The three major international drug control treaties are mutually supportive and complementary. An important purpose of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances codify internationally applicable control measures in order to ensure the availability of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances for medical and scientific purposes, and to prevent their diversion into illicit channels and include general provisions on trafficking and drug use. The 1988 United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances significantly reinforced the obligation of countries to apply criminal sanctions to combat all the aspects of illicit production, possession and trafficking of drugs. (Commentaries on the conventions)

  • Willful Blindness: 
INCB can find nothing good to say on cannabis legalisation

    A response to the annual report of the International Narcotics Control Board
    Transnational Institute (TNI), Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) & Global Drug Policy Observatory (GDPO)

    In its Report for 2022, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), the “independent, quasi-judicial expert body” that monitors the implementation of the UN drug control conventions, focuses on the legalisation of cannabis. Each year, in the first chapter of its annual report, the Board addresses a specific issue it deems important for drug policy discussions and the functioning of the international drug control system. This year, cannabis legalisation is the focus. The Board’s blinkered view completely ignores that in the 60 years since the adoption of the Single Convention, the global drug control regime that it so tenaciously defends has failed dismally.

  • A House of Cards

    ‘High compliance’: A legally indefensible and confusing distraction
    Martin Jelsma (TNI), David Bewley-Taylor (GDPO), Tom Blickman (TNI), and John Walsh (WOLA)
    Transnational Institute (TNI)
    April 29, 2022

    In a recently published report, ‘High compliance, a lex lata legalization for the non-medical cannabis industry’, Kenzi Riboulet-Zemouli claims to have discovered a new legal justification for regulating recreational cannabis in accordance with the 1961 United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. A close reading quickly reveals the confused and legally indefensible nature of the paper’s proposed escape route. And while we consider the UN drug control treaties to be out of date and not fit for purpose, we strongly disagree with proposals that would seek to overcome the challenges on the basis of legally unsound and invalid arguments. The ‘High compliance’ paper constructs a legal house of cards that comes tumbling down when its core arguments are contested and taken out.

  • The shortcomings and side effects of substance scheduling

    Side Event at the 65th Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) 14-18 March 2022
    Thursday, March 17, 2022

    Substance scheduling is a central function of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs and a longstanding pillar of international and national drug policies. Despite the continued reliance on scheduling, there is an ongoing debate as to whether scheduling substances is beneficial or determinantal in preventing drug-related harms. The observed displacement/replacement effect indicates that the scheduling of substances and resulting law enforcement involvement is routinely followed by the emergence of new substances often posing greater harms from consumption, as has been observed in the case of the steadily increasing rate of overdoses around the world caused by highly potent opioids in the unregulated drug market.

  • The UN Drug Control Conventions

    A primer

    For more than ten years, TNI’s Drugs & Democracy programme has been studying the UN drug control conventions and the institutional architecture of the UN drug control regime. As we approach the 2016 UNGASS, this primer is a tool to better understand the role of these conventions, the scope and limits of their flexibility, the mandates they established for the CND, the INCB and the WHO, and the various options for treaty reform. (PDF version: Primer: The UN Drug Control Conventions)

  • Regulating Drugs: Resolving Conflicts with the UN Drug Control Treaty System

    John Walsh & Martin Jelsma
    Journal of Illicit Economies and Development, 1(3), pp.266–271
    November 2019

    There are good reasons to legally regulate drugs markets, rather than persist with efforts to ban all non-medical uses of psychoactive substances. Regulated cannabis and coca markets are already a reality in several countries, with more likely to follow. But ignoring or denying that such policy shifts contravene certain obligations under the UN drug control treaties is untenable and risks undermining basic principles of international law. States enacting cannabis regulation must find a way to align their reforms with their international obligations.

    Read the full article ...

  • Balancing Treaty Stability and Change

    Inter se modification of the UN drug control conventions to facilitate cannabis regulation
    Martin Jelsma, Neil Boister, David Bewley-Taylor, Malgosia Fitzmaurice & John Walsh
    Global Drug Policy Observatory (GDPO) / Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) / Transnational Institute (TNI)
    March 2018

    Legal tensions are growing within the international drug control regime as increasing numbers of member states move towards or seriously consider legal regulation of the cannabis market for non-medical purposes. Amongst reform options not requiring consensus, inter se modification appears to be the most ‘elegant’ approach and one that provides a useful safety valve for collective action to adjust a treaty regime arguably frozen in time.

    application pdf

    Download the report (PDF)

  • If the U.S. legalizes marijuana, what happens to its international drug treaties?

    "Cannabis is the most vulnerable point in the whole multilateral edifice," said the executive director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime
    The Cannabist / Bloomberg View (US)
    Wednesday, January 10, 2018

    When Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded a Barack Obama-era federal policy that allowed recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington, he did more than reignite a domestic legal and cultural battle. He also highlighted a simmering diplomatic dispute whose outcome will shape U.S. ties with its closest neighbors and its ability to leverage international law: Whether the U.S. will comply with landmark conventions that — largely at Washington’s insistence — unequivocally prohibit recreational use as part of the global fight against drug trafficking. Allowing states that have legalized marijuana to keep blowing smoke about their adherence to the convention risks undermining all of them. (See also: Yes, legalizing marijuana breaks treaties. We can deal with that)

  • The Case for International Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Control

    The UN exerts little energy toward ensuring that the domestic drug laws mandated by the treaties are drafted and implemented in a manner that safeguards human rights
    Rick Lines, Richard Elliott, Julie Hannah, Rebecca Schleifer, Tenu Avafia & Damon Barrett
    Health and Human Rights Journal
    March 2017

    The international drug control treaties contribute directly to an environment of human rights risk and violations. The drug treaties are what are known within international law as “suppression conventions.” Suppression regimes obligate states to use their domestic laws, including criminal laws, to deter or punish the activities identified within the treaty, and are therefore “important legal mechanisms for the globalization of penal norms.” However, while suppression treaties mandate all states to act domestically and collectively to combat crimes defined as being of international concern, they offer no obligations or guidance on what is and is not an appropriate penal response.

  • A New International Legal Regime for a New Reality in the War Against Drugs

    1988 Convention created an international regime in which producing and consuming states had clear obligations
    Guillermo J. Garcia Sanchez
    Harvard International Law Journal (US)
    Thursday, January 26, 2017

    After twenty-three years under the latest international agreement, drug consumption has risen, production has increased, and some states remain helpless against the power of organized crime fueled by drug money. The substantial evidence that the anti-drug regime has been ineffective suggests that international law on this matter should be reexamined. Consuming states are already doing it through practice. Producing states, instead of adhering to the dogma of the current regime, should spearhead the creation of a new paradigm that is more to their advantage.

  • Cannabis and Cannabis Resin

    Pre-Review Report
    H. Valerie Curran, Philip Wiffen, David J. Nutt & Willem Scholten
    October 2016

    The scheduling under the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs assumes a scientific justification. However, cannabis and cannabis resin have never been evaluated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) since it was mandated the review of psychoactive substances in 1948. The last evaluation for the international substance control conventions were therefore when the League of Nations evaluated them in 1924 and 1935. In 80 years since that decision, both the social context of cannabis use and the science of drug dependence have dramatically changed.


    Download the report (PDF)


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