The international drug trade is a global issue for one simple reason – by and large, the countries where illegal drugs are grown or manufactured and those where they are most often consumed are separated by thousands of miles, often with oceans between them. The Ten Year Agreement of 1907, and the Hague Opium Conference of 1912, sparked the beginnings of what would become a robust collection of international frameworks to stem and regulate the flow of the international drug trade. Countries met to discuss import and export regulation, smuggling prevention, and restrictions on manufacturing drugs – all topics still discussed today – and the treaty that emerged from the Hague Conference would set the tone for decades to come: urging much but requiring very little of states.
From one perspective, the international control system for narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances can be considered one of the twentieth century’s most important achievements in international cooperation; over 95 percent of the members of the United Nations are states parties to the three conventions: the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961, the Convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1971, and the United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances of 1988. Yet, since their adoption, the number of substances controlled under the convention has risen, and the demand for narcotic and psychotropic substances has dramatically increased. Already complex drug production, trafficking, and sales networks have become embedded within larger criminal networks like gangs, cartels, and terrorist organizations, operating in places as varied as Central and South America, Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and the so-called “Golden Triangle” of Southeast Asia, to name a few. These networks have only grown and become more sophisticated through advances in technology and social media.
As such, even with these major international conventions, and widespread support, the international drug trade still presents a major challenge to the international community. Many points of contention arise surrounding legalization of different controlled substances in different countries, views on whether demand- or supply-side reduction is more effective, and how to frame the issue of drug abuse and addiction, with some countries treating it as a public health hazard, others as a criminal offense, and some straddling that divide. SpecPol is tasked with discussing these challenges and more to develop a solution, to supplement pre-existing regulations and better curb the international drug trade. At what point in the process of production, trafficking, sale, and use should governments intervene? Should the target be supply-side reduction, demand-side reduction, or both? How can countries coordinate efforts to quell drug production, trafficking, and sales without impeding national sovereignty?