23 January 1912

The International Opium Convention is signed at The Hague.

On 23 January 1912, the International Opium Convention was signed in the Hague by representatives from China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Persia (Iran), Portugal, Russia, Siam (Thailand), the UK and the British oversees territories (including British India). Three years later, it entered into force in five countries. The Convention gained, however, near-universal adherence after 1919 when all the countries signing the Peace Treaties of Versailles, St. Germain-en-Laye etc. also became party to the International Opium Convention. Thus by the mid 1920s close to 60 countries had – de jure – signed and ratified the Hague treaty and this number increased to 67 by 1949.

The International Opium convention consisted of six chapters and 25 articles. In addition to opium and morphine, which were already under extensive international discussion, the Hague Convention also included two new substances that had become problematic: cocaine and heroin.

Cocaine was first isolated by the German chemist Albert Niemann in 1860, and rapidly gained popularity for both medical and recreational use. Heroin was a relatively new drug at the time of the Hague Convention, as it had only become available as a pharmaceutical product in 1898. Ironically, it was originally marketed as a non-addictive alternative to morphine, which was proving problematic in many areas.

The 1912 Convention was far from perfect, but it contained many elements of a comprehensive drug control treaty. Moreover, as an official declaration on the dangerous practices of opium smoking and the non-medical trade in opium and other drugs, it had value as an advocacy tool. It also inspired national drug control legislation, such as the 1913 Harrison Act in the United States, the foundation of U.S. drug law in the 20th century.