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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 

Protocol amending the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961

In the early 1970s, U.S. President Richard Nixon officially declared “war on drugs” in response to the massive drug abuse in the U.S. and the social damage it was causing. This announcement had global repercussions.[1][79]  

In 1971, as part of the Nixon administration’s international anti-narcotics campaign, U.S. officials suggested creating a government-funded, UN-administered fund to combat drug abuse.[2][80] The United Nations Fund for Drug Abuse Control (UNFDAC) was launched in 1971 with an initial $2 million donation from the U.S. Other governments were reluctant to contribute because of the motives behind the Fund. This reluctance was well founded as UNFDAC essentially became a U.S. tool. The emphasis was on law enforcement and crop substitution rather than abuse and demand-oriented strategies. Money went primarily to projects that involved U.S. allies and focused on countries where the U.S. had been unable to stop opium production.[3][81]  

The Fund was also sharply criticized for succumbing to the inefficiency of the UN’s bureaucratic machinery: “A large proportion of the money allocated to the Fund’s various programs is in fact spent on supporting an ever-expanding bureaucracy to administer the programs. Indeed many of the Programs appear to serve no purpose other than to provide occupation for the enlarged secretariats.”[4][82] It was also argued that the UNFDAC should be transferred from the drug control bodies under ECOSOC to the United Nations Development Program, which was better able to assess the development and aid needs of recipient countries.[5][83]  

Another key initiative of the Nixon administration was to strengthen the Single Convention. As a result of heavy U.S. lobbying, a UN plenipotentiary conference was convened in March 1972 to amend the Convention.[6][84] What came out of the conference was the Single Convention Protocol. The main goal of the amendments was to expand the INCB’s role in controlling licit and illicit opium production and illicit drug trafficking in general. The U.S. wanted to revive certain aspects of the 1953 Opium Protocol by attempting to reduce licit opium production. However, in 1972, licit production was just meeting licit demand, and few countries were willing to risk a global shortage of opium for medical use.[7][85] Consequently, the U.S. proposals were significantly diluted.

The backbone of the Single Convention Protocol consists of provisions that enhance the INCB’s powers, especially in relation to illicit trafficking. In Article 2 of the Single Convention, the definition of the INCB’s functions now includes an explicit reference to the prevention of “illicit cultivation, production and manufacture of, and illicit trafficking in and use of, drugs.” Article 35 encourages Parties to supply the INCB and the CND with information on the illicit drug activity in their territory; as well, the INCB is empowered to advise Parties on their efforts to reduce illicit drug trafficking. When Parties conclude extradition treaties with one another, such agreements are now deemed to automatically include the drug-related offences set out in the Single Convention, including trafficking.[8][86] Article 22(2) of the Psychotropics Convention says only that it is “desirable” that such offences be made extraditable.

The Protocol amended the Single Convention’s abuse prevention provisions to bring them into line with Article 20 of the Psychotropics Convention.[9][87] The amended Single Convention also echoes the Psychotropics Convention by now allowing countries to use “treatment, education, after-care, rehabilitation and social reintegration” either as an alternative to or in addition to conviction or punishment.[10][88]  

Although not as stringent as originally intended by the U.S., the Single Convention Protocol continued the prohibitive tradition of the international drug control regime, especially against opium, and stepped up the war on illicit trafficking.



[1][79]  Musto (1999), page 248-259; Bruun et al. (1975), ch. 10.

[2][80]  The U.S. campaign included massive international funding for crop substitution, technical assistance to improve the administration and law enforcement, initiatives to combat smuggling, and coordination of educational programs. However, many developing countries were wary of U.S. money with strings attached. The Americans saw the Fund as a way to get around that reluctance. (McAllister (2000), page 236-237)

[3][81]  Ibid., page 238.

[4][82]  Bruun et al. (1975), page 281.

[5][83]  Ibid., page 282; Kušević (1975), page 51.

[6][84]  U.S. ambassadors were selected specifically for the purpose of visiting signatory countries to persuade their leaders to support the amendments proposed by the U.S. It is widely believed that the conference was largely an instrument that Nixon planned to use in the approaching presidential election. (Kušević (1975), page 47)

[7][85]  Kušević (1975), page 48. According to Kušević, it would have been better to try to reduce the diversion of licit demand into the illicit market.

[8][86]  Single Convention, Article 36, as amended by the Single Convention Protocol, Article 14.

[9][87]  Ibid., Article 38, as amended by the Single Convention Protocol, Article 15.

[10][88]  Ibid., Article 36, as amended by the Single Convention Protocol, Article 14.

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