511.4 A 1/1777a

The Secretary of State to the American Delegation 68 at the Meeting of the Advisory Committee on Traffic in Opium

Gentlemen: You have been selected to attend, on behalf of the United States and in a consultative capacity, a meeting of the Advisory Committee on Traffic in Opium of the League of Nations to be held on May 24, 1923, at Geneva, Switzerland. The United States has been invited to attend these sessions because it is a country which is vitally interested in the control of narcotic drugs and because it [Page 98] is a party to the Hague Opium Convention of 1912 which forms the basis of our present international control of the traffic in opium, coca leaves and their narcotic derivatives.

There are enclosed (1) a statement of the American position in regard to narcotic control with a special reference to this Government’s understanding of the obligations which the Hague Convention imposes upon the adhering Powers, and (2) a series of Resolutions which it is suggested should be placed before the Committee as embodying, in concrete form, the position set forth in the proposed statement.

The United States is quite convinced that the only basis for control of the traffic in narcotics is by means of international cooperation. The only instrument at this time common to all the Powers is the Hague Opium Convention. This Convention was concluded in 1912 and other nations were invited to adhere thereto by signing a protocol which was opened in 1914 at the Hague. The international upheaval attendant upon the great war prevented normal procedure in accordance with the Hague Convention, and in the Treaty of Versailles it was included as one of the agreements of whose execution the League of Nations was entrusted with the general supervision. The United States, however, can cooperate only on the basis of the Hague Convention because it is the only general international instrument touching the subject to which the United States is party.

The League of Nations invited this Government to participate in the meetings of the Committee, which had been appointed for the purpose of advising on the execution of the Convention, and the United States has decided to have representatives at these Committee meetings in a consultative capacity because it desires to cooperate to the fullest extent possible in the execution of the Hague Convention and in efforts to put a stop to the evils of the traffic in narcotic drugs.

The United States is convinced, however, that in interpreting the Hague Convention there should be no misunderstanding of its position. For this reason it cannot be a party to any interpretation of the Hague Convention which weakens the force of that instrument as a means for controlling the traffic in narcotic drugs. The statement which you are to present to the Committee represents, it is felt, the attitude of this Government, and it is quite certain that American public opinion will be satisfied with no weaker interpretation of the Hague Convention than is contained in that statement. Further if the Hague Convention is limited, or if for any reason it cannot be made an adequate instrument for the purposes in question, it should be properly supplemented in order to make it effective.

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In regard to the Resolutions which it is suggested to introduce, if opportunity is offered to you, this Government is convinced that no effective cooperation can be expected unless the first two are accepted. Resolution No. 1 declares the use of raw opium and coca leaves for non-medical or non-scientific purposes to be illegitimate; Resolution No. 2 urges those nations in whose territory these drugs are produced to reduce their production to a point where there is no surplus available for export for non-medicinal or non-scientific purposes. Resolution No. 3 which urges the adoption of the Hague Convention by nations not now party thereto, represents action which it is understood has already been recommended by the Committee. Resolutions Nos. 4 and 5 recommending that the importation of all narcotic drugs except crude opium and coca leaves be prohibited, and that the exportation of narcotic drugs be restricted to nations party to the Hague Convention, represent legislation which is already in force in the United States. The two latter resolutions represent, however, the conviction of the American public that the best method of controlling the traffic in narcotic drugs is to do so by means of control at the source: that is to say, that control should begin with the raw product and should be carried on through all the processes of manufacture so as to prevent illicit or nonmedical use of narcotic products at any stage of their manufacture.

You should take every occasion to assure the representatives of other governments that the United States is deeply concerned in the problem of narcotic control; that we desire to cooperate with other nations in obtaining adherence to the Hague Opium Convention and urging legislation to make that instrument effective. As instances of this interest you may cite the Resolution which was adopted by the Pan American Conference at the initiative of this Government,69 and you may state that this Government has also been indefatigable in its efforts to induce opium growing or narcotic producing states not members of the Hague Convention to join in the work of narcotic suppression. It would also be proper, in the view of this Government, to draw attention to our legislation and to Resolutions of Congress bearing on the subject of the traffic in narcotic drugs.

