An independent, public-interest webpage to monitor and document the work of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) Cannabis Control Initiative
About the INCB
The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) is a treaty body in charge of monitoring and oversight of the 3 drug control Conventions of 1961, 1971 & 1988
INCB defines itself as “an independent and quasi-judicial control organ, established by treaty, for monitoring the implementation of the international drug control treaties. It had predecessors under the former drug control treaties as far back as the time of the League of Nations.” (source)
In practice 13 Board Members are independent and volunteer, while INCB staff and secretariat is integral part of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Click on the box below to unfold more information.
More about the INCB (presentation provided by the Board)
INCB consists of 13 members who are elected by the Economic and Social Council and who serve in their personal capacity, not as government representatives. Three members with medical, pharmacological or pharmaceutical experience are elected from a list of persons nominated by WHO and 10 members are elected from a list of persons nominated by Governments. Members of the Board are persons who, by their competence, impartiality and disinterestedness, command general confidence. The Council, in consultation with INCB, makes all arrangements necessary to ensure the full technical independence of the Board in carrying out its functions. INCB has a secretariat that assists it in the exercise of its treatyrelated functions. The INCB secretariat is an administrative entity of UNODC, but it reports solely to the Board on matters of substance. INCB closely collaborates with UNODC in the framework of arrangements approved by the Council in its resolution 1991/48. INCB also cooperates with other international bodies concerned with drug control, including not only the Council and its Commission on Narcotic Drugs, but also the relevant specialized agencies of the United Nations, particularly WHO. It also cooperates with bodies outside the United Nations system, especially INTERPOL and WCO.
The functions of INCB are laid down in the following treaties: Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961 as amended by the 1972 Protocol; Convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1971; and United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances of 1988. Broadly speaking, INCB deals with the following:
(a) As regards the licit manufacture of, trade in and use of drugs, INCB endeavours, in cooperation with Governments, to ensure that adequate supplies of drugs are available for medical and scientific uses and that the diversion of drugs from licit sources to illicit channels does not occur. INCB also monitors Governments’ control over chemicals used in the illicit manufacture of drugs and assists them in preventing the diversion of those chemicals into the illicit traffic;
(b) As regards the illicit manufacture of, trafficking in and use of drugs, INCB identifies weaknesses in national and international control systems and contributes to correcting such situations. INCB is also responsible for assessing chemicals used in the illicit manufacture of drugs, in order to determine whether they should be placed under international control.
In the discharge of its responsibilities, INCB:
(a) Administers a system of estimates for narcotic drugs and a voluntary assessment system for psychotropic substances and monitors licit activities involving drugs through a statistical returns system, with a view to assisting Governments in achieving, inter alia, a balance between supply and demand;
(b) Monitors and promotes measures taken by Governments to prevent the diversion of substances frequently used in the illicit manufacture of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances and assesses such substances to determine whether there is a need for changes in the scope of control of Tables I and II of the 1988 Convention;
(c) Analyses information provided by Governments, United Nations bodies, specialized agencies or other competent international organizations, with a view to ensuring that the provisions of the international drug control treaties are adequately carried out by Governments, and recommends remedial measures;
(d) Maintains a permanent dialogue with Governments to assist them in complying with their obligations under the international drug control treaties and, to that end, recommends, where appropriate, technical or financial assistance to be provided.
INCB is called upon to ask for explanations in the event of apparent violations of the treaties, to propose appropriate remedial measures to Governments that are not fully applying the provisions of the treaties or are encountering difficulties in applying them and, where necessary, to assist Governments in overcoming such difficulties. If, however, INCB notes that the measures necessary to remedy a serious situation have not been taken, it may call the matter to the attention of the parties concerned, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs and the Economic and Social Council. As a last resort, the treaties empower INCB to recommend to parties that they stop importing drugs from a defaulting country, exporting drugs to it or both. In all cases, INCB acts in close cooperation with Governments.
