The Hundred Years’ Worldwide War on Drugs

CANNABIS CULTURE – January 23, 2012 marks the 100th birthday of the first international drug control treaty, the International Opium Convention, signed at the Hague in 1912

The treaty called on signatories to prohibit the non-medical sales of opium, morphine, cocaine and to strictly regulate their distribution and production. The Hague convention would lay the foundation for an edifice of further treaties committing the United States and rest of the world to a century of prohibition, drug wars, and concomitant crime and violence.

Dr. Hamilton Wright, the first drug czar of the United States.Dr. Hamilton Wright, the first drug czar of the United States.The driving force behind the treaty was the U.S. government, then as now a worldwide leader in drug prohibition. The U.S. initiative was a product of Progressive Era enthusiasm for government regulation and the rising temperance movement, which would culminate in the disaster of alcohol prohibition. It started when Protestant missionaries in Asia petitioned President Theodore Roosevelt to suppress the opium traffic. The State Department was supportive, seeing this as a useful way of currying favor with China, which was bridling at the unfettered British opium trade from India. Roosevelt agreed, and appointed the brash and energetic Dr. Hamilton Wright (pictured left) to serve as the nation’s first drug czar in the State Department. Under Wright’s leadership, the U.S. called an international conference in Shanghai, where it prevailed upon the British to join a resolution to suppress the smoking opium trade. A follow-up conference was called in the Hague to pursue a binding international treaty.

The US pursued an aggressive prohibitionist policy at the Hague against the more moderate, cautious views of the British and other nations. The US delegation was led by Wright, a vociferous and overbearing advocate of tough prohibitionist controls. He was joined by the more suave and diplomatic Bishop Charles Henry Brent (pictured right), who had led the crusade against opium smoking in Asia. Brent was disappointed that other nations failed to accept the Bishop Charles Henry BrentBishop Charles Henry Brentthen-novel, American notion that non-medical use of opium was inherently immoral. The third member of the U.S. delegation was Henry J. Finger of the California Board of Pharmacy, who had engineered that state’s pioneering anti-drug campaign, outlawing and busting opium dens and dope-dealing pharmacists. Finger advanced the novel proposal that cannabis be included in the treaty, an idea that won Wright’s support but failed to evoke interest from other nations at that time.

The Hague Convention, signed by the U.S., China, the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, Portugal, Persia, Russia, Siam and the Netherlands, committed its signatories to “use their best endeavours to control, or to cause to be controlled, all persons manufacturing, importing, selling, distributing, and exporting morphine, cocaine, and their respective salts, as well as the buildings in which these persons carry such an industry or trade.”

The treaty provided the justification for Congress to pass the first comprehensive federal narcotics control law, the Harrison Act, in 1914. The act set the U.S. on a fateful prohibitionist path of ever-expanding federal laws, controls and regulations aimed at restricting Americans’ use and freedom of choice in drugs.

In the meantime, the Hague Convention was followed by a succession of further treaties, eventually culminating in the Single Convention Treaty (1961), the Convention on Psychotropic Substances (1971), and the Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (1988), which commits the world’s nations to criminalize personal possession of cannabis and other illegal drugs.

The baleful consequences of the Hague Treaty and the subsequent world-wide war on drugs remain with us today: prohibition-fueled drug crime and violence, half a million Americans in prison for offenses that were unknown a century ago; murderous drug wars in Afghanistan, Colombia, and Mexico that have left thousands dead, and pervasive denial of personal freedom and civil liberties. Despite this, the rate of drug abuse is no lower than a century ago when drugs were still legal. Judged by the evidence, the time is overdue to end the Hundred Years War on Drugs.



  1. Anonymous on

    This is a good article on a very important subject. It’s sad that the big news services didn’t report on it. Isn’t it amazing how every drug was legal for the entire history of the world, until the USA dragged the whole planet into prohibition?

  2. gstlab3 on

    If your childrens schools and the water you drink and food you eat and medicines you have to take are now all controlled by the Government and every day more of our very basic things like crops grown for food and or medicine like these opiate pain relievers all of them have patent numbers on them these days which seems to make them very expensive to buy and only certain very powerfull and rich people are allowed to sell them.,

    Where is the freedom in that?

    Who controls all of us now???

    If you grow a tomato plant if and if it has a Patent number in it in the form of its genetic code the owners have the full legal right to tell you it is illegal for you to grow it or propagate it if they wanted to.

    The very same thing happened with all of our pain relieving plant based drugs so why not our food crops next ???

    I think they are well on their way to doing it with all this bio engeniering with crops and these drug laws we have allready.

    If the millstone is taken away by another man or by the government and the powers that be.,
    It is as if you have gone out and murdered a man and his entire family and therefore by allowing this you have in fact killed his entire community.

    Without access to the ways and means of production you and your family will die or you are to be a slave to those who own and control them.

    Freedom., You have none.

  3. Anonymous on

    Reading this article,I can only give a finger to that Mr.Henry J. Finger for including cannabis in the treaty.
    This comment was wreitten while under influence from Jean-Guy,a C.Sativa strain and the mistake in the word written was not corrected.