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Major Studies of Drugs and Drug Policy
Drug Addiction, Crime or Disease?

Drug Addiction, Crime or Disease?

Interim and Final Reports of the Joint Committee of the American Bar Association and the American Medical Association on Narcotic Drugs.


An Appraisal of International, British and Selected European Narcotic Drug Laws, Regulations and Policies


No one sensitive to the deplorable part our forebears played in the Opium Wars and the commercial exploitation of the traffic in smoking opium in the Far East can wholly deprecate international efforts to suppress the drug traffic. Early in this century the United States gave vigorous leadership to a world-wide movement to stamp out opium smoking. President Theodore Roosevelt initiated the discussions which led to the Hague Opium Convention of 1912 1 (and our own Congress had been attempting to stamp out American participation in the traffic since the first Opium Tax Act of 1890).2 Opium smoking and the illicit traffic in crude opium are no longer a problem of significance except domestically in national communities where the poppy is still cultivated.

But, perhaps because of this success, the United States has also remained a vigorous supporter of international efforts to prohibit trafficking in manufactured drugs (morphine, heroin, etc.) as well. And here its leadership has been less universally acknowledged. Because the raw materials of drug manufacture are not produced in this country and manufacture is relatively easy to control, our illicit traffic has always been fed almost exclusively by smuggling activities. Thus if all other nations could be induced to agree to curb manufacture, export, and uncontrolled trafficking in the drugs which feed our illicit market, our problem would be solved.

The extent to which American spokesmen have continued to dominate the international scene in this field is impressive. Our representatives have always been principally identified with the activities of the narcotic drug section of the League of Nations and its Opium Advisory Committee. Our Federal Narcotic Bureau has never lost its close connections with the work of the League and its successor organization, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs of the United Nations Economic and Social Council. Today the U. S. Commissioner of Narcotics serves as Chairman of the fifteen-member UN Commission.

The 1912 Convention, besides committing its signatories to impose limits and controls on the production, manufacture and distribution of opium and coca products, bound them to enact national laws curbing the export of drugs to illicit foreign markets. There have been eight international agreements since: the Geneva Convention of 1925,3 attempting to set up a production quota system and establishing the Permanent Central Opium Board to administer it; the Geneva Opium Agreement of 1925,4 binding the principal Asiatic producers of opium to establish government monopolies for easier control; the Geneva Convention of 1931,5 extending the limitations on manufacture and distribution of drugs and creating an international Drug Supervisory Body to police them; the Bangkok Agreement of 1931,6 calling for government monopolies of the retail sale of opium in Asiatic countries; the 1936 Convention7 (with less than a score of adherents), establishing direct criminal sanctions to punish trafficking; the Protocol of 1946,8 bringing all prior Conventions under the supervision of the United Nations and establishing the UN Commission; the Protocol of 1948,9 providing machinery for the addition of new drugs to the controlled categories by action of the World Health Organization; and the Protocol of 1953 10 (With only a handful of adherents), agreeing to limitations on the cultivation of poppies.

The UN Commission has now under way a project for combining all of the foregoing agreements into one Convention, though this work appears to be proceeding slowly and to be encountering resistance.

It is sometimes charged that Communist countries, particularly Red China,11 actively engage in fostering our domestic traffic in illicit drugs, but there is no substantial evidence that this is done--at least not as a matter of national policy--by any nation. Large producers of opium in the East and Near East are unwilling to repress lucrative industries, and most nations which have no serious problem within their own borders tend to be apathetic.

Of course it must be conceded that if all the existing international agreements were universally adhered to and vigorously enforced, they would have a marked effect on the how of smuggled drugs into the United States. Our domestic problem responded remarkably to the isolation and interruptions of foreign commerce which characterized the period of World War II. But even full cooperation among nations would be unlikely wholly to eradicate addiction; and the goal of effective collective action appears to be unattainable under existing circumstances.

The conclusion that drug addiction within the United States cannot be effectively controlled through international cooperation does not, of course, entirely negative the value of such activities as the exchange of information, the pooling of resources at administrative and police levels to control drug shipments and combat smuggling, or even efforts to impose limitations on raw material production.

The problem is merely one of balancing perspective; far less than a full solution for our problem is likely ever to be found in prohibitory activities at the international level.

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