The United States views on the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs


A. The provision regarding the limitation of the production of raw opium
B. The weakening effect of the reservations provision on the estimates and statistics systems


Pages: 9 to 11
Creation Date: 1963/01/01

The United States views on the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs 1

There was published in the January-March 1962 issue (XIV, 1) of the Bulletin on Narcotics (page 37) extracts from the 1961 report of the United States Interdepartmental Committee on Narcotics. The recommendations of the Committee were published, including the one in which the Committee recommended that the United States Government continue to give full support to the adoption of a single convention on narcotics. What the Bulletin failed to make clear is that the recommendations in the Committee's report were made prior to the conclusion of the Plenipotentiary Conference for the adoption of a Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. Therefore, the Committee's recommendation was in connexion with the principle of a single convention, and not the Convention as drafted by the Conference.

The Bulletin also failed to point out that the Interdepartmental Committee, during meetings subsequent to the 1961 report, agreed that the Single Convention on Narcotics was not satisfactory to the United States, and upon the recommendation of the Committee the position of the United States was formulated not to sign the treaty and likewise not to accede to it. Because publication of the recommendations contained in the Interdepartmental Committee's report without explanation gives an inference that the United States or certain elements of the Government favour the coming into force of the Single Convention, it should be only fair to set the record straight.

The Single Convention on Narcotics is unacceptable to the United States for the following reasons. There are two main areas of international narcotic control in which the Single Convention is deficient. These are the provisions in the Single Convention dealing with the limitation of the production of raw opium, and the permissible reservations which may be made to the provisions dealing with the estimates and statistics systems. Is is proposed to discuss these separately.

A. The provision regarding the limitation of the production of raw opium

For more than half a century the United States has worked, with a fair measure of success, for world-wide recognition of the desirability of limiting the world's production of opium and narcotic drugs to legitimate medical and scientific needs. While there has developed a measure of agreement among the nations of the world on this general principle, there has been some divergence of opinion as to the best method of attaining the goal. By 1953, a sufficient unanimity had been reached to produce the Opium Limitation Protocol of 1953. In brief, the parties agreed that opium for export should be grown in only seven named countries. It was also agreed to limit within the estimates of medical and scientific needs annual stocks of opium at the producer, manufacturer and consumer levels. By late 1962 the 1953 Opium Protocol had been ratified by the requisite countries and was expected to be in force by early 1963. It is imperative that a sufficient period of time be given to implement the provisions of the 1953 Protocol so that its effectiveness can be determined.

The third draft of the Single Convention, which was the working draft used by the Conference convened to prepare the final draft, contained provisions identical with those contained in the 1953 Protocol. These provisions, however, were strenuously objected to by the Soviet bloc countries, the United Kingdom, and certain other countries. In order that the work of the Conference would not end in complete disharmony, many countries agreed to an entirely different concept regarding the limitation of the production of opium.

The following, in brief, is what the Single Convention permits:

  1. Countries which produced and exported opium for ten (10) years prior to 1 January 1961 may continue to do so;

  2. Any country may produce and export up to five (5) tons of opium annually by merely notifying the Board;

  3. A country desiring to produce and export more than five (5) tons annually shall notify the Economic and Social Council, which shall approve or may recommend against;

  4. A party may import opium from any country which was a source for that party during the past ten (10) years preceding 1 January 1961;

  5. Exporting countries are required to establish certain controls;

  6. A party without reference to the controls required of producing countries may export opium seized in the illicit traffic to another party in accordance with the requirements of the Convention.



The publication of this article was requested by Mr. H. J Anslinger, United States representative on the Commission on Narcotic Drugs.

The provision in the Single Convention relating to the production of opium is no less than an invitation for many countries which are not now exporters of opium to become such. It is well known that despite efforts at control, where there is legitimate production and export of opium there is an illicit production and an illicit traffic. The provision in the Single Convention will undoubtedly not only greatly increase the licit supply beyond the medical and scientific needs, but enormously increase the illicit traffic.

If the Single Convention comes into force it will, as between the parties, terminate all existing treaties, including the 1953 Protocol. After waiting so long for the 1953 Protocol to come into force, it would indeed be ironic if the world could not benefit from its provisions.

