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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 1925 Geneva Opium Conventions

Even though the U.S. had chosen not to join the League of Nations, its influence in international drug control matters remained strong. Worried by the 1912 Hague Convention’s limited effect on the smuggling of opium and, increasingly, drugs manufactured in East Asia, the U.S. pressured the League to convene a new conference. The League feared that if it did not comply, the U.S. might act independently.[1][25]

Between November 1924 and February 1925, two back-to-back conferences were held, and two separate treaties were concluded. The first Geneva Convention[2][26] focused on opium-producing nations; signatories were permitted to sell opium only through government-run monopolies and were required to end the trade completely within 15 years.  

The second Geneva Convention, the International Opium Convention[3][27] (1925 Geneva Convention), was intended to impose global controls over a wider range of drugs, including, for the first time, cannabis, which was referred to as “Indian hemp” (marijuana) in Article 11 of the Convention. Articles 21 to 23 required Parties to provide annual statistics on drug stocks and consumption; the production of raw opium and coca; and the manufacture and distribution of heroin, morphine and cocaine. Chapter VI replaced the OCB with an eight-member Permanent Central Opium Board (PCOB).[4][28] Chapter V of the second Convention set up a PCOB-monitored import certification system to control the international drug trade by limiting the amount that each country could legally import.  

While the 1912 Hague Convention had focused on domestic controls, the Geneva Conventions were an attempt to improve transnational control. The U.S. had proposed strict adherence to the principle that drugs should be used only for medical and scientific purposes and that there should be stringent controls on drug production at the source. When these proposals were flatly rejected at the second conference, the U.S. delegation walked out of the conference and never signed the treaties. The Chinese delegation withdrew as well, because no agreement could be reached on the suppression of opium smoking.[5][29] Instead, the two countries concentrated on enforcing the 1912 Hague Convention.


[1][25]  McAllister (2000), page 50-51.

[2][26]  Agreement concerning the Manufacture of, Internal Trade in, and Use of Prepared Opium, done 11 February 1925, in force 28 July 1926.

[3][27]  Done 19 February 1925; in force 25 September 1928.

[4][28]  The PCOB was intended to be impartial and politically disinterested, but its operations remain extremely political to this day (it still exists). Since its inception, its membership has always included a representative from Britain, the U.S. and France. (McAllister (2000), page 83)

[5][29]  Bruun et al. (1975), page 14.

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