Review of the twentieth session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs Fortieth session of the Economic and Social Council


The Commission on Narcotic Drugs held its twentieth session in Geneva from 29 November to 21 December 1965.


Pages: 63 to 67
Creation Date: 1966/01/01

Review of the twentieth session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs Fortieth session of the Economic and Social Council

The Commission on Narcotic Drugs held its twentieth session in Geneva from 29 November to 21 December 1965.

The Commission elected as officers: Chairman, Mr. B. N. Banerji (India); First Vice-Chairman, Prof. V. V. Vasilieva (USSR); Second Vice-Chairman, Mr. R. E. Curran (Canada); Rapporteur, Mr. J.-P. Bertschinger (Switzerland). The Commission sent a message to Dr. I. Vertes, representative of Hungary, who had been its First Vice-Chairman at the eighteenth and nineteenth sessions, expressing regret that he had been prevented by illness from attending the session and wishing him a speedy recovery.

The membership of the Commission at its twentieth session consisted of the following 21 States: Argentina, Canada, China, Federal Republic of Germany, France, Ghana, Hungary, India, Iran, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, Peru, Republic of Korea, Switzerland, Turkey, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, United Arab Republic, United Kingdom, United States and Yugoslavia.

At its fortieth session, held in New York from 23 February to 4 March 1966, the Economic and Social Council received and discussed the report of the Commission under the agenda item "International Control of Narcotic Drugs".

The twentieth session :the Commission's first twenty years

The Commission's twentieth session was remarkable in several respects: in the first place, it marked twenty years of activity by the United Nations in one of the fields of responsibility taken over from the League of Nations.

Assessing the results of its work over those twenty years, the Commission was also able to look forward to some interesting possibilities: the day might come when the opiates as such might give way to synthetics altogether, and even before that happened perhaps the extraction of mor-phine directly from poppy straw and not from opium would become universal instead of accounting for one-third of the processing as at present; dangerous substances not at present under international control might begin to pose an even graver problem than that of the drugs now under such control. The nature and cure of addiction were still to a large extent imperfectly understood, and progress was much needed on both counts. As this effort expanded it would have to be supported by more successful campaigns against illicit trafficking. In the last years, the necessity of turning certain populations away from their traditional cultivation of narcotic crops - the opium poppy, the coca bush and the cannabis plant - had become apparent. It had been realized that this required fundamental changes in agricultural life and called for far-reaching socio-economic adjustments. Many of the governments concerned with this problem had in fact already begun moving towards such changes.

The twentieth session was also notable for two other reasons: in the first place, strong sentiment was expressed for looking closely at the problem posed by barbiturates, amphetamines and tranquillizers. Secondly, in view of some misguided opinion in North America, the Commission found it necessary to reaffirm the view it had consistently held that cannabis is a dangerous drug which must be subject to the strictest international and national control.

The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961

As of 31 December 1965, 51 countries had become parties to the 1961 Convention. The Commission reiterated its previous appeals that countries which have not yet done so take steps to accede to this Convention in order to make its application universal, and in order to reduce to a minimum the period in which the regime of the older treaties would have to be applied alongside that set up by the 1961 Convention. Several decisions were taken at the twentieth session for putting the new treaty into effect: changes were made in the schedules of drugs appended to the Convention ; procedures were adopted to simplify the application of article 3 of the Convention, which concerns changes in the scope of control; provision was made for election of the members of the new International Narcotics Control Board, which would replace the PCNB and DSB in due course, it being recognized that a common membership of these three bodies would have to be allowed for such time as the earlier treaties remained alive. The Commission also adopted standard forms and agreed upon the dates for the submission of information required from governments under the new Convention. An administrative guide to assist government officials in applying the treaty at the national level was adopted.

On a proposal by India and Iran, the Economic and Social Council adopted a resolution (1106 (XL)) noting the arrangements proposed by the Commission, and fixing 2 March 1968 as the date when the INCB shall enter upon its duties. The Council urged all States which are parties to the earlier narcotics treaties and not to the 1961 Convention to co-operate with the INCB in the performance of its functions.

Government reportsand legislation on narcotic matters

The Secretary-General received 152 annual reports from governments on how they had fulfilled their obligations under the international narcotics treaties. From March 1964 to September 1965, 116 legislative texts concerning narcotic drugs were received from 46 countries.

The Commission decided that under the procedures set up under the 1948 Protocol, a new synthetic substance known as piritramide should be placed under the strictest regime of control as applied to morphine. It noted that WHO had rejected requests made by certain governments to exempt preparations containing diphenoxylate, a drug under international control. Altogether 86 basic narcotic drugs, including 60 synthetic drugs, were now under international control.

