question of Indian hemp from the statistical and scientific point of view, with the object of regulating its abuses, should the necessity thereof be felt, by internal legislation or by an international agreement." [ 4]
The League of Nations
The Advisory Committee on Traffic in Opium and other Dangerous Drugs, at its sixth session, in 1924, considered a proposal by the Government of the Union of South Africa that the parties to the International Opium Convention of 1912 should be asked to include cannabis in their lists of habit forming drugs. On the recommendation of the Advisory Committee, the Council of the League, on 29 August 1924, passed a resolution instructing the Secretary-General to request the governments of States members of the League and parties to the Convention of 1912 to furnish the secretariat with information on the production, use of and traffic in "Indian hemp" in their territories, and to ask for their observations on the proposal of the Government of the Union of South Africa that this substance be treated as one of the habit-forming drugs. [ 5]
The replies of governments to the inquiry made in accordance with this resolution were not available in time for the Second Opium Conference held in Geneva, November 1924 to February 1925.
The Second Opium Conference and the International Opium Convention, signed at Geneva on 19 February 1925
At the conference, the representative of Egypt, whose country was suffering (and still suffers) great harm from consumption of hashish (cannabis resin), raised the question of cannabis and proposed the addition of hashish to the list of narcotics to be covered by the convention. The study of the question was referred to the conference's Sub-Committee F, which considered three aspects of the problem: (1) the establishment of a definition of "Indian hemp"; (2) the establishment of a distinction between the raw material and the resin extracted from it, the resin being the most dangerous; (3) the question of restricting use to medical and scientific needs.
The definition adopted by the Sub-Committee was the one which now appears in article 1 of the 1925 Convention (see below).
The Sub-Committee also adopted the following text:
"The use of Indian hemp and the preparations derived therefrom may only be authorized for medical and scientific purposes. The raw resin (charas), however, which is extracted from the female tops of the cannabis sativa L, together with the various preparations (hashish, chira, esrar, diamba, etc.) of which it forms the basis, not being at present utilized for medical purposes and only being susceptible of utilisation for harmful purposes, in the same manner as other narcotics, may not be produced, sold, traded in, etc., under any circumstances whatsoever."
This text was not acceptable to the Conference, it being pointed out, particularly by the delegation of India, that serious difficulties of an administrative kind would arise in confining the use of cannabis drugs to medical and scientific purposes. There were, for example, social and religious customs to be considered and it was doubted whether the total prohibition of drugs easily prepared from wild-growing plants could, in practice, be made effective. The Indian Government, however, promised its co-operation in limiting the export of Indian hemp to the needs of the importing countries as certified by their governments by means of the import certificate system. [ 6]
The question was then referred to a "Sub-Committee on Indian hemp" whose proposals, with some drafting changes, were adopted by the Conference.
The Conference inserted the definition of Indian hemp proposed by Sub-Committee F in article 1 of the Convention - i.e., Indian hemp means the dried flowering or fruiting tops of the pistillate plant Cannabis sativa L from which the resin has not been extracted, under whatever name they may be designated in commerce.
In chapter III, article 4 of the Convention, the Conference included the galenical preparations (extract and tincture) of Indian hemp. These are medicinal preparations and are not the substances generally used for non-medical purposes. Their use is thus restricted to medical and scientific purposes, Which under this convention does not obtain in the case of other cannabis drugs.
The Conference adopted an import certificate and export authorization system (chapter V of the Convention) applicable to all narcotic drugs, including all cannabis drugs. In addition, the Conference included the following special control measures of article 11:
"Chapter IV. - Indian hemp
"1. In addition to the provisions of chapter V of the present Convention, [ 7] which shall apply to Indian hemp and the resin prepared from it, the contracting parties undertake:
"(a) To prohibit the export of the resin obtained from Indian hemp and the ordinary preparations of which it forms the base (such as hashish, esrar, chiras, djamba) to countries which have prohibited their use, and, in cases where export is permitted, to require the production of a special import certificate issued by the government of the importing country, stating that the importation is approved for the purposes specified in the certificate and that the resin or preparations will not be re-exported;
"(b) Before issuing an export authorization under article 13 of the present convention, in respect of Indian hemp, to require the production of a special import certificate issued by the government of the importing country and stating that the importation is approved and is required exclusively for medical or scientific purposes;
"2. The Contracting Parties shall exercise an effective control of such a nature as to prevent the illicit international traffic in Indian hemp and especially in the resin."
Except for the 1936 Convention for the Suppression of the Illicit Traffic in Dangerous Drugs, which applies to cannabis drugs covered by the International Opium Convention of 1925, the latter convention is the only multilateral treaty which deals with cannabis. Briefly, the 1925 Convention applies to cannabis to the following extent.
