Work of the Permanent Central Opium Board in 1964


The problem of opium
Economic aspects
The cocaine traffic
I. Measures which should be applied immediately
II. Measures which should be adopted as soon as circumstances permit


Pages: 45 to 50
Creation Date: 1965/01/01

Work of the Permanent Central Opium Board in 1964

The annual report of the Permanent Central Opium Board to the Economic and Social Council on its work has been a regular item of the agenda of both the Council and the Commission on Narcotic Drugs.

The report of the Board [ *] reviews various aspects of international narcotics control including, in particular, the control of the licit trade in narcotics, trends in the movement of such drugs and various questions arising from the coming into force of the International Opium Protocol in 1963 and from the imminent entry into force of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961.

The following are excerpts from the report dealing with the question of opium and of coca leaf and cocaine.

The problem of opium

The United Nations Opium Protocol, which imposes substantial new burdens on governments as well as on international organs, is directed specifically to the problem of opium. This problem was the prime factor leading to international action in the field of narcotic drugs more than fifty years ago; and it is still the basic concern of international narcotics control though, under the impact of preventive measures over several decades, the nature of the problem has been somewhat altered, in that opium as such is no longer as widely misused for non-medical purposes as it was in the earlier part of this century, whereas morphine and heroin, which are obtained from opium, have become the leading commodities in the world illicit market. This change is to be attributed to the very success achieved by international supervision over the licit trade in manufactured narcotic drugs which, as the Board has repeatedly testified, had the effect of reducing to relatively insignificant amounts the diversion of such drugs from licit to illicit channels. In so far as any conclusion can be drawn from the figures on seizures of morphine and heroin, as reported to the Secretary-General of the League of Nations and subsequently to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, it is that the illicit traffic in these drugs was considerably reduced by the application of the 1925 and 1931 Conventions. It seems, however, that after this initial success the illicit traffic could only be contained at a level which was still apallingly high, whatever the fluctuations from year to year. Under continued pressure from the control measures introduced by the Conventions, the pattern of the traffic also underwent a change: whereas at one time illicit traffickers drew their supplies from diversions from legal manufacture or trade, from the later thirties onwards they were no longer able to obtain significant quantities of drugs from this source and were obliged to have recourse to clandestine manufacturers. The latter still have access to ample supplies of opium for the production of morphine and heroin; and this has been the most serious aspect of the opium problem throughout the last three decades.

Clandestine manufacturers provide themselves with opium either ( a) out of diversions from poppy cultivation licitly conducted under what amounts to a national opium monopoly such as is contemplated by the Protocol or the Single Convention; or ( b) from unregulated production. This may be illegal, or if not expressly prohibited by law, may be located in territories not under the effective control of an organized government. It is also the case that certain governments, often for reasons beyond their control, turn a blind eye to production even though it is illegal.

It is of course exceedingly difficult to assess with any high degree of accuracy the quantities derived from each of these two sources but, taking into account all information available to the Board a broad estimate of the outflow can be attempted.

Even in countries where production is governed by a national monopoly system some degree of diversion is almost bound to occur and it may well be that in some of them as much as from 10 to 25 % of the crop flows into illicit channels. This figure reflects the difficulties inherent in controlling an agricultural product and also gives some indication of the scale of the illicit traffic of which, however, only a part flows into international channels. Looking at the matter from another angle, the figures of confiscations reported to the Secretary-General show that the quantities of opium seized from the illicit traffic in one of these countries amount to between 2 and 4%, and in another to between 6 and 15 %, of the quantity delivered by the farmers to the national monopoly. The wide variation in the quantities seized is of course influenced by a variety of factors, some of them fortuitous, but in the nature of things they represent only a small proportion of the quantities actually diverted, and, looked at as a whole, they tend to support the estimate that diversion of opium from legal cultivation into illicit channels is at a rate of between 10 and 25 % of the total harvest - though it does not of course follow that a minimum of 10% is diverted in all regions where production is legally controlled.