This Government has not been furnished with a copy of the agenda of the meeting, but it understands that two subjects of primary importance will be discussed. One, the question of the legitimate use of opium, and the other the question of refusing to import narcotics from those countries which are not party to the Convention and its final protocol of 1914.70 In regard to the first question the attitude [Page 100] of the United States is unmistakable and is discussed in the statement which you are requested to present to the Committee. In regard to the second question the United States is of the opinion that it would be better to obtain the adherence of producing countries to the Convention than to attempt a boycott. The principal sources of the opium used by the manufacturers of the United States are the Balkans and Asia Minor. Political conditions in these regions are in a state of flux; treaties restoring peace and fixing territorial boundaries there are not yet determined and the immediate effect of the adoption of this policy is likely to be very confusing, without, so far as this Government is able to see, reducing the supply of raw opium, which, it is believed, should be the ultimate aim of the Powers adhering to the Convention.

The United States believes that a better method of control is by reducing the traffic to its lowest terms; and for that reason suggests that all nations who can do so should absolutely prohibit the importation of opium or coca leaf products, leaving only the raw drugs as proper subjects for international commerce. This is the principle laid down in our own Narcotics Import and Export Act. It is realized of course that many nations are not in a position, because of the undeveloped state of their pharmaceutical industries, to adopt this policy. They should, however, permit importations of this character only upon license and for medical and scientific purposes. On the export side, nations should prevent the exportation of any narcotic drug except for medical and kindred legitimate purposes, and permit it only to those countries that have effective means for controlling distribution in accordance with the Hague Convention.

I am [etc.]

Charles E. Hughes
[Enclosure 1]

Statement of the Position of the United States in regard to the Traffic in Narcotic Drugs, To Be Read before the Advisory Committee of the League of Nations

The United States is of the opinion that there should be complete acceptance of and compliance with the terms and spirit of the Hague Opium Convention in dealing with the traffic in narcotic drugs. That Convention defines raw opium, prepared opium and medicinal opium, as well as morphine, cocaine and heroin. The Convention further binds the contracting parties (Chapter I) to control the production and distribution of raw opium, to limit the number of ports through which the importation and exportation shall be permitted; to prevent the exportation of raw opium to countries which shall have limited the importation thereof, to mark packages containing more than five kilos of opium and not to permit the importation and exportation except through duly authorized [Page 101] persons. The Convention binds the contracting powers (Chapter II) to take measures for the gradual and efficacious suppression of the manufacture, the internal traffic in and the use of prepared opium so far as conditions allow and to prohibit the importation and exportation of prepared opium as soon as possible, (Chapter III) to limit the manufacture, sale and use of medicinal opium, cocaine and their alkaloids and derivatives to medical and legitimate uses only; (Chapter IV) to cooperate with the Chinese Government to prevent the smuggling of opium, cocaine or their derivatives, to adopt necessary measures for the restraint and control of the opium smoking habit in their leased territories, settlements, and concessions in China and to prohibit the illegal importation into China of opium and cocaine or their derivatives through the post. China is bound to enact pharmacy laws regulating the sale or distribution of opium, cocaine or their derivatives which the contracting powers will, if acceptable, make applicable to their nationals residing in China. Finally, (Chapter V) the contracting powers are bound to examine into the possibility of enacting laws and regulations making the illegal possession of opium, cocaine their salts and derivatives liable to penalties; and to communicate to each other (a) the text of laws and administrative regulations which concern matters arrived at by the Convention and (b) statistical information in respect to that which concerns the traffic in raw opium, prepared opium, morphine, cocaine and their respective salts as well as other drugs or their salts or preparations aimed at by the Convention.

It has seemed necessary to set forth the provisions of the Hague Convention at some length, in so far as they call for legislation by the adhering powers, in order to demonstrate how far the United States has gone in putting the Convention into effect.

Under Chapters I, III and V the United States has legislation which controls the manufacture, distribution and sale of narcotic drugs and renders illegal the possession of narcotic drugs by an unregistered or unlicensed person except upon prescription from a physician, or other practitioner, written for legitimate medicinal uses. Raw opium and coca leaves are not produced in the United States, but there is legislation which prohibits the importation of all narcotic drugs except such quantities of crude opium or coca leaves as the Federal Narcotics Control Board shall find necessary. By regulation, it is provided that only manufacturers actually engaged in manufacturing may import—and then only through the ports of New York, Philadelphia, St. Louis, San Francisco, Detroit and Indianapolis. Exports of narcotic drugs may be made with the permission of the Federal Narcotic Control Board to a country which has ratified and become a party to the Hague Opium Convention [Page 102] and its final protocol and then only when such country has instituted and maintains in conformity with that convention a system (which the Federal Narcotics Control Board deems adequate) of permits or licenses for the control of imports of such narcotic drugs.