Galenical preparations (extract and tincture) of cannabis, which are generally used only in medicine and not misused, are subject to all the provisions of the 1925 Convention relating to such manufactured drugs as morphine, except that parties need not furnish statistics on manufacture and that manufacture need not be confined to establishments licensed for the purpose (article 22, para 1 ( b); article 6, sub-para. ( a)). Preparations made from extract or tincture of cannabis were not mentioned in the 1925 Convention, but in 1935 were brought within the control of the Convention by a decision of the Health Committee of the League of Nations under article 10 of the Convention. Such preparations are in some respects under a stricter control than the extract and tinctures themselves. [ 8] Preparations made from the extract and tincture which are capable only of external use, and a medicinal cigarette called "Indian Cigarettes of Grimault" (Dr. P. H. Chapelle) are exempted from control. [ 9]
Cannabis as defined in article 1 of the Convention and cannabis resin and the ordinary preparations of which the resin forms the base, substances which are not generally used in medicine, but are widely misused, are subject, under the Convention, to a much less strict control than the galenicalpreparations (extract and tincture) and preparations made from the extracts of tinctures (see previous paragraph). However, as may be seen from chapter IV of the Convention, quoted above, the system of import certificates and export authorizations established by chapter V of the Convention applies to cannabis and cannabis resin and its preparations. Chapter IV itself imposes restrictions on the export of cannabis and cannabis resin and its preparations, and requires governments to exercise the control measures necessary to prevent international illicit traffic in these substances. Parties also have to supply to the Permanent Central Opium Board quarterly statistics of imports and exports (article 22, para. 2) of these substances, annual figures of the amounts, and other information concerning confiscations on account of illicit import or export (article 22, para. 1 ( e)) and annual estimates of the amounts to be imported for internal consumption during the following year (article 21).
It remains to be said that during the time of the League of Nations, the Advisory Committee on Traffic in Opium and other Dangerous Drugs, at its nineteenth session, in 1934, set up a sub-committee on cannabis to investigate the cannabis problem. [ 10] A series of studies, including scientific ones, were made by the sub-committee with a view to solving some of the problems connected with cannabis. These studies are in League of Nations documents O.C.1542/series; O.C. 1724/ series; and O.C./Cannabis/series.
The United Nations
In 1954, at its eighteenth session, the Economic and Social Council, on the recommendation of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, adopted resolution 548 F I (XVIII). This resolution noted the opinion of the Expert Committee on Addiction-producing Drugs of the WHO [ 11] that "there is no justification for the medical use of cannabis preparations" and that these preparations "are practically obsolete"; it noted that the preparations were not included in the International Pharmacopoeia, and had been omitted from many national pharmacopoeias; and recommended that governments of countries in which such preparations were still being used for medical purposes explore the possibility of discontinuing their use as rapidly as possible.
The Commission on Narcotic Drugs at its twelfth session, in 1957, adopted a resolution [ 12] requesting, inter alia, all governments which had not yet done so to abolish, except for medical (the Ayurvedic, Unani and Tibbi systems of medicine of the Indian-Pakistani-subcontinent) and scientific purposes, the legal consumption of all substances having a cannabis base within a reasonable period.
Apart from the above-mentioned resolutions, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs has dealt with the question of cannabis as a separate item on its agenda at each of its annual sessions since 1953. During this period, a number of resolutions and decisions have resulted in the preparation of extensive studies concerning cannabis.
The Question of replacing the Cannabis Plant grown for Industrial Purposes by Another Plant or by a "Narcotic"-free Strain of the Cannabis Plant
In view of the theoretical possibility of diversion or misuse of the plants grown for industrial purposes, the Economic and Social Council, at the suggestion of the Commission (Council resolution 548 F II (XVIII)), invited the Food and Agriculture Organization in consultation with the United Nations Secretariat to prepare a study on the possibility of replacing the cannabis plant by a narcotic-free variety of the same plant or by other plants serving similar industrial purposes but not containing the harmful resin.
The study entitled "Possibility of replacing hemp fibre and hemp seed by other crops of similar industrial value or of developing narcotic-free strains of the cannabis plant" was prepared by the secretariat of the FAO in consultation with that of the UN and was published as document E/CN.7/297. One of the conclusions reached is that the development of a narcotic-free strain of the cannabis plant, since it does not involve a change of crop on a large scale, is basically much simpler than the substitution of other plants. However, a narcotic-free strain of the cannabis plant could be produced only with considerable effort and expense. Moreover, the opinion was expressed that such a scheme was not very practical in particular also because there was very little illicit production of cannabis drugs, if any, from crops grown for industrial purposes.
