A forty-years' chronicle of international narcotics control


By virtue of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961, the Permanent Central Narcotics Board and the Drug Supervisory Body ceased to exist on the 2 March 1968, when the International Narcotics Control Board came into being.


Author: Sir Harry GREENFIELD
Pages: 1 to 4
Creation Date: 1968/01/01

A forty-years' chronicle of international narcotics control

The work of the Permanent Central Narcotics Board 1928-1968 and of the Drug Supervisory Body 1933-1968

Sir Harry GREENFIELD President, Permanent Central Narcotics Board (1953-1968) and President, International Narcotics Control Board (1968- ), Geneva

By virtue of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961, the Permanent Central Narcotics Board and the Drug Supervisory Body ceased to exist on the 2 March 1968, when the International Narcotics Control Board came into being.

In this article the President of the outgoing PCNB, who has been unanimously elected President of its successor body the INCB, reviews the achievements of the two outgoing organs in connexion with the last report made by them to the United Nations Economic and Social Council.


It is both natural and proper that in approaching the end of a career spanning nearly forty years (the Drug Supervisory Body came into existence only five years after the creation of the Permanent Central Narcotics Board in 1928) the two organs should look back on what has been achieved during their lifetime. In its report for 1966 the Board had recalled the dramatic reduction in the flow of illicit narcotic substances which resulted from the introduction of international control. The present report traces the evolution of international legislation in the realm of narcotics control, starting from the basic principles enunciated by the Hague Convention of 1912, which are still valid today, and following its development - which has been empirical, in scope and in method - to the comprehensive control regime which has been encoded in the 1961 Single Convention. The list of treaties is in itself an interesting and revealing catena. The critically-minded may perhaps contend that more could have been achieved, or that what has been done could have been accomplished more quickly; yet there is ground for solid satisfaction that so much success has, in fact, been attained. It is, of course, undeniable that the level of illicit traffic in narcotics substances is still distressingly high and that national and international controls are hard put to contain the traffic at its present volume. Nevertheless, it is no small thing that there is now throughout the world a growing spirit of awareness and co-operation, which is reflected in the way that governments have accepted the obligations progressively imposed by the treaties.

Any quantitative assessment of the success of the narcotics treaties must always be set in perspective. The Board's 1966 report called attention to the fact that whereas an estimated quantity of 1,200 tons of opium is now annually available for illicit purposes, the quantity so available in the early thirties was about 4,000 tons. This striking reduction was brought about by the implementation of the 1925 and 1931 Conventions and much of it occurred during the years immediately following the inauguration of the international control system which they imposed.

Reports received at about this time revealed that in the period 1925-1929 something like 30 tons of legally manufactured morphine had passed into the illicit traffic each year and that a similar state of affairs existed in respect of heroin and cocaine, so that illicit traffickers then clearly had little difficulty in obtaining ample supplies from sources which ostensibly existed to serve legitimate needs.

Huge quantities of drugs were dispatched by certain such factories to fictitious addresses and thence into the illicit market. One country, for example, which had not previously manufactured narcotic drugs suddenly authorized the establishment of three factories, and in the first six months of 1930 exported 1,400 kg.

of morphine and 2,700 kg. of heroin to Greece alone, but the Greek authorities reported that the consignments did not in fact reach their declared destinations.

Today the situation is radically different: the application of the treaties has reduced the level of narcotic drug manufacture to amounts actually required for legitimate medical and scientific needs; and the diversion of manufactured narcotic drugs from legitimate channels into the illicit market has been reduced to insignificant proportions. This achievement is even more impressive when set against the ever-increasing quantity of narcotic drugs manufactured and marketed throughout the world today for medical purposes.

If account is taken of the over-all increase in population it is also clear that, speaking generally, the relative incidence of addiction to manufactured drugs has declined since the introduction of the treaties; and in certain countries there has been a marked improvement in absolute terms - that is to say there has been a noticeable drop in the number of addicts, despite the rise in population.

Finally there has been a substantial fall in the permitted consumption of opium for non-medical purposes, which in 1929 was to be found in 18 countries or territories and amounted in that year to almost 1,600 tons. Today the great bulk of this consumption has been eliminated and the remainder will disappear within the foreseeable future.

All in all, therefore, the chronicle of international narcotics control during the 40 years life-span of the Board has been one of progress, which if not spectacular after the very early years, has at any rate been steady and, but for the interruption of the Second World War, has been persistent.

The chronicle is illuminated by great names and great personalities: Gaston Bourgois of France and Russell Pasha of Egypt, to cite only two; and one of the greatest of them, Harry Anslinger of the U.S.A., is still a leading figure in the U.N. Narcotics Commission. The Board and the Drug Supervisory Body, too, have had their due share of persons who have won distinction in this field; and the present members look back with pride and gratitude on the work of, for example, Leonard Lyall, Chairman of the Board from its inception till 1938, Sir Atul Chaterji, Sir Malcolm Delevigne, Herbert May and Colonel Sharman.