In accordance with its annual practice, the Commission discussed the annual reports of the Permanent Central Narcotics Board and the statements of the Drug Supervisory Body. 1 The PCNB report was taken note of by the Economic and Social Council in its resolution 1107 (XL).

Illicit traffic

The Commission noted that the illicit traffic continued to be a serious threat to the international community, and observed that its trends could not be expected to change suddenly since the traffic was a well-established and profitable business extending all over the world. The traffic was mainly supported by supplies diverted at the stage of the production of the raw materials; some such diversions took place from legal production of opium and coca leaf and, to the extent where it was still allowed, of cannabis. The bulk of the raw drugs, however, came from large expanses of cultivation carried out illegally, and in areas that were often remote; this applied to opium produced illegally or without adequate supervision in south-east Asia, and in certain countries of the Middle East, to much of the coca leaf produced in South America and to cannabis growing wild or illegally cultivated in many parts of the world.

Excerpts from the PCNB report and DSB estimates for 1966 will be published in the next number of the Bulletin.

Many social and economic factors which have developed since the Second World War have favoured the illicit traffic. Social ties in many societies had slackened or been ruptured. Almost everywhere in the world, young people were less strictly supervised. Industrialization in many regions had formed large groups of semi-employed and uprooted people who, together with seasonal and migrant workers, found themselves in social and psychological conditions in which they fell prey to the dope pedlar behind whom was an intricate and efficient organization of supply. The traffickers had begun organizing clandestine laboratories in remote areas close to the places where the raw materials were cultivated, whereas this had been quite unknown a few decades ago. Their purpose was to checkmate stronger enforcement efforts by transporting not bulky raw drug consignments, but processed drugs, which were easier to conceal. Advanced methods of communication, transport and banking were known to be in use by the illicit traffickers.

The Commission noted that it was difficult to form an idea of the quantities of drugs moving in the illicit traffic because it was difficult to establish a proportion between the quantities seized in a country and the total quantities available in it illicitly. The Commission was aware that there were several categories of traffickers: apart from casual producers and carriers, there were criminal gangs with many ramifications and substantial material resources; to some extent, the traffic was conducted by a hierarchically-organized criminal élite,headed by "sleeping partners" who often displayed a respectable façade and were difficult to unmask.

The representative of ICPO/INTERPOL discussed the means of transport employed in drug trafficking. A study by INTERPOL showed that 40% of the traffic was carried by sea; 15 to 25 % went by overland transport, mainly by motor vehicle to a seaport; transport by pack-animals and consignments by parcel post were third and fourth in importance. The traffic by air, while still only a small proportion of the total, was on the increase.

The Commission stressed that governments should apply the resolution of the Economic and Social Council (resolution 436 D (XIV)), which, inter alia, recommends that the certificates of crew members of ships and aircraft who are convicted of illicit trafficking be revoked, and their names be supplied to the trade - unions concerned for suitable disciplinary action.

Emphasizing the need for severe penalties as a deterrent, the Commission considered that a distinction should be made between the various categories of offenders. It was generally known that fines were not a deterrent since they were paid out by the gangs, and considered as an overhead. There could be an exception when the fine was very heavy such as the one close to U.S.$1 million which had been imposed in a particularly serious case.

Judicial authorities in some countries seemed to require to be convinced of the seriousness of narcotic crimes, and of the desirability of imposing severe sentences. It was noted that certain enforcement services considered lenient laws or lenient attitudes on the part of the courts as a hindrance to their work.

The Commission noted that there were considerable variations in the prices of the narcotic drugs in the illicit trade, and it hoped that more accurate information in this field might be obtained in the future. The position as regards the different drugs in the illicit traffic and the geographical trends in the illicit traffic had remained broadly the same as in previous years. Opium and the opiates continued to be a serious problem in the Far East. A new development was the smuggling into Hong Kong of large consignments of opium and morphine concealed in ordinary cargoes. The United States reported that seizures of heroin had fallen almost by half in 1964 as compared to 1963; the Government felt that it had gained the upper hand over that scourge and it expected in 1965 a further significant improvement in the situation. These striking results could largely be attributed to close and first class international co-operation between the United States and certain other countries which were part of the pattern of heroin supplies to North America. Substantial seizures of morphine and heroin had taken place in Canada and in certain countries of Europe (particularly France, where clandestine laboratories had been discovered, and in the Federal Republic of Germany). The traffic in cocaine had increased, especially in the United States of America, where the quantities seized had trebled. Cannabis remained a world-wide problem, but it was notable that in Europe it had now reached a serious proportion in some countries, whereas it had not been too well known in the past.