The Physical and Mental Effects of Cannabis
At its eighth session, in 1953, the Commission requested the World Health Organization to prepare a study on this subject. [ 13] The study [ 14] points up unequivocally the danger of cannabis "from every point of view, whether physical, mental, social or criminological".
The Situation in Individual Countries
The Commission instructed [ 15] the Secretariat to prepare surveys of the cannabis situation in a number of countries and territories. These surveys followed a plan approved by the Commission and dealt with the following main topics: the cannabis plant; production of fibre and seed; legal production and use; international trade; galenical preparations and their use in medicine; non-medical use; illicit traffic; national laws and regulations. Twenty-four countries and territories were covered by the surveys, namely, Angola, Basutoland, Bechuanaland, Brazil, Burma, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Greece, Haiti, India, Italy, Jamaica, Lebanon, Mexico, Morocco (former French zone), Mozambique, Pakistan, Northern Rhodesia, Southern Rahodesia, Swaziland, the Union of South Africa and the United States of America. [ 16]
Scientific Research on Cannabis
The Commission has dealt with the question of the establishment of the active principle or principles of cannabis and the question of techniques of cannabis identification for use by enforcement officers. [ 19]
As regards identification tests the Secretariat has been requested [ 20] by the Commission, within the limits of present resources and having regard to the priority of the opium research programme, to assist in co-ordinating the work done in individual countries for improving methods for identifying cannabis primarily by (1) maintaining a centre for exchange of information and for distribution of cannabis samples; (2) arranging collaborative studies by national scientists; and (3) carrying out chemical experiments to assist in the work done at the national level, in particular to test the comparability and reproducibility of techniques of cannabis identification. A number of experiments have been carried out and the results published. [ 21]
Medical Use of Cannabis Drugs
See below under heading "United Nations Conference for the adoption of a Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs".
Papers dealing with the Cannabis Problem in General
At the request of the Commission, [ 22] the Secretariat prepared two papers [ 23] summing up the work of the Commission in connexion with the problem of cannabis. These general papers deal with all aspects of the problem and also contain a list of United Nations documents and publications concerning cannabis.
The United Nations Conference for the Adoption of a Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs
The third draft of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs prepared by the Commission on Narcotic Drugs was the basic document for the Conference. It defined the cannabis plant, cannabis and cannabis resin as follows: [ 24]
"Cannabis plant means [Cannabis sativa L] [any plant of the genus Cannabis]."
[" Cannabis means the [dried] flowering or fruiting tops of the cannabis plant from which the resin has not been extracted, by whatever name they may be designated in commerce''] or,
["Cannabis means the leaves or tops (excluding the seeds when not accompanied by other parts of the tops) of the cannabis plant."]
"Cannabis resin means the separated or partially separated resin, whether crude or purified, of the cannabis plant."
The definition of cannabis in the 1925 Convention does not cover, inter alia, parts of the male plant nor the tender leaves unless they form part of the flowering or fruiting tops of the female plant.
The third draft of the Single Convention prohibited the production, distribution and use of cannabis except for scientific purposes and for employment in the Ayurvedic, Unani and Tibbi systems of medicine of the Indian-Pakistani sub-continent. [ 25] It was with this prohibition of medical use of cannabis in mind that the Commission on Narcotic Drugs recommended and the Economic and Social Council adopted in 1959 resolution 730 E (XXVIII). This resolution took into account the fact that antibiotic qualities of cannabis had recently been investigated in several countries, and invited the WHO to prepare, in the light of recent research, a report on the use of cannabis for the extraction of useful drugs. In accordance with this resolution the Secretary-General presented this report [ 26] to the participants in the United Nations Conference for the adoption of a Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, with a view to a possible modification of the provisions of the third draft of the Single Convention so as to permit the use of cannabis for the extraction of useful drugs. The report, however, concluded that ( a) at present the case had not been proved in favour of making cannabis available for the extraction of therapeutic substances, particularly with antibiotic qualities equal or superior to those obtainable otherwise; ( b) as regards the question of therapeutic usefulness of cannabis, the opinion of the WHO Expert Committee on Addiction producing Drugs [ 27] (see above) that cannabis preparations were practically obsolete and that there was no justification for their medical use remained unchanged. The report stated that these conclusions did not affect the opinion of the Expert Committee [ 28] that the prohibition or restriction of the medical use of a drug representing a particularly high danger to the community should continue to be recommended by the international organs concerned, but should not be mandatory.
The third draft of the Single Convention allowed a party to reserve the right to permit temporarily, with certain restrictions and obligations, the use of cannabis, cannabis resin, extracts and tinctures of cannabis for medical and non medical purposes, and to permit the production and manufacture of and trade in these substances for such purposes.
