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The New York Times July 3, 1921
OPIUM EVIL UP TO LEAGUE
Challenge as to Whether Real Control Is to Be Exercised Follows Geneva Report
By Elizabeth Washburne Wright, Assessor to the Opium Advisory Committee of the League of Nations.
The opium question is again before the world. According to the terms of the Versailles
Treaty, the opium question was placed under the jurisdiction of the League of Nations,
America, being neither a party to the Versailles Treaty nor to the League of Nations, had
no official voice in the recent meeting held in Geneva. But America cannot be eliminated
from its solution, as opium is a problem which she has to meet.
This is the menace. But it must not be taken too seriously. China demonstrated the capacity when, in a few years, she practically wiped the poppy from her fields. With a stable Government her laws can once more be enforced and the will of he people be given expression, as it was in 1919, when the Government in Peking openly burned opium to the value of $15,000,000.
Opium Committee Appointed.
The Netherlands Government has turned over to the League of Nations duties hitherto carried out by that Government, in so far as they relate to the Governments which are parties to the League. In February last a committee was appointed by the Assembly to advise the Council as to its future program. This committee was composed of representatives from eight countries particularly interested in the opium question---Great Britain, France, Holland, Portugal, China, Japan, Siam and India. To this committee were added three assessors or experts, chosen because of their knowledge of the subject and irrespective of nationality.
According to Article 295 of the Versailles Treaty, the signing of that treaty was equivalent to the signing of the protocol opened at The Hague. This refers to the signatory and belligerent powers alone. The neutral and non signatory powers, however, having either signed or ratified the opium convention of 1912, being, therefore, still under the jurisdiction of the Netherlands Government, have been asked by that Government to fulfill their further obligations by signing the protocol at The Hague, which will bring them in line with the treaty powers.
As for the recent meeting of the Opium Committee held in Geneva, there is a feeling
that the League failed to take advantage of the great opportunity presented. The opium
question is free from politics. It deals primarily with the welfare of humanity. And it
was generally understood that the League would express specifically its intention of
pressing this problem to its ultimate conclusion, irrespective of material interests
involved. But there seemed to be a determined effort on the part of the majority of the
committee to restrict the convention to a most rigid interpretation---to stick to the
League's Great Opportunity.
The Indian Government is prepared to abide by the strict letter of the convention, and agrees to prohibit the exportation of opium to countries which have laws against its importation, but it refuses to curtail its trade to countries accepting the drug. This means that opium inevitably makes its way through illicit channels to countries which prohibit, thus defeating the purpose of the convention of 1912.
For a hundred and fifty years opium has been a curse to humanity. It has all but undermined one of the greatest nations of the East---and, unless checked, presents a menace of increasing seriousness to the West. The opium monopolies of the East must be abandoned.
The giving up of slavery entailed great financial sacrifice. But Great Britain, at the Congress of Vienna in 1815, was the first to propose its abolition. It took, in America, an appalling civil war to accomplish the same end. The opium habit is worse than slavery. The drug should not be tolerated as a basis of revenue, an obsolete practice inherited from a primitive and unethical past.
The opium problem presents to the League of Nations an extraordinary opportunity. If it can bring about its solution, that alone would justify its being. But it must be prepared to see it through to the end irrespective of material interests involved.
It is not necessary or desirable to pull down ruthlessly the financial structure of India or the colonies of the East, which at present rests upon this unwise source of revenue. But the principle of its eventual abolition must be accepted, and other means of raising revenue substituted. That opium is of incalculable value to humanity when legitimately used is undeniable. But once released from these bounds, it becomes an instrument of immeasurable evil.
The opium raising countries of the world today are India, Turkey, Persia, and China. It is not just that the burden of sacrifice should fall alone upon the shoulders of India. Persia is already a party to the convention of 1912 --though with reservations. And Turkey , through the Treaty of Sèvres must eventually submit to similar restrictions. China will do again what she has done before; public opinion there will demand this when she once more has a Government capable of enforcing laws. India, the best government of all Eastern countries, can see her laws enforced at will. Therefore, with India rests the greatest responsibility of all.
Opium should be placed on a plane with radium, as something of infinite worth to humanity, and of great monetary value. As the cultivation of the poppy is restricted to what is needed for medicinal use, the price must automatically ascend, and opium will still remain a large factor in the revenue of the East, but its value will be based on the legitimate need for it, not on its power to corrupt.
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