INCB assists national administrations in meeting their obligations under the conventions. To that end, it proposes and participates in regional training seminars and programmes for drug control administrators.
The international drug control treaties require INCB to prepare an annual report on its work. The annual report contains an analysis of the drug control situation worldwide so that Governments are kept aware of existing and potential situations that may endanger the objectives of the international drug control treaties. INCB draws the attention of Governments to gaps and weaknesses in national control and in treaty compliance; it also makes suggestions and recommendations for improvements at both the national and the international levels.
The annual report is based on information provided by Governments to INCB, United Nations entities and other organizations. It also uses information provided through other international organizations, such as INTERPOL and WCO, as well as regional organizations. The annual report of INCB is supplemented by detailed technical reports. They contain data on the licit movement of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances required for medical and scientific purposes, together with an analysis of those data by INCB. Those data are required for the proper functioning of the system of control over the licit movement of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, including preventing their diversion to illicit channels. Moreover, under the provisions of article 12 of the 1988 Convention, INCB reports annually to the Commission on Narcotic Drugs on the implementation of that article. That report, which gives an account of the results of the monitoring of precursors and of the chemicals frequently used in the illicit manufacture of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, is also published as a supplement to the annual report.
Since 1992, the first chapter of the annual report has been devoted to a specific drug control issue on which INCB presents its conclusions and recommendations in order to contribute to policy-related discussions and decisions in national, regional and international drug control. (All annual reports)
More about the INCB (Analysis from Civil Society & researchers)
“In recent decades the United Nations has opened its procedures significantly to civil society participation. Virtually all major United Nations events and summits accommodate NGO forums of various kinds, and many invite NGO participation in the form of speaking slots to accredited delegates, permission to distribute publications, and space for NGO networking. The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) includes civil society representatives on its governing body, though not as voting members. Even the UN Security Council, historically one of the UN’s most secretive bodies, has opened up its proceedings. There is an officially established NGO Working Group that relates to the Security Council and is involved in regular meetings and briefings often through the vehicle of the rotating Council president. […] In spite of such observations, the INCB remains perhaps the most closed and least transparent of any entity supported by the United Nations. There are no minutes or public reports on the deliberations of the INCB. The INCB’s proceedings are closed not only to NGOs but also to member states. The country visits – on which it bases its annual reports – generally do not include meetings with civil society organisations, people who use drugs, or others affected by drug control measures. In recent years, the INCB president has met with NGOs in one session at the annual meeting of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs. When questioned about the closed nature of the Board at these sessions, INCB officials have repeatedly cited security concerns and the need for confidentiality associated with sensitive drug control measures. Can it be impossible, however, for the INCB to engage with civil society if the Security Council can do so with the delicate and potentially explosive issues that it considers?”
“The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB or the Board) plays an important role in the international drug control system, serving as an independent body monitoring states’ implementation of their obligations under the international drug conventions. It has, however, been criticised for being one of the most secretive bodies in the UN system. It holds its meetings behind closed doors. No minutes are published. There is no opportunity for nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) or civil society organisations to observe or make submissions.
The INCB has claimed that it is ‘unique in international relations’, and has used this allegedly unique status to justify its exclusion of civil society from its deliberations and its closed meetings. However, far from being unique, the INCB is instead an early example of the ‘independent committee of experts’ model that has been adopted and developed within the UN human rights system, and regional human rights systems, over the past four decades. It is a common model that continues to be used today. Yet in contrast to these similar bodies, the INCB has failed to modernise its processes, and retains working practices inherited from defunct monitoring bodies.
[Barrett’s] report compares the INCB’s structure, mandate, legal status, activities and working methods with those of the UN human rights treaty bodies. While the INCB does differ in certain ways from these independent, quasi-judicial bodies in the UN human rights system, this is an inevitable result of differences between the aims and objectives of the drug and human rights conventions that the various committees are mandated to oversee. These differences are procedural rather than structural or legal, and are far outweighed by the similarities. The basic model, far from being unique to the INCB, is in fact identical.