Translated into absolute terms this would amount, on a world basis, to an annual diversion of about 180 to 200 tons of opium of which approximately 20 tons a year are seized in the opium-producing countries themselves and about 7 tons outside their borders.

Much of the diverted opium is consumed locally and considerable quantities are used for the manufacture of morphine, often near the place of cultivation. Illicit trade in opium smuggled from the producing countries tends to be regional rather than intercontinental.

Diversion from countries where production is not controlled seems to be on a much larger scale. In the Yunnan-Burma-Laos-Thailand area it has been estimated that the annual production of opium amounts to one thousand tons, and within this figure the annual output in Burma alone is thought to be at least 300 to 400 tons. If these estimates are reasonably correct there can be little doubt that in the aggregate the quantities entering the illicit traffic from opium-producing regions not subjected to government control exceed the total licit production for legitimate purposes.

Much of this opium also is consumed in the country of production or in the adjoining region, but relatively large quantities find their way beyond the region and appear in the international illicit traffic. A large proportion is acquired by clandestine manufacturers who, it seems, tend more and more to operate in or near the areas of cultivation. Relatively little is confiscated by the preventive services. In any event clandestine manufacturers have no great difficulty in obtaining the opium they need.

So long as this situation prevails progress in the fight against the international illicit traffic in morphine and heroin will remain very difficult indeed.

Diversion from government-regulated cultivation and opium derived from unregulated production present two essentially different problems. The one relates to countries where governments possess an adequate administrative structure and exert effective jurisdiction over their whole national territory and the remedy lies in strengthening the system of control. There are difficulties no doubt, but these can be overcome. National and international public opinion and some measure of foreign aid where needed may assist reform.

The problem of large-scale, uncontrolled production, however, is one of much greater difficulty and complexity, because the countries concerned do not in general possess a fully adequate administration and in some instances the governments cannot exert authority in every part of their national territory and particularly in their opium-growing regions. In such circumstances it is hardly to be expected that the authorities can suppress or effectively control the production of opium. It is unnecessary in this context to explore the underlying causes of this deficiency and indeed they may differ from country to country; but the situation certainly cannot be remedied by goodwill alone, particularly if this is confined to a few leading officials. Administrative insufficiency where it exists is not of course an isolated phenomenon unrelated to the other conditions prevailing in the country and the Board has always recognized that national administrative capacity depends on the current level of political, economic and social development in the country concerned. It follows that decisive improvement in this major sector of supply to the illicit market cannot be accomplished in the absence of international assistance on a very large scale. Moreover, the choice of ways and means of promoting political stability and socio-economic advance is dependent on broader considerations than those of improving international narcotics control. It has to be acknowledged also that the rendering of international assistance on this plane is beyond the scope and competence of the international organs specifically concerned with narcotics. Yet these organs can make a certain contribution: for example by strengthening the arguments for international aid when the country in question has a large uncontrolled production of opium; and by ensuring that when aid of this kind is planned due regard is had to the interest of international society in ensuring effective control over narcotics.

A task so huge and difficult as this manifestly requires the combined efforts not only of the United Nations and other intergovernmental organizations but also, and above all, of all governments.

A certain measure of optimism is permissible, however, in regard to reducing diversion of opium in regulated areas, provided always that the governments concerned comply strictly with the provisions of the 1953 Protocol or of the Single Convention - that is to say if opium production is permitted only in districts designated by the Opium Monopoly, and if cultivation is restricted to farmers licensed to grow the opium poppy and to the plots specified in their permits. These should be clearly identified by an exact description and if possible by reference to a land cadastre. For the latter purpose it is desirable that cadastral surveys should be undertaken of all opium-producing regions where these have not yet been made. An essential, indeed imperative, requirement is that the opium should be collected by the responsible authorities immediately after harvest and that collection should not be entrusted to middlemen. The plots on which the poppy is grown should be inspected and it would be well to measure them both before and after the plants have begun to grow.

