Colonel C. H. L. Sharman, C.M.G., C.B.E., I.S.O.


International control of narcotic drugs has been, since its very beginning, the work of a team rather than of any individual. During the great period of creation and organization which followed the First World War a number of people contributed a great amount of time, energy and foresight to the establishment of a complex system which evolved not from an ideal of perfection, but from a workaday effort to find practical solutions to factual problems.


Author: Harry J. Anslinger
Pages: 1 to 4
Creation Date: 1959/01/01

Colonel C. H. L. Sharman, C.M.G., C.B.E., I.S.O.

Harry J. Anslinger

International control of narcotic drugs has been, since its very beginning, the work of a team rather than of any individual. During the great period of creation and organization which followed the First World War a number of people contributed a great amount of time, energy and foresight to the establishment of a complex system which evolved not from an ideal of perfection, but from a workaday effort to find practical solutions to factual problems.

Of that group of people, from which we could cite the names of Mr. G. Bourgois of France, Sir Malcolm Delevingne of the United Kingdom, Mr. Stuart J. Fuller of the United States, Mr. Van Wettum of the Netherlands and so many others, few are left: Mr. Herbert L. May, who at the age of 82 is still active in the field of narcotics control, and Colonel C. H. L. Sharman, who has been serving "the cause" since 1927 and for more than twenty years has played a protagonist's part in international control.

Born in Chelmsford, England, in 1881, Colonel Sharman was educated at St. Lawrence College, Ramsgate, and was - like so many other young men - intended to follow a routine legal education and then take a job in a small town; but such a quiet life did not appeal to him, and fate combined with his aspirations in a way which unfortunately is all too uncommon, and gave him the opportunity to go and meet adventure face to face. Two years after his preliminary law examinations he found himself watching Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. It is difficult nowadays to imagine the splendour of such a celebration attended by the most colourful people from all over the world - especially for a young man with itching feet. Amongst many other participants, he fixed his attention on the red jackets and wide-brimmed hats of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The men, their horses, their uniforms and their music were a recital of outdoor living, rough riding and adventure at its highest. Then and there the boy decided to try to join them. In April 1898 he left for Canada. He did not stop in the large cities of the east, but went straight to western Canada - no place for a weakling at the end of the nineteenth century. As he puts it, he felt "very green", but did not intend to remain so for long. He therefore took a job on a ranch for four months. After that, he knew how to lead a rough life, and became intimately acquainted with the woods, the horses and also, of course, with the very large mosquitoes which so thickly populate the summer sky in some parts of the north-west.

Colonel Sharman explains the Canadian point of view to Commissioner Anslinger, the United States representative on the Commission on Narcotic Drugs.

Full size image: 6 kB, Colonel Sharman explains the Canadian point of view to Commissioner Anslinger, the United States representative on the Commission on Narcotic Drugs.

In August 1898 he joined the Royal Canadian Mounted Police at Regina, Saskatchewan, and began the training in what was one of the most efficient, and at the same time daring, of all police cavalry corps. One year later he was assigned to the Yukon territory. It must be remembered that the year 1899 was probably the most significant in all the history of that remote land; from all quarters, by boat, by sledge, on horseback and even on foot, hundreds of tramps and gentlemen of fortune converged towards the shores of the Yukon river in search of gold. In the rush there was, of course, ample opportunity for the Mounties to display their talents. It is to be hoped that Colonel Sharman will one day find the time and the inclination to write about the two years he spent in the Yukon; his narrative could rival the Jack London and Rider Haggard yarns. In January 1901, being then just twenty, he experienced what he still fondly calls (in spite of so many subsequent promotions) his proudest moment: he was made a corporal of the Mounties.

In August 1901 he returned to the prairies by a very roundabout way - that is, from Skaggway to Vancouver, on a boat which struck an iceberg and was wrecked. He landed with what he stood up in. He was then assigned to a quieter spot, Maple Creek.

He was not destined, however, to stay put for long, and less than a year afterwards he embarked for the other side of the world, to the Boer War, where he fought with the Fifth Canadian Mounted Rifles.