The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961
The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs adopted at New York on 30 March 1961 does not prohibit in a mandatory manner the production, distribution and use of cannabis drugs. Cannabis, cannabis resin and extracts and tinctures of cannabis are included in schedule I of the Convention, which means that they are subject to all measures of control applicable under the Convention in the same manner as, for example, morphine and pethidine. Cannabis and cannabis resin, however, are also included in schedule IV of the Convention and parties undertake (1) to adopt any special measures of control which in their opinion are necessary because of the particularly dangerous properties of these drugs, and (2) to prohibit, except for research purposes, production, manufacture, export and import of, trade in, possession and use of these drugs, if in their opinion the existing conditions in their countries make it the best means of protecting public health and welfare. [ 29]
The definition of cannabis in the new convention is as follows:
"Cannabis means the flowering or fruiting tops of the cannabis plant (excluding the seeds and leaves when not accompanied by the tops) from which the resin has not been extracted, by whatever name they may be designated." [ 30]
Parties undertake to adopt such measures as are necessary to prevent the misuse of and illicit traffic in the leaves of the cannabis plant [ 31] (which under the existing narcotics treaties to be replaced by the new Single Convention are not controlled).
As regards cultivation of the cannabis plant, if cultivation is permitted by a party for production of cannabis or cannabis resin, the same system of controls must be applied as for cultivation of the opium poppy. This means that national agencies, in effect amounting to monopolies, shall be established or maintained to control such cultivation, [ 32] The Convention, however, does not apply to the cultivation of the cannabis plant exclusively for industrial purposes (fibre and seed) or horticultural purposes. [ 33]
In addition to the above provisions, parties may make reservations permitting temporarily the production, trade in and use of cannabis, cannabis resin and extracts and tinctures of cannabis for non-medical purposes. Such non-medical use and production and trade in cannabis may be authorized only to the extent that they were traditional in the territories in respect of which the reservation is made and were there permitted on 1 January 1961. Also the non-medical use of cannabis must be discontinued as soon as possible, and in any case within twenty-five years from the coming into force of the Convention. The production and manufacture of and trade in cannabis for non-medical purposes must be reduced and finally abolished simultaneously with the reduction and abolition of non-medical use. [ 34]
Official Records of the Economic and Social Council, Twenty-second Session, Supp. No. 8 (E/2891), para. 133.2
United Nations documents E/CN.7/352 and 372; "Chemical and biological' evaluation of the resin of hemp grown for seed in the central districts of the European parts of the USSR", by E. A. Kechakov, Bulletin on Narcotics, Vol. XI, No. 4.3
International Opium Conference, The Hague, 1912. Summary of the minutes. League of Nations Library No. 178.81: 063.1911. 1615.4
League of Nations document O.C.1.(1).5
League of Nations documents C.397.M.146.1924.XI, annexes 8 and 16; C.602.M.192.1925.XI, annex 4.6
League of Nations document O.D.C./72(1).7
Chapter V establishes the system of import certificates and export authorizations.8
League of Nations document C.426.M.218. 1935. XI.9
League of Nations document C.136.M.87. 1939. III10
League of Nations document C.33.M.14 1935. XI, pp. 31 and 79.11
WHO Technical Report Series, No. 57, page 11.12
United Nations document E/3010/Rev.l., annex II, resolution IV.13
United Nations document E/2432, para. 182.14
United Nations document E/CN.7/L.91.15
United Nations document E/2432, paras. 182-183; E/2606, para. 120.16
United Nations document E/CN.7/286 and Add. l-29.17
United Nations document E/CN.7/399.18
United Nations document E/3254, para. 314.19
United Nations document E/2606, para. 105; United Nations document E/3133, resolution IV; United Nations document E/3254, resolution 8; United Nations document E/CN.7/358.20
United Nations document E/3254, resolution 8.21
United Nations documents ST/SOA/SER.S/1-7.22
United Nations document E/2891, para. 288; United Nations document E/3254, para. 314.23
United Nations document E/CN.7/324 and E/CN.7/399. 24 United Nations document E/CN.7/AC.3/9, article 1.024p030
United Nations document E/CN.7/AC.3/9,article 1.25
United Nations document E/CN.7/AC.3/9, article 39.26
United Nations document E/CONF.34/5.27
WHO Technical Report Series, No. 57, page 11.28
WHO Technical Report Series, No. 188, p. 1429
United Nations document E/CONF.34/22, article 2, paras. 1 and 5, schedules I and IV.30
Ibid., article 1, para. 1 (b).31
Ibid., article 28, para. 3.32
Ibid., article 28, para. 1.33
Ibid., article 28, para. 2.34
United Nations document E/CONF.34/22, article 49, paras. 1 ( d) and ( e), 2 ( a), ( f) and ( g).