Drug addiction

The Secretariat presented papers on the socio-economic aspects of drug addiction with particular reference to countries in Africa and the Near and Middle East. The Commission recognized that although causes of addiction were complex, the social and economic environment of the addict and individual personality traits played an important part. Illicit traffic in itself was also a factor in addiction, while tradition could play an important role. Valuable studies on techniques for treating drug addiction were being developed in the United States, the United Kingdom and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The Secretariat was requested to make an intensive study to determine which techniques were appropriate in a given situation. The Commission took cognizance with great interest of the Second Report of the Interdepartmental Committee on Drug Addiction in the United Kingdom (known as the Brain Committee). 2

Substances not under international control

The Commission discussed at some length the serious problem presented by the expanded use and abuse of barbiturates, tranquillizers and amphetamines. These substances had been a cause of concern for several years, but information now available made it clear that in certain countries the problem had become most alarming and threatened to become more so than the problem posed by the "classical" drugs. A particularly disquieting feature was the use of these substances for their allegedly thrill-producing effects by adolescents. The question was raised whether the time had not come when these substances should be put under international control, it being recognized that the Commission's and the World Health Organization's recommendations for national control had not proved sufficiently effective. The Commission recommended to the Economic and Social Council that a detailed study should be made of this whole problem in order to determine the control measures that should be applied, and this should be done by a committee consisting of Canada, Federal Republic of Germany, France, India, Japan, Mexico, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the United Arab Republic, the United Kingdom and the United States. The Committee would report to the twenty-first session of the Commission. The Economic and Social Council approved this proposal in its resolution (1104 (XL)), and the Committee will meet in Geneva for one week during August 1966.

Coca leaf and cocaine

The Commission noted that this problem seemed to concern mainly the Americas. The considerable licit coca leaf production, particularly in Bolivia and Peru, could be estimated at 10,000 tons a year. Most of this was used for chewing the leaf, and only a small proportion served in the licit manufacture of cocaine and to extract a certain beverage flavouring agent. However, large quantities of coca leaf at very low prices were available to illicit traffickers for clandestine manufacture of cocaine. It appears that traffickers buy supplies and have them processed, as in the case of opium, as nearas possible to the producing area, in orderto reduce transport costs and the risk of being caught. This processing might consist simply in macerating the leaves, or it may go a step further to the making of cocaine paste, and finally towards the extraction of crude cocaine. Seven such laboratories had been discovered in Bolivia in 1964. The cocaine paste or crude cocaine is shipped to Chile, and possibly to other countries where it is refined and dispatched to consuming areas. Adulteration takes place at all stages, the adulterants being boric acid, tartaric acid and sodium bicarbonate. The Inter-American Consultative Group on Coca Leaf Problems which met in Lima in 1964 had held that as long as the coca bush was grown and its leaves gathered so much in excess of the world's legitimate needs, there would be clandestine manufacture of cocaine. The areas of cultivation must be reduced and the bush replaced by other crops giving a comparable economic yield. Without these measures, there was little hope of substantially reducing the traffic.

By permission of the United Kingdom authorities, the text of this report will be reproduced in the next issue of the Bulletin.

The Commission reviewed the progress made by governments of producing countries in South America in dealing with the problems of coca leaf. On its recommendation, the Economic and Social Council adopted a resolution (1105(XL)) inviting the United Nations and the specialized agencies to give sympathetic consideration as far as possible as to the requests for technical and financial assistance they may receive from those countries which have embarked on the eradication of coca leaf chewing and the substitution of coca bush cultivation of other crops, the efforts of Peru to this end being noted with appreciation.


The Commission made a full review of the cannabis problem and emphasized to the governments the view it had consistently held, that cannabis was a dangerous substance subject to the strictest measures of the international control. It was noted in this connexion that cannabis had been placed in Schedule IV of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961, which listed three other highly dangerous substances - namely, heroin, ketobemidone and desomorphine. While there could be no doubt of the need to subject cannabis to the strictest regimes of control, it was recognized that adjustments might be necessary at the national level, for example in the case of those countries where cannabis was still used in traditional systems of medicine, as in India and Pakistan. The Commission was interested to hear from the World Health Origination that the active principle of cannabis was in all prob- ability tetrahydrocannabinol. It is now considered that chemical derivatives of the active principle in cannabis might be found to have medical uses.

