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Drug prohibition law

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Drug prohibition law

Drug prohibition law is prohibition-based law by which governments prohibit, except under licence, the production, supply, and possession of many, but not all, substances which are recognized as drugs, and which corresponds to international treaty commitments in the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs 1961,[1] the Convention on Psychotropic Substances 1971,[2] and the United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances 1988.[3]

When produced, supplied or possessed under licence, otherwise prohibited drugs are known as controlled drugs. The aforementioned legislation is the cultural institution and social fact that de facto divides world drug trade as illegal vs legal, according to geopolitical issues. The United Nations has its own drug control programme, as part of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC),[4] which was formerly called the United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention (ODCCP), and the Commission on Narcotic Drugs[5] is the central drug policy-making body within the United Nations system.

The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB)[6] is an independent and quasi-judicial control organ for the implementation of the United Nations drug control conventions. It is important to note that there are several different sets of "schedules", or lists, of controlled drugs. One is the INCB schedules (four schedules numbered I-IV), while another is the United States' Controlled Substances Act schedules of controlled substances (five schedules, numbered I-V). Other countries also have different classifications and numbers of lists, such as those of the United Kingdom and Canada.

History and founding principles

Drug prohibition law is based on the view that some drugs, notably opium poppy, coca, and substances derived from these plants, are so addictive or dependence inducing and so dangerous, in terms of potential effects on the health, morality and behaviour of users, that they should be rarely, if ever, used.

Psychotropic substances covered by drug control law include psilocybin mushrooms and lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD).

The following treaties are no longer in force, being superseded in 1961 by the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs:


Otherwise prohibited drugs may be licensed for medical, research and industrial purposes.

Pharmaceutical companies, also known as drug companies, work under drug control licenses.

Hemp production from the Cannabis plant is an example of an industrial purpose.

Recreational and self-medicational drug use

Recreational use and self-medicational use are not licensed under drug prohibition laws, although other drugs, not covered by such laws, may be legally available for this purpose. Alcohol and tobacco are notable examples of legally available recreational drugs. Aspirin is an example of a drug legally available for self-medicational purposes.

Health, moral, and behavior issues, and legal issues, are associated with alcohol and tobacco use, but these are not addressed through drug prohibition laws.

Addiction to a prohibited drug may not be considered a legitimate reason for using it, even if the drug is obtained from a licensed source, or a substitute may be provided, for example, methadone instead of heroin. Generally, however, those addicted to prohibited drugs are expected to find other ways of coping with their addictions, or to risk suffering the law enforcement penalties associated with illegal possession.


There is an extensive illegal trans-national industry supplying prohibited drugs for recreational use.[7] Thus, while drug prohibition laws remain in force, there is perpetual law enforcement action directed against the illegal industry, which also impacts supply for self-medication.

Although it is directed against illegal recreational drugs, and not against drugs licensed under prohibition laws or against drugs beyond the scope of prohibition laws, the law enforcement is sometimes called the war on drugs.


In the United Kingdom, where the principal piece of drug prohibition legislation is the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971,[8] criticism includes:

  • Drug classification: making a hash of it?, Fifth Report of Session 2005–06, House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, which said that the present system of drug classification is based on historical assumptions, not scientific assessment[9]
  • Development of a rational scale to assess the harm of drugs of potential misuse, David Nutt, Leslie A. King, William Saulsbury, Colin Blakemore, The Lancet, 24 March 2007, said the act is "not fit for purpose" and "the exclusion of alcohol and tobacco from the Misuse of Drugs Act is, from a scientific perspective, arbitrary"[10][11]
  • The Drug Equality Alliance (DEA) argue that the Government is administering the Act arbitrarily, contrary to its purpose, contrary to the original wishes of Parliament and therefore illegally. They are currently assisting and supporting several legal challenges to this alleged maladministration.[12]

List by jurisdiction of principal drug prohibition laws

See also


  1. ^ , United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) website, accessed 6 February 2009Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961
  2. ^ , United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) website, accessed 6 February 2009Convention on Psychotropic Substances, 1971
  3. ^ , United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) website, accessed 6 February 2009Convention against the Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, 1988
  4. ^ , United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime website, accessed 9 February 2009About UNODC
  5. ^ , United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime website, accessed 13 February 2009The Commission on Narcotic Drugs
  6. ^ International Narcotics Control Board website, accessed 13 February 2009
  7. ^ "CIA transnational anti-crime and anti-drug activities". 
  8. ^ a b , the text of the act, OPSI website, accessed 27 January 2009Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (c.38)
  9. ^ , Fifth Report of Session 2005–06, House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, accessed 29 January 2009Drug classification: making a hash of it?
  10. ^ Nutt, D.; King, L. A.; Saulsbury, W.; Blakemore, C. (2007). "Development of a rational scale to assess the harm of drugs of potential misuse". The Lancet 369 (9566): 1047–1053. PMID 17382831. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(07)60464-4. 
  11. ^ , BBC News website, 23 March 2007, accessed 27 January 2009Scientists want new drug rankings
  12. ^
  13. ^ , Department of Justice website, accessed 9 February 2009Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
  14. ^ , New Zealand website, accessed 9 February 2009Misuse of Drugs Act 1975
  15. ^ , Office of the Houses of the Oireachtas website, accessed 9 February 2009Misuse of Drugs Act 1977
  16. ^ , Irish Government website, accessed 9 February 2009Misuse of Drugs Act 1984
  17. ^ , OPSI website, accessed 2 February 2009Drugs Act 2005 (c. 17)
  18. ^ (short title), U.S. Food and Drug Administration website, accessed 6 February 2009Controlled Substances Act

External links

  • International Narcotics Control Board
  • INCB - Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961
  • INCB "Yellow list" - List of Narcotic Drugs under International Control
  • INCB "Green list" - List of Psychotropic Substances under International Control
  • Drug Laws - List of laws associated with certain non-prohibited non-prescription drugs
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