From his return to Canada to the outbreak of the First World War he continued in the service of the Canadian Government; he spent one year as private secretary to the Commissioner of the R.C.M.P., then went to Ottawa in the Quarantine Service. He joined the Militia Artillery, was married, had a son, and at the outbreak of the war was appointed major commanding the First Field Battery, First Brigade, First Canadian Division. In January 1915 he was sent to France, where he was wounded, but returned to combat duty until September 1918, when, having been promoted to colonel, he organized the 16th Brigade, Canadian Artillery, and took it to Archangelsk. In 1919 he returned to Canada and civil life.

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After a career so varied, after so many years spent in the four corners of the earth, most people would begin to think of a quiet place in the sun with a pension on which to retire. That was the time for Colonel Sharman to begin an entirely new career, a career which was to be fruitful for his country and "a lot of fun for himself". Also, in this new period of his life he was able - and this is rather uncommon - to put to use experience he had gained in so many fields. Having joined the Canadian Narcotics Service, he was appointed its chief in April 1927.

It would far exceed the limits of the present biography to describe the state of the Canadian Narcotics Service at that time; it was adequate in terms of that period but it was not, of course, a modern narcotics administration by present-day standards. In 1925 the convention was signed which, building on the foundations laid in The Hague Convention of 1912, established the existing system of licensing and recording of all transactions in narcotic drugs and reporting to international authorities on the implementation of the narcotics treaties. The system of licensing was to apply to each individual import and export of all narcotic drugs, and not only to the manufactured drugs. This is generally referred to as the import certificate and export authorization system, and it has played a very important part in controlling the licit trade of narcotics, and therefore in plugging the gaps through which narcotics could flow from the licit into the illicit market. Also under the 1925 Convention an independent organ was set up to examine the statistics which governments undertook to furnish periodically on the production of agricultural raw materials for natural narcotic drugs and on the manufacture, import, export, consumption, stocks and seizures from illegal imports and exports of narcotic drugs. It is obvious that for countries which undertook their obligations conscientiously, participation in such a convention meant a complete overhaul of their national systems of control. This is what happened in Canada where it was necessary to prepare the comprehensive legislation known as the Opium and Narcotic Drug Act of 1929.

Under Colonel Sharman's leadership, Canada assumed a very active role in international co-operation relating to narcotic drugs. Besides, Canada was, and still is, a "receiving end" for the illicit traffic in narcotic drugs. It would be too easy an explanation to say that this is so because of the value of the Canadian dollar. As a matter of fact, the true reason for that state of affairs is unknown, but it might be that the control is so good in Canada that most addicts are found out, and persons taking narcotics without medical necessity are noted as drug addicts. In any case, Canada has always led the fight against illicit traffickers, and a difficult task it is if one considers the immensity of its terrestrial boundary.

In the 'twenties, over-production of narcotic drugs contributed to their diversion into illicit channels. A movement was therefore afoot to try to limit the manufacture of narcotics. This led to the convocation of the Limitation Conference in Geneva in 1931. This conference was attended by 57 States, and constituted a landmark in the international efforts for the control of narcotic drugs. Colonel Sharman participated in the conference as a delegate of Canada together with Dr. W. A. Riddell. At the third meeting, he made a speech which may well be remembered as a cornerstone in Canadian narcotics policy. He insisted on the fact that the Canadian Government was actuated by moral considerations and also by the practical consideration of the effort and expense involved in combating the illicit traffic and punishing those engaged therein. Canada was, moreover, "alive to the necessity for stringent and effective legislation on narcotic matters." Canada "realized the necessity for united action and in particular the desirability of taking every possible step to reduce the manufacture of narcotic drugs to the actual legitimate medical needs of the world." This was in a way the general trend of the lengthy debates at the conference, the results of which were embodied in the convention signed on 13 July 1931 (Convention for Limiting the Manufacture and Regulating the Distribution of Narcotic Drugs). As a member of the Committee for Limitation, Colonel Sharman made a number of contributions to the actual drafting of the convention, and it can be said that he was one of the handful of people who really knew what they wanted and did everything they could to achieve their aim. The aims of the convention were to limit the supplies - that is, the quantities manufactured or imported - to those needed for medical and scientific pur- poses, and to establish a planned narcotic economy on a worldwide scale. Each government was required to furnish annual estimates of its needs and, on the basis of these estimates, manufacturing and import maxima for each country and territory were to be computed. The convention set up a new organ, the Drug Supervisory Body (of which Colonel Sharman was later to be a member) to examine these estimates and to draw up an annual statement of the estimated world requirements of narcotic drugs. The convention also provided for international legislative machinery by which new narcotic drugs belonging to certain chemical groups (not including the then unknown synthetics) could be placed under international control with obligatory effects on all parties. The convention came into force in 1933, putting into effective operation the principles of limitation for manufactured narcotic drugs.