Another desirable reform is stricter management of the licensing system. The licensing authorities should be empowered to refuse a licence to farmers whose past record does not provide reasonable assurance that they will surrender their total product to the Monopoly. The Indian practice of refusing licences to farmers whose yield per acre is comparatively low is to be recommended as being calculated to eliminate not only those who are inefficient but also those who are believed to sell part of their crop to illicit traffickers. The system of payment to the farmers should also be so designed as to encourage them to surrender their entire produce to the Government Monopoly. Following Indian practice it might be helpful to pay a higher price per unit of weight of opium to a farmer whose yield per acre is relatively high. Sliding price scales might be adopted for this purpose. Finally there should be effective penalties, which should be particularly severe for illicit traffickers who buy opium from the farmer.

Full implementation by national authorities of the provisions of the 1953 Protocol or of the corresponding provisions of the Single Convention would be the most important factor in reducing diversions from legal cultivation into illicit channels, and international organs also are called upon to play an important role in this connexion. The Board for its part will do all in its power to bring about improvements and it is ready, within the means at its disposal, to render assistance to any government which desires such help in connexion with statistical and other problems which may arise under the Protocol and so far as these may fall within its jurisdiction. The Board is confident that in exercising its new functions it will continue to have the full and sympathetic co-operation of all concerned, whether in individual governments or in international organizations.

Economic aspects

The main reason why opium is diverted from licit cultivation into illicit channels is that illicit traffickers offer substantially higher prices than those paid by the national opium monopolies. The temptation thereby held out to the farmers, who are often men of small means, must be difficult to resist, though such payments are small compared with the huge profits obtainable by the traffickers themselves. On the other hand it is doubtful whether the payment of higher prices by the opium monopolies would perceptibly reduce diversion since the trafficker would always be in a position to outbid these prices; and it is only right to acknowledge that in some countries the bulk of the crop is even now delivered to thc monopolies.

The world's needs for opium as a raw material of morphine have expanded considerably in recent times as a result of the extension of the benefits of modern medicine to more and more people, and a particular factor has been the increased consumption of codeine, an opium derivative mainly made from morphine. In the last few years, however, the situation has changed somewhat for, while consumption of codeine has continued to grow, an increasing proportion of the morphine from which codeine is made is produced from poppy straw. At present only about two-thirds of licit morphine is made from opium, the remaining third being made from poppy straw. As a consequence the rise in the world demand for opium has recently halted, but whether this is a temporary or more permanent phenomenon remains to be seen. The view has been expressed that high opium prices may lead to a greater use of poppy straw in the manufacture of morphine and may even accelerate the discovery of satisfactory synthetic substitutes for codeine. At all events the opium exporting countries cannot disregard the competition of poppy straw and, to a minor extent, that of synthetic products when planning their price policy; and their, ability to raise the prices paid to opium farmers is in any case very limited.

At the time of preparing this report the world market price of opium is depressed and scrutiny of the prices realized by the two principal exporting countries from 1951 to 1964 shows that the price currently obtained by one of them is at its lowest level since 1951 while that of the other is near this level.

This of course creates a difficult situation for the opium-exporting countries since they already have to incur considerable expenditure on their system of control and their costs will further increase to the extent that they apply the additional security measures which they are now called upon to adopt.

It is a matter of serious concern to governments and international organs that the general price level of primary commodities exported by developing countries is often depressed at a time when their import bill for essential manufactured goods is on the increase. The Economic and Social Council may wish to consider whether action is called for to meet the situation in regard to opium and if so whether it should be by way of general or specific measures.

The cocaine traffic

While the illicit traffic in opiates remains the principal problem, that in cocaine also gives cause for serious concern because of a tendency to increase in recent years. The latter traffic derives chiefly from Bolivia and Peru where the coca bush, whose leaves are the raw material for cocaine, grows extensively. Control is nowhere really effective and over wide areas there is no control at all. Large sectors of the population habitually chew the leaves, absorbing the cocaine content with harmful consequences to their health. It also reduces the pangs of hunger and indeed many of those who chew the leaves do so because they are often short of food by reason of the economic hazards of the Andean Highlands and are to this extent dependent on the stimulus afforded by coca chewing.

