United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs

United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs
Emblem of the United Nations.svg
Formation15 February 1946; 73 years ago (1946-02-15)
TypeIntergovernmental organization, Regulatory body, Advisory board
Legal statusActive
HeadquartersVienna, Austria
Chair of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs
Alicia Buenrostro Massieu
Parent organization
United Nations Economic and Social Council
WebsiteCND at UNODC.org
UN emblem blue.svg United Nations portal

The United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs is one of the functional commissions of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and is the central drug policy-making body within the United Nations system. The Commission has important functions under the drug control treaties in force today;[1] most notably, it can amend the Schedules of controlled substances under the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and the Convention on Psychotropic Substances.

The Commission on Narcotic Drugs was established by the ECOSOC in 1946, with Canadian Charles Henry Ludovic Sharman as its first chair. Its predecessor, the Advisory Committee on the Traffic in Opium and Other Dangerous Drugs, was established by the first Assembly of the League of Nations on 15 December 1920. The Advisory Committee held its first meeting from 2-5 May 1921, and continued its activities until 1940.[2]


The drug control treaties divide power between the Commission and the International Narcotics Control Board. The Commission has power to influence drug control policy by advising other bodies and deciding how various substances will be controlled. However, enforcement power is reserved to the Board.

Under Article 8[3] of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the Commission's powers are to:

  • Amend the Schedules;
  • Call the attention of the International Narcotics Control Board to any matters which may be relevant to the functions of the Board;
  • Make recommendations for the implementation of the aims and provisions of the Single Convention, including programmes of scientific research and the exchange of information of a scientific or technical nature; and
  • Draw the attention of non-parties to decisions and recommendations which it adopts under the Single Convention, with a view to their considering taking action in accordance therewith.

Under Article 17[4] of the Convention on Psychotropic Substances, the Commission has power to amend the Schedules by a two-thirds vote and "may consider all matters pertaining to the aims of this Convention and to the implementation of its provisions, and may make recommendations relating thereto."

The United Nations General Assembly has power to modify the Commission's decisions, with the exception of scheduling decisions.

Role in drug scheduling[edit]

The drug control treaties divide drugs into four Schedules with varying levels of control. Article 3[5] of the Single Convention and Article 2[6] of the Convention on Psychotropic Substances set out the scheduling procedure, giving the Commission the power to decide which Schedule a drug or other substance shall be placed into. However, the Economic and Social Council has power to alter or reverse the Commission's scheduling decisions. In addition, each Schedule has certain findings that the World Health Organization must make with regard to a drug or substance before it be placed in that Schedule. The relationship between the WHO and the Commission is described as follows by the Commentary on the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs:[7]

The Commission on Narcotic Drugs decides whether a substance is to be placed under international control. It can take a positive decision only in accordance with the recommendation of the World Health Organization. It can include the substance only in that Schedule which is recommended by the Organization. If the World Health Organization recommends Schedule I, the Commission cannot decide to add the substance to Schedule II, or vice versa. The Commission must either accept the Schedule recommended by the World Health Organization or abstain from extending control at all. It may, however, decide to place a drug only in Schedule I and not in Schedule IV if the World Health Organization has recommended simultaneously inclusion in both these Schedules. In no case can the Commission decide to extend control to a substance if the World Health Organization has not recommended to do it.

Article 12[8] of the United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances grants the Commission power to decide whether a precursor substance used illicit drug manufacture should be controlled, and if so, which category of controlled precursor substances—Table I or Table II—it should be placed into. The Board's findings on scientific matters in reference to the substance are binding on the Commission, however. And, as with drug scheduling under the other two treaties, the Convention allows the Economic and Social Council to review and overturn the Commission's decisions in reference to precursor substance control.

Membership and decision making[edit]

The Commission consists of 53 states, serving four-year terms,[9] with the following distribution of seats among regions:

Economic and Social Council resolutions 845 (XXXII), and 1147 (XLI) provide that members are elected:

  • From among the States Members of the United Nations and members of the specialized agencies and the Parties to the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961;
  • With due regard to the adequate representation of countries that are important producers of opium or coca leaves, of countries that are important in the field of the manufacture of narcotic drugs, and of countries in which drug addiction or the illicit traffic in narcotic drugs constitutes an important problem;
  • Taking into account the principle of equitable geographical distribution.

The Commission is an intergovernmental body made up of states rather than individuals. Decisions are usually taken by consensus, with the exception of decisions on scheduling of drugs, which are taken pursuant to the voting procedures foreseen in its rules of procedure.[10] State representatives engage in this decision making process in accordance with their own policies and laws. For instance, 21 U.S.C. § 811(d)(2)(B) of the U.S. Controlled Substances Act provides that the recommendations of the Secretary of Health and Human Services in reference to drug scheduling shall be binding on the U.S. representative.


Being composed of government and ministerial representatives with diplomatic mission in Vienna, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs is regarded more of a political commission as opposed to a group of experts, which is why many discussions and negotiations are not based on in-depth knowledge on drug policy issues. In addition, decisions taken within the CND are primarily outcomes of time-consuming political negotiations which need to result in a consensus, allowing policy perspectives to be pushed aside by political interests of certain stakeholders.

Another aspect of criticism of the CND is related to the bureaucratic nature of the commission's working process. While the CND focuses on the issue of drugs - a multidisciplinary topic which also concerns human rights, health and development - the CND rarely establishes coordination with other relevant UN agencies such as the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), the Human Rights Council, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the World Health Organization, or the United Nations Development Programme.[11]


  2. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 12 October 2007. Retrieved 12 October 2007.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  3. ^ Article 8
  4. ^ Article 17
  5. ^ Article 3
  6. ^ Article 2
  7. ^ Commentary on the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs
  8. ^ Article 12 Archived 2012-03-03 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ "Membership". Retrieved 12 August 2018.
  10. ^ rules of procedure Archived 2012-05-08 at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ "The UN Drug Control Conventions". 8 October 2015. Retrieved 17 March 2017.

External links[edit]