To this list must now be added Professor George Joachimoglu and Professor Decio Parreiras, who retired on the 1st March, 1968 after having rendered admirable service to the cause of international narcotics control over a period of ten years.

Contents of the report

Opium: In 1966 the world licit production of opium fell from its previous level of 900 tons to 780 tons.

Several factors may have accounted for this fall. One contributory cause may have been adverse climatic conditions. Another may have been a decision on the part of certain governments to revise their production policy in view of the rising cost of production. It is also possible that production targets were deliberately cut back by reason of the fact that at the end of 1965 world stocks of opium were sufficient to meet two years' requirements.

As against this fall of 120 tons in production, the amount of opium utilized in this year for the manufacture of morphine alone rose by 200 tons. Already in 1965 opium production had not sufficed to meet manufacturing requirements and it had been necessary to draw 100 tons from stocks. During 1966 demand exceeded production by no less than 500 tons, compelling a further withdrawal from stocks, which by the end of 1966 were reduced to 1,000 tons, an amount corresponding at the present rate of utilization to approximately 10 months' requirements.

Poppy straw: Morphine is, of course, manufactured not only from opium but also from poppy straw and in 1966 more than 35 tons of morphine were so derived. This is a slightly higher figure than in 1965. One interesting circumstance is that the countries practising this method of manufacture made increasing use of imported straw in 1966, the quantity imported being three times as large as in 1964.

Of the total manufacture of morphine in 1966, 24% was derived from poppy straw as against 28% in 1965 and 36% in 1962, but as has just been said, the quantity made from poppy straw was, in fact, greater than in 1965, and the decline in percentage is simply a reflection of the greater resort in 1966 to opium, much of which came from stocks.

Morphine: The quantity of morphine manufactured in 1966 was in every way exceptional. The 110 tons of morphine obtained from opium in 1966 represents the largest figure ever recorded by the Board, being 19 tons or 21% higher than the previous record manufacture in 1957; and the total of 150 tons made from both opium and poppy straw was 22 tons or 17 % higher than the previous record level in 1963.

How much, if any, of this sharp increase may have been sparked off by war and rumours of war it is impossible to say; but in any event demand, though it increased, did not develop sufficiently to absorb all the additional morphine manufactured, and this resulted in a rise in the stocks of morphine and of drugs manufactured from morphine.

Codeine: One major factor in the higher morphine manufacture was apparently an increased demand for codeine, of which 135 tons was manufactured during the year. This is 15 tons more than in 1965 and constitutes a new absolute maximum. Many countries con tributed to this record figure, but the principal manufacturing increase took place in the U.S.S.R. and the United Kingdom.

Thebaine: There has been an interesting development in the use of thebaine, which is a by-product of the extraction of morphine from opium. Hitherto thebaine has been used only in the manufacture of drugs of limited chemical value, but in recent years increasing quantities have been employed in the manufacture of codeine and three tons of thebaine were used for this purpose in 1966.

Cocaineand the coca leaf: The Board has little of special significance to report this year on the subject of coca leaves and cocaine. Vast quantities of coca leaves continue to be produced in the Andean regions of South America and from this raw material a substantial volume of crude cocaine finds its way into the international illicit market. Measures to reduce the areas of organized cultivation have been initiated in Peru; and in Bolivia the possibility of replacing coca leaf plantations by other crops is being studied. But the benefits deriving from such measures will manifest themselves very slowly and the only hope of advancing more rapidly on this front lies in the possibility of a world-wide campaign for reducing the illicit supply of narcotic raw materials which was outlined in the Board's 1966 report, and to which further allusion is made later in this article.

Cannabis: Cannabis, it seems, is a subject of neverending debate: it has been so for several years now, and it seems likely to continue so for a number of years more. Ironically enough, at a time when countries such as India, with centuries of experience of cannabis, are progressively eliminating consumption, libertarians in industrially advanced countries are arguing that it is no worse than alcohol, that its consumption is not dangerous, or that it is, at any rate, not sufficiently dangerous to justify prohibition. These views are plausibly presented, and in a society which likes to regard itself as liberal-minded, they readily gather support. Even the more conservative members of the community, who perceive the risks that would follow the legalisation of consumption, are reluctant to accept that it should in all respects, and particularly in the matter of punishment, be set in the same category as the more dangerous drugs, such as heroin. And while the debate continues young persons resort to it - perhaps experimentally at first, and sometimes out of a sense of adventure - and they do this the more readily because it is widely available.

Hitherto, the Board has rested itself on the views of such established authorities as the WHO Expert Committee on Drug Dependence and on the collective verdict of the 1961 Plenipotentiary Conference for the Adoption of the Single Convention which included cannabis in the category of dangerous narcotic drugs; the Board has renewed its support for these views in the present report.