It is obviously essential that cultivation of the coca bush should be effectively controlled and limited to what is required to satisfy medical needs and such other legitimate purposes as the production of a flavouring agent; and it is no less essential that chewing should be eradicated. Until these two objectives can be accomplished clandestine operators will continue to be able to obtain abundant supplies of leaves for the manufacture of cocaine for the illicit market.

Administrative improvements and more rigorous application of penal provisions can scarcely suffice by themselves to solve the problem and must be supplemented by the introduction of substitute crops, a general increase in earnings and a higher nutritional standard among the lower income groups. Such reforms take time and indeed can only gradually be brought about and the Single Convention itself recognizes the need for a gradual approach to the problem. Even so the Board feels that action hitherto has been excessively slow and that even now much too little is being done.

The Board is gratified that the governments concerned are receiving international assistance in their efforts to advance their economic and social development and in particular to embark on the monumental task of improving the lot of the Indian population of the highlands to which the coca leaf chewers mostly belong. It hopes that in the international interest this assistance will be continued and if possible materially increased.

The Board recalls that last year it examined the indications that Bolivia had become a centre of illicit traffic in cocaine. In January 1964 at the invitation of the Government the Board sent a Mission to Bolivia to discuss the situation on the spot with the officials concerned.

The Mission, which was led by Dr. Vladimir Kuševic, a member of the Board, made a thorough study of the problem and visited a coca-growing area. The Board gratefully acknowledges that in carrying out its task the Mission had the full co-operation and support of the President of the Republic and of his ministers and other Bolivian officials.

Agreement was reached between the Minister of Public Health and the Mission as to the immediate and long range remedial action to be taken. The actual text of the agreement is as follows:

The Minister for Public Health and the representatives of the Permanent Central Opium Board and the United Nations have agreed that it is essential to adopt the following measures to combat the illicit traffic in cocaine

I. Measures which should be applied immediately

  1. A National Narcotic Drugs Commission should be established, to be composed of representatives of all the Ministries and institutions concerned with the production and consumption of coca leaf and with the fight against the illicit traffic in narcotic drugs. This Commission should co-ordinate measures designed:

    1. To reduce the production of coca leaf and replace it by other crops until it is completely eliminated;

    2. Gradually to reduce coca-leaf chewing until this harmful habit is completely eradicated;

    3. To combat the illicit traffic in narcotic drugs, especially cocaine;

    4. To combat drug addiction.

  2. The maximum penalties should be imposed for clandestine manufacture of and illicit traffic in narcotic drugs; in particular, persons charged with these offences should not be released on bail. If considered advisable, a special court could be established to deal with cases of clandestine manufacture of and illicit traffic in narcotic drugs.

  3. A special police division should be formed which will deal solely with illicit manufacture of and traffic in narcotic drugs. This special division should be trained in Bolivia by specialists from friendly countries or by experts seconded under United Nations technical assistance arrangements or through other competent international bodies. Pending the establishment of this special division, the general police should increase their vigilance.

  4. Informers should be given substantial rewards in accordance with article 2 of the Narcotic Drugs Act of 10 January 1962.

  5. Control should be intensified at the frontiers, in particular at regular crossing points, on international trains, along rivers and waterways, and at airports.

  6. Continuous contact should be maintained with the enforcement agencies of neighbouring countries and of countries affected by the illicit traffic; information should be exchanged on drug traffickers and on the crossing points, routes and methods they use.

  7. Co-operation between the frontier control services of Bolivia and of neighbouring countries should be intensified.

  8. The educational campaign against the coca-leaf chewing habit should be intensified through every possible medium: school books, the Press, radio, cinema, etc.

  9. The peasants should be supplied with seeds for planting in place of coca, and a system of credits to finance the change-over should be worked out.

  10. A comprehensive study should be made of the economic and social problems arising from the cultivation and chewing of coca leaf, and a study of the illicit traffic in narcotic drugs; technical assistance in carrying out these studies should be requested from the United Nations.

