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2. 1 The international control system PDF Print E-mail
Written by Dolf Tops   
Wednesday, 17 February 2010 00:00

2. 1 The international control system

The initiative to establish an international control system of narcotics came from the United States, and can be related to the rise of the US as a major power at the end of the nineteenth century. In Wallerstein's words, the US was moving from a position as a former peripheral colony to a position in the core area in the international community (Collins 1989). In 1908, preparations started in the US to gather the major powers in Shanghai to discuss how China could be assisted in its struggle against opium smoking. Roosevelt saw the advantages of a conference initiated by the US against the drug trade. Britain would appear in a bad light, the position of the US among the other superpowers would be strengthened and anti-American feelings in China, due to the suppression of the Chinese minority in the US, would be tempered. However, economic and political considerations were not the only reasons for the American strategy. In the US, abolitionist temperance movements were agitating against the use of alcohol but also of tobacco and narcotics, entailing a strong political support for prohibition.

The Shanghai conference of 1909 was the first attempt to establish an international control system on narcotics. The first international treaty in Shanghai had the character of a trade treaty. The substance concerned was opium and some of its derivatives. Not only countries in or with possessions in the Far East received an invitation to the conference, but also opium producers like Turkey and Persia. Among the invited countries twelve accepted; France, Germany, China, Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Japan, Portugal, Russia, Austria-Hungary, Persia, and Siam. At the end of the meeting nine resolutions were agreed on, of which the most important were:

· each government should gradually suppress opium for smoking;
· national laws should be re-examined;
· opium should not be exported to countries whose laws prohibit its import.

Opium and cocaine plants were not grown domestically in the US, and the American assumption was that if other countries controlled their internal production and exports of narcotics the problem would be solved. At the next conference in The Hague, the regulation of international narcotic traffic was in focus and, just as in Shanghai, most participating countries had vast interests to protect. The conference resulted in the Opium Treaty of 23 January 1912. Important results were that the signatories should:

· regulate the import, export and distribution of raw opium
· supress opium for smoking as far as national circumstances allowed this
· permit the production of cocaine and opiates like morphine and heroin solely for medical or scientific purposes.

At the conference, a paragraph was adopted that committed the signatories to establish national regulations for the production and sale of narcotics. The last provision directly led to the Opium Act in the Netherlands in 1919 and the Promulgation on Narcotics in Sweden in 1923. This was the first occasion that national regulations were subjected to international commitments. In the aftermath of the First World War, the League of Nations was established and international control of drugs became the responsibility of the League. In 1925, the Geneva Opium Conference was held. The participants agreed that the import of narcotics by manufacturers would be restricted to medical and scientific purposes only. The US regarded international control of the production of narcotics as an absolute necessity to a solution of their domestic drug problem. The uncontrolled availability of drugs was considered the main problem. The Dutch did not share this view. The Dutch Minister of Labour Affairs wrote in 1923: "Only by lifting their moral standards can the American population be saved from this deeply spread evil. From the stopgap ­ limitation of production ­ little advantage can be expected" (de Kort 1995: 71). In other words, the American problem was regarded in the same way as opium smoking in the Orient; it was a matter of civilisation. At the next conference in Geneva in 1931, manufacture of narcotics was also on the agenda. Morphine, cocaine, and heroin were manufactured on a large scale in Britain, Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. This time producer countries were not only in the Orient
but also in Europe, which meant an expansion of the control system. At the conference a treaty was adopted that called for control of the trade in as well as cultivation and manufacture of narcotic substances. To de Kort (1995: 76), the shortcoming in controlling illegal trade and production was the impetus for the next conference in Geneva in 1936. The system to control the legal manufacture of drugs like heroin, morphine, and cocaine was to function quite well and showed that control of legal production and trade was possible. A side effect, though, was that illegal manufacture moved to less controlled areas like Turkey. At the conference, later known as the Police Treaty, commitments were made to suppress illicit traffic in drugs. All signatories pledged to include imprisonment for drug crimes in national drug acts. Until then, a fine had been the only possible penalty. Furthermore, the treaty made it possible to extradite suspects to other countries. This was the last international treaty before the outbreak of World War II.


The main feature of the development of the international drug control system until the Second World War is a growing control apparatus that covered an increasing number of fields.

Figure 3. Different stages in the development of international control of narcotics before World War II.

The international control system gradually developed from regulating control of trade and production, to control of trafficking of narcotics. The other Western powers only reluctantly committed themselves to the efforts by the US to establish an international control system and tried to protect their revenues from the opium trade and manufacture of narcotics (e.g. morphine, heroin, and cocaine).

Last Updated on Sunday, 02 January 2011 21:24

Our valuable member Dolf Tops has been with us since Sunday, 19 December 2010.

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