The INCB’s ‘uniqueness’ stems not from its mandate, its activities or its legal status, but instead from the working methods the Board has adopted, methods that are out of step with those of similarly constituted UN bodies which have chosen to operate via open and inclusive processes.
The Board’s claim of unique status is untrue, as is its contention that civil society must, by mandate or other official barrier, be excluded from its deliberations. The key issue is one of choice, rather than mandate or legal barrier. The INCB has chosen secrecy, while the human rights treaty bodies have chosen open engagement. The INCB’s choice is becoming an increasing worry for the international community. Rather than working behind closed doors, the INCB should instead learn from the methods used by the human rights treaty bodies to develop a dialogue with civil society. It can adapt those methods and apply them to its own work to ensure a more open and informed monitoring system for the international drug conventions. Opening up the INCB’s activities in this way would bring its work into conformity with that of other similarly constituted UN bodies.
[Barrett’s] report aims to highlight those aspects of the Board’s working methods that must be addressed to achieve the inclusion of civil society as partners in the international drug control system, to ensure that the Board’s mandate is fully understood and fulfilled and to allow the INCB to remain relevant in international affairs. Such an outcome requires a change of attitude by the INCB and a decision on its part to alter working practices. However, action at many levels of the UN may be needed to ensure that such a transformation occurs.”
Barrett, D. (2008). ‘Unique in International Relations’? A Comparison of the International Narcotics Control Board and the UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies. London: International Harm Reduction Association.
About the Cannabis Initiative
“INCB Initiative on the Control and Monitoring Requirements of Cannabis and Cannabis-related Substances (INCB Cannabis Control Initiative)”
The INCB Cannabis Control Initiative “is being developed with the financial support of the Government of Japan. The Initiative supports Member States with the harmonization of their monitoring, control and reporting practices to ensure availability of cannabis-based substances for medical and scientific purposes while preventing their diversion and abuse” (source).
INCB has launched 2 projects as part of the Initiative:
- Issuing International Guidelines on the control requirements for cannabis (see below).
- Assisting Member States in setting up their medical cannabis control regulations.
About the future Guidelines
Guidelines on the International Drug Control Requirements for the Cultivation, Manufacture and Utilization of Cannabis for Medical and Scientific Purposes
Under the INCB Cannabis Control Initiative, INCB is developing these Guidelines as “a key part of INCB’s efforts to support Member States in better understanding and complying with their control and reporting obligations related to cannabis and cannabis-related substances” as set out in the 1961 Single Convention and the 1971 Convention. According to INCB, efforts under the Initiative would “strengthen compliance with the international drug conventions, facilitating access to cannabis for medical and scientific purposes while preventing the risk of diversion into the illicit market.” (source)
The Guidelines will not be legally-binding, but may reveal to be influential to drive harmonization of cannabis regulations globally.
Voluntary contribution to INCB Cannabis Guidelines –due diligence, good faith, & technical concerns
The original drafts of INCB’s Cannabis Guidelines raised a series of questions and concerns. In this Contribution, we recommend that INCB should exercise due diligence –just like it has done with regards to death penalty and other human rights-related issues. The Board should also importantly take into account the specificity of this plant and its traditional, cultural, social, economic ties to millions of people that have knowledge, skills, and a continued burden of criminalization over their heads –they need to be acknowledged and included in the process. Finally, INCB must be fully open to inputs from key affected populations, civil society and academics, and not just government officials and the largest private sector companies.
Inputs about medical cannabis in the context of home cultivation and self-medication
CBD is not a scheduled drug. But interpretations vary. INCB adopted the strictest interpretation
Due diligence towards the environment, ecosystems, and biological diversity
Human rights due diligence in relation with indigenous peoples, peasants, and rural communities