  11. When these studies have been completed, a national conference should be convened to decide what measures should be adopted to solve the problems created by the coca leaf and the illicit traffic in cocaine. This conference might be attended by representatives of the Ministries and institutions concerned with these problems ( Comibol, trade unions, churches, etc.). Invitations should be extended to representatives of neighbouring or friendly countries and to the international organizations concerned, in particular the United Nations (Division of Narcotic Drugs), the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Labour Organisation, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the United Nations Children's Fund, INTERPOL, the Pan American Sanitary Bureau, etc.

  12. Authorization for the export of coca-leaf should be granted only on production of the appropriate import licence issued by the competent authority of the country of destination.

II. Measures which should be adopted as soon as circumstances permit

  1. A new census of all coca plantations should be taken in order to ascertain their total area.

  2. Legislation should be enacted to reduce the coca-leaf chewing habit by degrees and to eliminate it completely within a specified period not to exceed twenty-five years.

  3. A detailed plan should be drawn up to end coca leaf production within a specified period, to be fixed with due regard for all aspects of the problem but not to exceed twenty-five years.

  4. This plan should provide for the establishment of an official agency with sole responsibility for:

    1. Delimiting the areas and designating the plots of land for authorized cultivation of coca leaf under special licence;

    2. Purchasing the entire coca-leaf crop and taking possession of it as soon as possible after the end of the harvest. It should be understood that all growers are bound to hand over their entire crop to the official agency;

    3. The wholesale and export trade in coca leaf and the maintenance of stocks;

    4. The issue of licences to merchants authorized to sell coca leaf, who must sell only to consumers holding a book also issued by the official agency. A merchant selling coca leaf to an authorized consumer shall be required to enter in the consumer's book the quantity sold and the date of sale.

  5. When this agency has been set up and the above mentioned control measures have been adopted, the appropriate legislation will be enacted to impose penalties for any breach of the regulations.

  6. The taxation of coca leaf should be increased and the taxes on crops replacing it should be reduced.

The Board is prepared to support such requests for technical assistance as the Government of Bolivia may wish to submit in connexion with the above matters.

( Signed) Dr. Guillermo JÁUREGUI GUACHALLA,

Minister for Public Health

( Signed) Vladimir KUŠEVIC

Member of the Permanent Central Opium Board of the United Nations

La Paz, Bolivia

30 January 1964

* * *

The Board has been particularly disquieted by the fact that Bolivia permitted the export of coca leaves without a previous import authorization from the country of destination. It now awaits early fulfilment of the undertaking given in clause 12 of the Agreement as promised orally to the Mission by the President of the Republic.

By a decree dated 20 November 1962, the President of Bolivia had already prohibited new coca-bush plantations and extension of existing plantations and it is welcome news that in clause 15 of the present Agreement the Government now aims at complete suppression of coca cultivation within a definite period. In recent decades the coca leaf has lost much of its former importance as the source of cocaine used in medical practice. Annual world consumption of cocaine has decreased from about 3,500 kg. in 1936 to about 1,200 kg. at present, and this despite the increase in world population and the large expansion of medical services which has meanwhile taken place. In fact cocaine is very little used in present-day medicine and the need for it is expected to diminish still further. The leaves are still used for making a flavouring substance, but such use applies to only a very small fraction of the present crops and if cultivation in Bolivia were completely suppressed this demand could be readily satisfied from other sources.

It is to be hoped that the penal measures indicated in clause 2 of the Agreement will be quickly introduced and applied and that they will, in the special conditions of that country, prove to be effective in curbing illicit manufacture and traffic. But it is, of course, important that when arrests are made prosecution should be undertaken without undue delay and the President of Bolivia assured the Mission that he had in fact instructed the Minister of Justice to arrange for the expeditious prosecution of traffickers.

In 1949 the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on the Coca Leaf visited the coca-leaf producing countries in the Andean region and recommended measures similar to those proposed in the present Agreement, but in the fifteen years which have since elapsed little if any progress has been made in implementing these recommendations.

With the adoption of the present Agreement the time has now arrived for positive action and the Board will continue to follow the situation closely, not only in Bolivia but also in Colombia and Peru.


*Document EOB/20, November 1964.