The Commission made a special review of the cannabis situation in African countries. Not only did cannabis grow wild everywhere in the continent, but it was also being cultivated by unscrupulous persons for illicit trafficking. The problem was primarily local or regional in nature, but there was also some international trafficking in the drug. The Commission considered that the efforts now made by African governments to combat the abuse of cannabis would be more effective if they were supported by economic and social measures of development and reform.

Some information regarding the cannabis situation in Nepal was placed before the Commission, which requested the Secretariat to endeavor to obtain more.

The Commission welcomed the publication by the Secretariat of a comprehensive bibliography on cannabis which contained 1,854 entries, and could be considered a basic reference work in this field.

Technical assistance

A report by the Secretary-General informed the commission of three regional projects which had been carried out since the Commission's last session. The Inter-American Consultative Group on Coca Leaf Problems had met in Lima, Peru, in December 1964, being attended by senior public health and enforcement officials from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. Paraguay, the United States and Venezuela had been represented by observers, while ILO, FAO, UNESCO, WHO and ICPO/INTERPOL had also participated. The coca leaf problem in all its aspects and been reviewed by the group, and recommendations for further measures to deal with it had been made in its report. The second regional project had been the United Nations Seminar on Narcotic Control for Enforcement Officers from Asia and the Far East, held in Manila in January-February 1965, with participants from Cambodia, Ceylon, China, India, Iran, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Viet-Nam and Hong Kong. Experts to lecture at the seminar had been provided by the United Nations, and ICPO/INTERPOL had also participated. The third such project had been the United Nations Seminar on Narcotics Control for Enforcement Officers of African countries, which took place at Lagos, Nigeria, in August 1965. Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo (Brazzaville), the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Dahomey, Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo had sent participants. Expert lecturers had been provided by the United Nations, and ICPO/INTERPOL had been represented.

Other forms of assistance such as advice by experts to individual countries, and fellowships for the training of their officials, had also been provided. Two experts had been made available to Iran under the regular programme established by General Assembly resolution 1395 (XIV), while the adviser on administrative aspects of narcotics control had remained in Iran serving under the Expanded Programme of Technical Assistance. Ten fellowships had been awarded to recipients from eight countries and had covered training in enforcement, rehabilitation of drug addicts and laboratory techniques. The Commission expressed the view that future fellowships in the field of rehabilitation of drug addicts would best be provided by the World Health Organization. As regards training in laboratory techniques, future awards should not cover opium identification, but should only be given for the study of cannabis. The Commission felt that some assurance should be obtained from receiving governments that officials trained would continue to be employed for a reasonable time in the narcotics field.

In its resolution 1104 (XL), the Council requested the Secretary-General to provide the Commission at each annual session with the best available information on future projects for technical assistance in this field, in order that the Commission's comments and recommendations might be taken into account.

The Commission learned with interest of loans that many governments had taken from the film library on narcotics subjects which had been built up by the Secretariat, and it hoped that the acquisition of audio-visual material for such loans would be increased.

Scientific research on opium and the opiates

The Commission reviewed the progress made in the United Nations research programme and noted with interest that international co-operation in this field continued to be broadened with more and more scientists taking part. The United Nations laboratory, part of the Division of Narcotic Drugs in Geneva, had continued research on developing and applying simple, rapid and easily reproducible methods for the determination of the origin of opium. Particular emphasis had been given to the method of colour reactions and direct absorption spectrophotometry, but no further modifications or changes had been made in the methods developed so far. The laboratory had made analyses of samples of seized opium, and in approximately two-thirds of the cases had been able to indicate the geographic origin of the opium analysed. Failure to determine origin had been almost entirely due to the lack of authenticated samples from certain regions. Recently, the laboratory had received samples of seized opium which were completely different from any of the authenticated samples, and also from the seizures previously analysed. This might indicate that there are now some new areas of opium cultivation. In the past year, the laboratory had received authenticated samples of licitly produced opium from Japan and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Burma, Mexico and Thailand had provided authenticated samples from their illicit production. However, further authenticated samples were still needed, particularly from certain countries where the illicit traffic was important.

At the request of the Commission, the Secretariat had prepared a preliminary report on heroin, which showed that there were some possibilities for comparing heroin seizures on the basis of the degree of acetylation and the nature and amount of impurities present. However, since heroin was a manufactured product, its geographical origin was much more complex to determine than that of opium. The Commission agreed that the problem was an extremely difficult one, to which it was unlikely that a solution would be found in the near future. The opinion was expressed that the laboratory should now concentrate on research on cannabis and other drugs which were of interest to the Commission, in view of the fact that its research on opium had reached an advanced and very satisfactory stage.

Next session

The twenty-first session of the Commission will he held in Geneva from 5 to 21 December 1966.