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Major Studies of Drugs and Drug Policy
Canadian Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs
Volume 3 - Public Policy Options

Chapter 19 - The International Legal Environment 

The Second World War

In the late 1930s, the Opium Advisory Committee (OAC) of the League of Nations began to question the international drug control regime’s emphasis on prohibition and law enforcement. Some countries proposed combating abuse through public health approaches, including psychological treatment, dispensary clinics and educational programs. Asserting the U.S. belief that addicts could only be cured through institutionalization, Anslinger, supported by Sharman, was able to block all OAC efforts to consider social and etiological approaches to drug problems. Instead, at Anslinger’s insistence, the focus remained on developing a new treaty to impose prohibition and supply control worldwide.[1][40]  

Ironically, in anticipation of war, many countries (in particular the U.S.) built up stockpiles of opium and opium products intended for medical purposes.[2][41] The Second World War put further development of the international drug control apparatus on hold.


The 1946 Lake Success Protocol

Following the war, the drug control bodies and functions of the League of Nations were folded into the newly formed United Nations.[3][42] The UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) took over primary responsibility through its Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), which replaced the OAC. Under the CND, the Division of Narcotic Drugs (DND) was charged with the preparatory work for conferences. The PCOB and the DSB continued under the CND in their respective roles of compiling statistics for national estimates and administering previous treaties. Canada’s Sharman became the first Chair of the CND and also held a seat on the DSB.

All these changes in responsibility and organization meant that the existing international drug control treaties had to be amended. The amendments were made in a Protocol[4][43] signed at Lake Success, New York, on 110 December 1946.


The 1948 Paris Protocol

Anslinger and Sharman campaigned hard to ensure that the CND would report directly to ECOSOC as an independent organization. They were afraid that if the main drug control apparatus was a larger health or social issues organization, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) or the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), etiology and treatment issues might take precedence over the prohibition focus. In particular, they wanted to ensure that governments would be represented by law enforcement officials rather than physicians or others with sociology or public health backgrounds. Furthermore, the USSR showed interest in considering the social factors underlying drug abuse. For the Western powers to have agreed with the Soviet Union would have undermined their hard-line stance against Moscow and communism in the looming Cold War.

Although control remained principally with ECOSOC, the World Health Organization (WHO), in particular its Drug Dependence Expert Committee, became responsible for deciding what substances should be regulated.[5][44] This authority was given to the WHO in an international Protocol[6][45] signed in Paris in 1948. Article 1 stated that if the WHO found a drug to be “capable of producing addiction or of conversion into a product capable of producing addiction,” it would decide how to classify the drug within the international drug control structure. The Protocol also brought under international control specific synthetic opiates not covered by previous treaties.


The 1953 New York Opium Protocol

By the late 1940s, it became clear that the large number of international drug treaties, with their differing types and levels of control, had become confusing and unwieldy. Anslinger, Sharman and their allies had the CND recommend to ECOSOC the idea of consolidating all existing treaties into one document. It would also be an opportunity to bring in more stringent prohibition-based controls.[7][46] This plan was sidelined for a decade when the Director of the DND, Leon Steinig, proposed the creation of an “International Opium Monopoly” in an attempt to end the illicit trade and guarantee wholesale licit opium supply.

Throughout the 1950s, Cold War tensions pushed Anslinger to rebuild the U.S. stockpile of opium and opium derivatives, often by making large purchases from Iran through U.S. pharmaceutical companies. Many European countries were also stockpiling. The multinational pharmaceutical companies in Europe and the U.S. feared that a monopoly like the one proposed by Steinig would lead to restrictions and higher prices. Anslinger and Sharman along with the British, Dutch and French killed the monopoly discussions in the CND. The French representative on the CND, Charles Vaille, suggested a new opium protocol as an interim solution until the treaties could be consolidated. ECOSOC approved a plenipotentiary conference, and Anslinger seized the new protocol initiative as an opportunity to impose strict global controls on opium production.[8][47]  

The Protocol[9][48] (1953 Opium Protocol), finalized in New York in 1953, Article 2 stated bluntly that Parties were required to “limit the use of opium exclusively to medical and scientific needs.” Various provisions were included to control the cultivation of the poppy and the production and distribution of opium. Article 6 restricted opium production to seven states, and Parties could only import or export opium produced in one of those countries.[10][49] The Protocol comprised the most stringent international drug control provisions yet, but it never gained the support Anslinger had hoped for. It did not receive sufficient ratifications to bring it into force until 1963, and by then it had been superseded by the 1961 Single Convention.



[1][40]  McAllister (2000), page 126-127.

[2][41]  The possibility of war accentuated the hypocrisy and opportunistic nature of the U.S. prohibitionist position. In 1939, Anslinger “was simultaneously pursuing a League-sponsored treaty to curtail agricultural production in far-off lands, a regional agreement that would allow him to commence poppy cultivation at home, and a global acquisition program that amassed the world’s largest cache of licit opium yet assembled.” (McAllister (2000), page 133)

[3][42]  See Bewley-Taylor (1999), page 54-59; Bruun et al. (1975), page 54-65.

[4][43]  Protocol amending the Agreements, Conventions and Protocols on Narcotic Drugs concluded at The Hague on 23 January 1912, at Geneva on 11 February 1925 and 19 February 1925 and 13 July 1931, at Bangkok on 27 November 1931, and at Geneva on 26 June 1936, done 11 December 1946, in force 11 December 1946.

[5][44]  Bruun et al. (1975), page 70.

[6][45]  Protocol Bringing under International Control Drugs outside the Scope of the Convention of 13 July 1931, for Limiting the Manufacture and Regulating the Distribution of Narcotic Drugs, as amended by the Protocol signed at Lake Success, New York, on 11 December 1946, done 19 November 1948, in force 1 December 1949.

[7][46]  ECOSOC approved the recommendation in two resolutions: 159 II D (VII) of 3 August 1948, and 246 D (IX) of 6 July 1949. See also McAllister (2000), page 172; Bewley-Taylor (1999), page 137.

[8][47]  McAllister (2000), page 172-179.

[9][48]  Protocol for Limiting and Regulating the Cultivation of the Poppy Plant, the Production of, International and Wholesale Trade in, and Use of, Opium, done 23 June 1953, in force 8 March 1963.

[10][49]  The seven producing countries were Bulgaria, Greece, India, Iran, Turkey, the USSR and Yugoslavia.

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