In a civilization where government is by consent, however, the Board feels that it is not sufficient to meet assertion with assertion and that the most effective policy is, while maintaining the present restraints, to build up, by research and collation, a body of incontrovertible evidence of the real dangers of cannabis which will convince all but the wilfully blind. Admittedly this is likely to be a long process, but it offers the best hope of success in the end. And success is vitally necessary because cannabis is a key element in the vocabulary of narcotic substances, and unless it can be kept effectively within bounds it will continue to swell the ranks of addiction, both to itself and to other drugs.

Psychotropic substances: Linked with the problem of cannabis is the rapidly growing misuse of amphetamines, barbiturates, tranquillizers and hallucinogens in certain countries. This is a truly alarming phenomenon, the social implications of which are quite incalculable; and the Board fully shares the anxiety expressed by the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs that action should be taken as soon as possible to bring dangerous psychotropic substances under an appropriate measure of control. The path of wisdom would be to adopt a separate international instrument rather than to amend the existing treaties.

After-care of addicts: The Permanent Central Board has consistently urged the importance of providing after-care and means of rehabilitation for addicts who have been subjected to curative treatment and it does so again in the present report. On this issue, as indeed on so many issues, it was sustained by the knowledge that it had the united support of the Narcotics Commission and of the World Health Organization.

Aetiology of addiction: The Board is likewise wholly at one with the Commission and the WHO in desiring the amplest possible knowledge of the underlying causes of drug addiction, because it is only on the basis of a thorough understanding of the medical and sociological aspects of the problem that effective remedies can be devised. Because the causative factors may vary from one country to another it is clearly desirable that studies should be undertaken in several countries, and in its 1965 report the Board expressed the hope that this would be done and that there would be a fruitful interchange of their respective findings. It has been gratified to learn that a move is now afoot in at least one country to set up an institute for this purpose, and it is to be hoped that, if this should prove successful, the example will be followed elsewhere.

Campaign for reduction in supply of narcotic raw materials: In its report for 1966 the Board pleaded for a comprehensive approach to the problem of minimizing the supply of raw materials for the illicit production of narcotic drugs. The present international narcotics control regime was born of the need to cope with the flood of dangerous substances which, in the late 1920s and early 1930s, emanated quite largely from manufacturing sources that were then within the law. Now that these sources have for the most part been extinguished and the flow of narcotic drugs from licit channels has been reduced to a trickle, the heart of the problem lies in the wide availability of dangerous raw materials: opium, coca and cannabis.

So far as concerns the licit sources of opium production, some progress is still possible by means of stricter application of the relevant provisions of the 1961 Single Convention; the U.N. technical assistance conference which was held in Delhi in October last year was a good step in this direction. The Indian Government's exceptional - one might say unparalleled-knowledge and experience of controls over opium production was studied by the conference.

But even if leakages from licit opium production could be completely eliminated there would still remain a prodigious source of supply in the areas where production is uncontrolled; and well-informed estimates put the total annual output of these areas at 1,000 tons. This is substantially greater than the total annual production in recent years for legitimate medical requirements, so that illicit traffickers are entitled to feel that they have a virtually inexhaustible supply of raw material.

The elimination of this source of supply is complicated by a number of factors, of which perhaps the most intractable is that the production is often the cultivator's main, even sole, means of livelihood.

The situation is very similar in regard to coca bush cultivation. These areas also are geographically remote and are sometimes beyond effective government control; here again the livelihood of desperately poor people is involved.

As for cannabis cultivation, it is a problem all to itself, for cannabis can grow almost anywhere.

The Board has been gratified to learn of the measures now being taken by the Lebanese authorities to replace the cultivation of cannabis by beneficial crops and was impressed by the renewed determination shown by Lebanon in this matter. It urges all governments who can do so to co-operate as far as possible in this endeavour, and is confident that the technical assistance organs of the United Nations and the specialized agencies will also lend their full support. All who are concerned with international narcotics control are only too well aware of the serious dimensions of the cannabis traffic in the Near East and it is earnestly to be hoped that the constructive efforts now being made by the Lebanese authorities will succeed, and that they will serve us as an example to other countries which may be faced by a similar problem.

A comprehensive campaign for substitution of opium, coca and cannabis, where these are uncontrolled or illicit - and for obvious reasons a comprehensive approach is called for - would evidently be a stupendous undertaking, not even to be dreamed of without prolonged and detailed examination. As a first step the Board suggests a special study to ascertain the physical and financial dimensions of the task. If it should be contended that such a world plan is altogether beyond the realm of practical policy, the answer is that it represents the only real prospect of ultimately extinguishing the illicit traffic in dangerous drugs manufactured from these crops.

The report for 1967 is the final act of two international organs whose succeeding members have, over a period of nearly four decades, conscientiously fulfilled the functions entrusted to them by the international narcotics treaties down to and including the Single Convention. It thus brings to an end a chapter in the history of international narcotics control which has not been without achievement. There is good reason to hope that the succeeding chapter, which has opened with the creation of the International Narcotics Control Board, will be no less fruitful.