B. The weakening effect of the reservations provision on the estimates and statistics systems

Of all the obligations assumed by the parties to the existing treaties in force, none are more important than those incorporating the estimates and statistics systems, and the authority of the Permanent Central Board and the Drug Supervisory Body.

Under the 1925 Convention the parties undertook to furnish to the Board estimates of the quantities of each narcotic drug to be imported into their territory for internal consumption during the year. However, it failed to provide a method of determining each country's and the world's total legitimate need of narcotic drugs, as well as to impose binding obligations to keep within those limits.

The 1931 Convention for the limitation of the manufacture of narcotic drugs is based upon estimates which each contracting party agrees to provide. Non-contracting parties also are asked to furnish estimates of the quantities of narcotic drugs required during the ensuing year. The estimates, based solely on medical and scientific requirements, are examined by the Drug Supervisory Body. In the event of a contracting party or a non-contracting party failing to return an estimate, the Supervisory Body establishes an estimate for it. This provision is absolute in respect of contracting parties. The estimates that are furnished under the 1931 Convention are for the total quantities necessary for consumption within the country, and are binding. (Over 70 countries have ratified the 1931 Convention, and not one reservation was made regarding the authority of the Board with reference to the estimates and statistics systems.)

Furthermore, the Permanent Central Board, under the 1931 (and 1925) Convention, may impose an embargo which would prevent a party from exporting narcotics to a party or a non-party beyond the limits of the estimates.

The Single Convention specifically recognizes the right of a party to make a reservation (article 50) to the following provisions: article 12, paragraphs 2 and 3; article 13, paragraph 2; article 14, paragraphs 1 and 2; article 31, paragraph 1 (b); article 48.

A reservation to paragraph 2 of article 12 would permit a party to refuse to recognize the authority of the Board to fix an estimate of a non-party which failed to submit an estimate. The party, not recognizing the Board's estimate, could then export as much opium and narcotic drugs to the non-party as it desired, regardless of whether the amount exceeded the country's medical and scientific needs. The non-party could then flood the illicit market.

A reservation to Paragraph 3 of article 12 would permit a party to refuse to recognize the right of the Board to fix an estimate for any party failing to submit one, including itself.

Paragraph 2 of article 13, to which reservation may be made, is the only paragraph in that article having any real force. The paragraph provides the authority for the Board to examine the returns with a view to determining whether a party or any other state has complied with the provisions of this convention. Suppose every party exercised a reservation to that paragraph, how much authority would the Board derive from the statistics and estimates systems ? It would not have any.

Paragraphs 1 and 2 of article 14 provide the sanctions which the Board may apply to parties which fail to comply with any of the provisions of the Single Convention. It is through this article that the Board is given authority to determine from the statistics and other information whether conditions in a country are endangering the operations of the Convention and to ask for explanations. It is this article which empowers the Board to recommend an embargo on the import and export of drugs to or from an offending country. A reservation to paragraphs 1 and 2 of article 14 removes completely any recognition of authority in the Board to impose sanctions.

Article 31, paragraph 1 (b), imposes an obligation on parties who export narcotic drugs to another country

U.S. views on the Single Convention 11 to do so only within the estimates of the importing country. A party making reservation to that paragraph could export beyond the limits of the estimates, and even though article 21 creates a similar obligation to export only within the limits of the importing country's estimates, a reservation to the power of the Board to fix estimates for countries which do not submit estimates would relieve a party from an obligation to export within any limits to such a country.

The fact that article 21 and article 31, paragraph 1 (b), impose similar obligations yet a reservation is permitted only to the latter paragraph creates still more confusion.

In summary, it can be concluded that the provision in the Single Convention which purports to limit the production of opium will in fact invite an increase in legitimate production from which will follow an increase in the illicit traffic. The attempt to retain in the Single Convention the very important estimates and statistics systems of the 1925 and 1931 conventions has been aborted by the specific reservations which are permitted. For these reasons the United States will not ratify or accede to the Single Convention, and opposes its coming into force as long as it includes these objectionable features which would bring about a retrocession of international narcotic controls.