In 1934, Colonel Sharman was appointed as the Canadian representative on the Opium Advisory Committee of the League of Nations, and he attended the Geneva meetings up to and including the twenty-fifth and last meeting in 1940. One of his chief interests was the illicit traffic; he was chairman of the Special Committee set up to study it. The fact was that traffickers, especially leading ones, were able to escape prosecution by simply crossing international boundaries, protected by the differences in principle of international criminal jurisdiction in the various countries. It was often impossible to obtain their extradition, and it was frustrating for police and enforcement officers to have to watch a known trafficker laughing at them in a town just across the border. Therefore, the Advisory Committee thought that something should be done, and in 1936 a conference was convened in Geneva to remedy this state of affairs. Forty States participated, plus the observers of two other nations. Colonel Sharman was the delegate for Canada. He played a very important role because of his experience and because of his energy in asking for real collaboration amongst the police forces of the different countries. One of his important contributions was what has been known as the "conspiracy clause". He insisted on the inclusion of the following words in article 2, paragraph ( c) of the convention:

"Conspiracy to commit any of the above-mentioned offences" (That is, the manufacture, conversion, etc. of narcotic drugs contrary to the provisions of the conventions dealing with narcotics). What he had in mind was the fact that traffickers work in gangs and that sometimes a member of the gang committed a seemingly innocuous offence, but the adding of all these isolated acts concurred in the actual smuggling and distribution of illicit drugs. Finally this idea, which is very important in the prosecution of traffickers, was incorporated in the convention.

After 1936 the storm which was threatening the peace of Europe and the world began to gather strength. The activities of the Opium Advisory Committee of the League of Nations continued, but were soon to take on a different aspect, some members thinking in terms of the security of their own country if and when the war would deprive it of its sources of supplies of narcotics. Colonel Sharman attended the committee until the very end; and it can be said that he left Europe practically under enemy fire, at the end of May 1940.

When Colonel Sharman had left Europe in 1940 he could look back at an important chapter of international co-operation in which he had been one of the principal actors. It could not be said that the League of Nations had done a perfect job, because quite a few gaps still existed in the system of narcotics control; for instance, the lack of provisions for the effective control of the production of the agricultural raw materials of natural narcotic drugs; the continued permission of the practices of smoking and eating opium, coca leaf chewing and cannabis smoking. But a tremendous amount of work had been done. Practical men such as Colonel Sharman had done their utmost to adapt the measures they were taking to the actual possibilities. They could be proud of their achievements.

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The war period was obviously a very difficult one for all international activities; and it goes without saying that the belligerents were engaged first and foremost in the war effort. Colonel Sharman remained during these years at his post as chief of the Canadian Narcotics Service, and had to contend with the difficulties inherent in the state of war. He surmounted them with his usual energy and foresight. International control did not stop altogether, as might have been feared - for instance, a skeleton of the League's secretariat dealing with narcotic drugs continued to function in Geneva and Washington, D.C., and the Supervisory Body managed to meet a few times. Colonel Sharman maintained the liaison with the international organization because he knew well that after the war there would be a great upheaval and possibly a great increase in drug addiction, as had happened after previous wars. One event of importance which happened in the field of narcotics during the war took place in 1943; an exchange of notes between the United States on the one hand, and the United Kingdom and the Netherlands on the other, committed these last countries to the immediate suppression of opium smoking in their territories in the Far East, after the reconquest. In 1945 the same step was taken by France and Portugal.

