International Control of Narcotic Drugs


When the first General Assembly of the United Nations in London took the decisions necessary to ensure the continuity of the international control of narcotic drugs, formerly exercised under the auspices of the League of Nations, responsibility for carrying out these decisions was entrusted to the Department of Social Affairs.


Author: Henri LAUGIER
Pages: 4 to 5
Creation Date: 1949/01/01

International Control of Narcotic Drugs


When the first General Assembly of the United Nations in London took the decisions necessary to ensure the continuity of the international control of narcotic drugs, formerly exercised under the auspices of the League of Nations, responsibility for carrying out these decisions was entrusted to the Department of Social Affairs.

The work done by the League of Nations in this field was not unknown to me. But it was not until I had familiarized myself with its details as head of the department in which the work is now done, that I was able to appreciate its full scope and extent.

Six international conventions and agreements concluded between 1912 and 1936, supplemented by two international protocols concluded under the auspices of the United Nations in 1946 and 1948 respectively, form its framework and legal foundation.

Seventy-one sovereign countries being parties to one or more of these treaties, their application is universal, like the problem which is the subject of this international legislation.

In order to achieve this universality, one of these treaties - the 1931 Convention - introduced a bold innovation in the technique of international legislation, by stipulating that the principal measures of control instituted by the Convention should become applicable to all countries and territories through- out the world as soon as the Convention entered into force in virtue of its ratification by a limited number of States (twenty-five). Designed to be applied by all countries and territories throughout the world regardless of their economic social and administrative structure, these treaties have created an ever-growing tendency towards the unification of national laws and administrative regulations concerning narcotic drugs in all countries and territories.

What is the practical and tangible result of all these efforts and of this international legislation?

Every year an international supervisory body assesses, the requirements in narcotic drugs for medical and scientific purposes of each country and territory throughout the world. The quantity of raw material required for the manufacture of these drugs is also. known and its importation can be adjusted to the requirements for authorized manufacture. By this means it is possible to limit world manufacture of narcotics effectively to legitimate world demand. All channels of distribution national and international, are subject to control. All commercial transactions, national and international, and all consumption are recorded and statistics are transmitted periodically to an international control board. The functioning of the system is constantly supervised and co-ordinated by international organs.

As a result, a particular branch of industry now operates according to an internationally conceived and enforced plan. One fact is worth emphasis: it was social and humanitarian reasons, and not economic or financial ones, that led to the establishment of these international regulations. In the general interest of the community of States, Governments, freely consented to Emit their own freedom of action and to transfer certain powers to international organs, also conferring upon them the power to apply sanctions-against an offending State. They enacted international legislation where-by regulations based on a series of precise and compulsory international undertakings, once accepted by a limited number of States, should extend to all the countries, and territories of the world. Lastly, an international line of demarcation was drawn between legitimate trade and illicit traffic in narcotic drugs, thus making the suppression of illicit manufacture and trade possible and compulsory.

Since the taking over of this work by the United Nations, Governments and the international organs responsible for the administration and control of narcotic drugs have had to face new tasks of ever increasing complexity. The discoveries of modern chemistry and pharmacology in the field of synthetic narcotics have necessitated a speedy adaptation of existing control to constantly changing condition. The Paris Protocol concluded in November 1948, afforded a provisional solution of this problem.

Nevertheless, the problem of limiting the production of the raw materials used in the manufacture of narcotics to the world's medical and scientific requirements and the problem of regulating their distribution, constantly postponed for the last forty years, are still awaiting solution.

The Commission on Narcotic Drugs and the Economic and Social Council, in entrusting the Secretariat with the preparatory work in this field, gave it another complex and difficult task, that of elaborating a single international convention to replace the eight existing international instruments concerning narcotic drugs. The purpose of this new Code will be finally to regulate, both on the national and international level, the problems arising from the need to use narcotic drugs in modern therapeutic and at the same time to prevent their abuse. It is also intended to consolidate the progress so far achieved, to simplify the existing system of control and at the same time to reinforce and create a system of universally applicable obligations, both sufficiently precise and sufficiently flexible to be immediately adaptable to the changing conditions of the modern world. It will contain regulations specifying the essential co-operation and functions of the World Health Organization in the definition of substances subject to control.

The opinion is sometimes beard that the results obtained in the limited field of the international control of narcotics have an influence which transcends their own sphere. Anyone who haw followed over a period of time the evolution of the ideas and plans for the creation and extension of this control and has studied the development of the international administration which has arisen from them, cannot fail to endorse that opinion.

The work of creating and setting in motion this machinery of international control, the methods employed and the results obtained, are in the nature of a laboratory experiment, by means of which social research, pursued with patience and imagination and following round and careful methods, has led to results which may have an unforeseen and far-reaching influence upon society, far transcending the sphere in which they were conceived and the subject with which they deal. As Senator de Brouckère, President of the 1931 Conference,[1] said in summing up its work:

"This is an immense piece of work ... Nothing of the kind has ever been attempted before ...

If a similar system could be established for far more dangerous drugs and far more murderous weapons, humanity would have made a considerable advance."

In 1949 these words are of far greater. urgency than in 1931.

The message which this Bulletin proposes to send out starts from a limited field. But in the midst of the preoccupations, tensions and tumult of our age, it will serve as a constant reminder of the fact that an attempt at international co-operation has been made, has succeeded and reveals possibilities within the reach of men, if they are determined to harmonize their interests and organize their relations within the framework and under the protection of international law.


Conference for Limiting the Manufacture of Narcotic Drugs, Geneva, 27 May-13 July 1931.