(The good, the bad and the ugly!)


Source: Appendix A, The THC Club Protocols

The Obligations of the UK Government under the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs 1961.

There is an 'urban myth' propagated by spinned-out Government Ministers, ignorant drug policy 'experts' and lazy journalists, that Britain's supposed 'obligations' under the Single Convention prevents the government from legalising cannabis (or other drugs).

In fact the Single Convention places no obligation on any signatory to make possession, production or distribution of any drug for personal use a criminal offense. This has always been accepted as at least a permissible interpretation by the United Nations itself, as the official commentary on the Convention makes clear. ('Commentary on the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs', 1961, United Nations, New York, 1973.)

The working papers of the Shafer Commission contain a detailed discussion of this point, reaching the conclusion that: "although a country may decide that possession for personal use should be a punishable offense, there is nothing in the Convention which requires it to do so". (Marihuana: Signal of Misunderstanding: The Shafer Report, Appendix, Vol. 1,Technical Papers, p 533.)

The most authoritative interpretation is that of Professor Adolph Lande, who as Deputy Executive Secretary of the Plenipotentiary Conference, acted as chief draftsman of the Convention: "The terms 'possession' and 'purchase' used in the penal provisions of the Single Convention mean only possession and purchase for the purpose of illicit traffic. Consequently unauthorised possession and acquisition of narcotic drugs for personal consumption need not be treated under the Single Convention either as punishable offenses or as serious offenses". (A. Lande The International Drug Control System in Drug Use in America: Problem in Perspective, Appendix, Technical Papers, Vol. III, p 129.)

The correct interpretation of the penal provisions of the Single Convention is that they deal only with the production and supply of drugs; acts incidental to personal use are not within its scope. It follows that not only possession but cultivation and distribution are required to be punishable only insofar as they are related to commercial trafficking not personal consumption.

1. It is open to the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, acting on the recommendation of the World health Organisation, to delete cannabis from the schedules to the Convention.

2. Cannabis could be removed from the scope of control by an amendment to the Convention proposed by any party and discussed by a special conference called for the purpose by the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. It was with this in mind that the Dutch delegate to the Council

(19th April 1978) proposed that the Convention should be amended "so as to enable each party to decide for itself the extent to which cannabis may be allowed for personal use".

3. Any party to the Convention may legally withdraw from it on six months notice. The commonly used argument that for Britain to do this would lead to a breakdown in the international system of control of opiates, or even prevent the UK from obtaining opiates for legitimate use is simply not true. Ireland is not a signatory and they suffer no inconvenience. The reality is the system of control is applied to every country in the world whether it has signed the Convention or not. The International Narcotics Control Board is specifically authorised to do this by Articles 12, 13, 14 and 21 of the Convention.

4. The Vienna Convention of 1969 introduced the procedure of 'selective denunciation', which provides that a country may unilaterally withdraw from part of a treaty to which it is a party on various grounds, including "error of fact" in which the treaty itself and "fundamental change of circumstances". (The relevance of these provisions is considered in: Lienward The International Law of Treaties and US Legalisation of Marijuana, Columbia J Transnet. Law 1971 10(2) 413.)

5. The prohibition on non-medical use of drugs does not extend to cannabis leaves, and the prohibition of cultivation of the cannabis plant does not extend to cultivation for any purpose which does not involve the separation of the flowering and fruiting tops, or the resin, from the rest of the plant. (A Lands The International Drug Control System in Drug Use in America: Problem in Perspective, Appendix, Technical Papers, Vol III, p 129.)


E-mail webmaster

Go back to the Index