At the San Francisco Conference it was agreed that international narcotics control would be one of the functions of the United Nations. In February 1946 the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, at its first session, set up the Commission on Narcotic Drugs and later on during that year a protocol was drawn up transferring to the new organization the narcotics functions previously performed by the League of Nations.

On 27 November 1946 the newly created commission held its first session at Lake Success, New York. As the representative of the Secretary-General put it, the Commission had the duty not only of safeguarding the results already achieved in international control, but also, in order to make further progress, of attending to the urgent problem of the limitation and control of the production of agricultural raw materials used for the manufacture of dangerous drugs and of placing the new synthetic drugs as rapidly as possible under international control. Therefore it was not a break with the past that was envisaged, but, on the contrary, the continuation of the effort with emphasis on the new problems. The delegates felt that in order to make sure that these conditions were fulfilled, a man with experience and at the same time with driving energy was needed to take the chair, and unanimously elected Colonel Sharman as Chairman of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs. He was chairman for two years, and for nine years he represented Canada at the Commission. As Mr. Bourgois of France put it at the end of the first session, "... he conducted the debates in a way which made the Commission a model of its kind and drew unanimous tribute."

During these two years great achievements were on the way. Most important of all was the tackling of the problem of the synthetic drugs; since the development of pethidine in 1939, a number of these drugs had been manufactured, and it was to be feared that they would be put on the market without control and thus constitute a very serious threat to public health. The existing conventions did not provide weapons to combat that threat, since they did not authorize international organs to place the new synthetic drugs under full international control. At its second session the Commission, under the chairmanship of Colonel Sharman, recognized the necessity for action, the result of which was the preparation of the protocol bringing under international control drugs outside the scope of the Convention of 1931, by which narcotic drugs belonging to any chemical group (including the synthetics) could be placed under full international control.

Besides, the Commission had to re-establish the international control at its pre-war level and assess the harm done during the war years. This was done in such a way that it can be said without exaggeration that all the results achieved during the League of Nations days were, in two years, consolidated and amplified.

In this, and in particular in the work of the Commission on the illicit traffic, Colonel Sharman continued to play a leading part until he retired from membership of this body. His colleagues will remember him describing the ways of the traffickers as if - as somebody put it - he had spent his life amongst them.

In all the manifold tasks of the Commission, whether it was the annual review of the narcotics situation throughout the world, recommendations to governments to improve national control, planning scientific research, suggestions for the solution of such special problems as control of the production of opium or the abolition of coca-leaf chewing, Colonel Sharman always mixed a shrewd and practical outlook on the realities of life with a deep sense of humanity. He knew very well that addicts were unfortunate people, entitled, as he said, to our deepest sympathy; but he knew also that society had to protect itself, and that it would be foolish to give people free access to drugs on the pretext of treatment. Therefore he was one of the foremost advocates of the closedinstitution approach to the treatment of drug addiction.

In 1948 Colonel Sharman was nominated by the Commission to the Drug Supervisory Body of which he was the chairman from 1953 until he retired in 1958. As chairman, he represented that body at the International Opium Conference of 1953. The Drug Supervisory Body created by the 1931 Convention held its first session in August 1933. Its function is to examine the estimates furnished by governments of their requirements of narcotic drugs during the year to come. It also establishes the estimates for each country or territory on behalf of which no estimates have been furnished. On the basis of the estimates as furnished by the governments or established by the Supervisory Body, maxima are computed for the manufacture and import of narcotic drugs for each country and territory. Thus, this organ plays a very important part in the regulation of the international trade in narcotics.

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Colonel Sharman has done so much in his life that it is not easy to believe that the same man fought in South Africa, Lorraine and the Polar area, galloped in the north-western Canadian wilds, took part in countless meetings and managed at the same time to remain a perfectly easy-going "good fellow ", not that he ever did much back-slapping, but he always liked God's good gifts to life. He remains, at an age at which most people have practically one foot in the grave, a very sprightly man with as good a sense of humour as can be found on either side of the Atlantic.

The author voices the feelings of Colonel Sharman's countless friends in wishing him a long and active life.