Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD)

International context: Treaties and institutions


The worldwide legal framework to deal with controlled substances, abuse and addiction, narcotrafficking and its financial repercussions is a textbook example of the sweeping implications of globalization in the 21st century. No single government has the power, leverage, resources and political will in its hands to solve the problem alone. Efforts to develop an international, multilateral approach to the issue over more than half a century have been imperfect, but they still represent an interlocking web of consensus forged by governments over the past 60 years.

There are three international agreements that frame efforts to control substance abuse and illicit trafficking of controlled substances, and enable intergovernmental cooperation:

  • The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961 (44 pages, PDF, 663 kb) set up a universal system to control the cultivation, manufacture, export, import, distribution, use and possession of three families of substances:  the opium poppy, coca leaf and cannabis, but the convention also permits its extension to any other drug that caused similar effects to those specified in the treaty. It sets up four schedules of controlled substances, with Schedules I and II subject to the strictest controls. As of March 2005, 116 drugs were controlled under the Single Convention. All CICAD member states have signed and ratified this treaty.
  • The Convention of Psychotropic Substances of 1971 (28 pages, PDF, 813 kb) deals with the international machinery to control substances, especially in light of synthetic substances, such as amphetamines, barbiturates and LSD, and their precursor chemicals. It recognizes that controlled substances frequently have therapeutic and scientific value. All CICAD member states, except Haiti, have signed and ratified this treaty.
  • The United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances of 1988 (31 pages, PDF, 743 kb) adds enforcement mechanisms for fighting illegal trafficking of controlled substances, emphasizing the role of organized crime and its financial ramifications through money laundering. All CICAD member states have signed and ratified this treaty.

Within the United Nations, there are four international agencies or institutions that endeavor to translate these treaties into meaningful multilateral policy under the mantel of the United Nations:

  • The UN Economic and Social Council’s Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) is the central policy-making body and meets annually. Comprised of 53 member states elected by the Council, it assesses the world situation and develops proposals to strengthen the international drug control system to combat the world drug problem. It is the worldwide equivalent of CICAD's Commission.
  • The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) is a quasi-judicial control body for the implementation of the conventions, independent of the member states and the United Nations itself. Its 13-member board monitors compliance with international treaties.
  • The 40-member UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice formulates international policies and recommends activities in the field of crime control. Also organized under the UN Economic and Social Council, it offers nations a forum for exchanging information and settling on ways to fight crime on a global level, as well as crime prevention, criminal justice and corruption, trafficking in humans and transnational organized crime.
  • The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), which is based in Vienna and has 25 regional and field offices as well as liaison office in New York, carries out research and analytical work to better understand the global situation, assist member states in implementing international agreements and provide technical cooperation through assistance projects, including alternative sustainable development. CICAD cooperates extensively with the UNODC on multiple initiatives, including comparative studies on drug abuse and criminal justice.

The World Health Organization (WHO) also participates by providing expertise to assess the scientific and medical requirements for controlled substances so that treaty parties can determine permissible quotas for legitimate uses.

The UN General Assembly Special Session, known as UNGASS, adopted a Declaration on the Guiding Principles of Drug Demand Reduction (A/RES/S-20/2) and the International cooperation against the world drug problem (A/RES/53/115) at its 20th session in 1998. It agreed to review progress towards six specific goals ten years later. The review process, currently underway, is evaluating how international policies and programs have dealt with the drug problem.


updated on 3/29/2012 10:08:31 AM