Under Chapter II the United States prohibits absolutely the importation and exportation of prepared opium and by means of prohibitory taxation makes it impossible to conduct establishments for the manufacture, sale or use of this type of opium.

Under Chapter IV the United States has a treaty with China, supplemented by domestic legislation, antedating the Convention, which prohibits American citizens from importing opium into China or engaging in the opium traffic in China. Copies of the legislation, regulations and statistical material available have been transmitted to the signatory powers through the Netherlands Government, (Chapter V).

The United States makes this statement in order to demonstrate that it has endeavored to carry out its obligations under the Hague Opium Convention.

The United States has no wish to enter into a discussion of the powers and duties of this Committee, but feels that it is due to itself and to the Governments here assembled to state clearly what it understands the Hague Convention to mean. The United States condemns, and understands the Hague Opium Convention to bind the contracting powers to suppress, the traffic in and use of prepared or smoking opium in any form. Further, the United States regards the manufacture and use of narcotic drugs, i.e., alkaloids or other narcotic derivatives of opium or coca leaves, for other than medicinal or scientific purposes as an abusive use under the Convention. In regard to raw opium, the production, distribution, importation and exportation of which the Convention binds the adhering Powers to control, the attitude of the United States, as shown by its legislation, is that it is a dangerous drug and that its use for other than strictly medicinal or scientific purposes is unlawful. The United States feels that the unrestricted production of raw opium inevitably results in a surplus of the drug over and above that required for medicinal and scientific purposes, and the diversion of it or its derivatives—morphine, heroin and codeine—into illicit channels of international traffic, thereby creating a problem of universal international concern, and making impossible the execution of laws adopted by the several Governments under the terms of the Convention. The United States believes, therefore, that the unrestricted production of opium should not be permitted, and that the cultivation of the opium poppy should be limited to a point where there is no danger that the product will be available for other than medicinal and scientific purposes.

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The production of coca leaves presents a problem similar to that of raw opium, and the attitude of the United States in this respect is the same as that stated in regard to the production of opium.

The United States has made a sincere effort to comply with the terms of the Hague Opium Convention, and is prepared to consider seriously any further measures which may be suggested for stricter control of the traffic in narcotic drugs. It feels, however, that the adoption of the foregoing principles, and their realization in legislative measures that will prevent the international traffic in raw opium and coca leaves, (as well as their derivatives) for non-medicinal or non-scientific purposes, constitute a minimum of what can be considered a compliance with the spirit of the Convention. The United States trusts that the principles set forth above will commend themselves to the Powers who are parties to the Hague Opium Convention. The United States suggests therefore, that the Committee adopt the principles set forth and embody them in its report and recommendations, as the basis upon which effective international cooperation can be expected.

[Enclosure 2]

Resolutions To Be Introduced by the United States

The resolutions proposed by Representative Porter in behalf of the United States are as follows:

If the purpose of The Hague Opium Convention is to be achieved according to its spirit and true intent, it must be recognized that the use of opium products for other than medicinal and scientific purposes is an abuse and not legitimate.
In order to prevent the abuse of these products it is necessary to exercise the control of production of raw opium in such a manner that there will be no surplus available for non-medicinal and non-scientific purposes.
The nations which are parties to the Hague Opium Convention are urged to bend every effort to induce the nations which are not parties to the Convention, or which have not yet enacted legislation to put it into effect, to do so at once.
Those nations which have well developed chemical and pharmaceutical industries are urged to prohibit the importation of all narcotic drugs except such quantities of crude opium and coca leaves as may be necessary to provide for medicinal and scientific needs.
All nations are urged to prohibit the exportation of narcotic drugs, including opium in whatever form and coca leaves and derivatives of these drugs, to those countries which are not parties to the Hague Opium Convention and which do not have domestic systems of control—including import and export certificates.

  1. Congressman Stephen G. Porter, Bishop Charles H. Brent, and Dr. Rupert Blue.
  2. Report of the Delegates of the United States of America to the Fifth International Conference of American States, Held at Santiago, Chile, March 25 to May 3, 1923, with Appendices (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1924), p. 210.
  3. Malloy, Treaties, 1910–1923, vol. iii, p. 3039.