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The International Narcotics Control Board: Watchdog or Guardian of the UN Drug Control Conventions?

The current global system for the control of illegal drugs such as heroin, cocaine and cannabis is enshrined in three United Nations (UN) Conventions, respectively dated 1961, 1971 and 1988. Established in the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB or Board) is the body charged with monitoring the implementation of the conventions, and of alerting member states and the international community to weaknesses in the system, or its implementation. While the Board’s role in overseeing and quantifying the legal market in controlled drugs for medical and scientifi c uses is widely admired, there is growing discontent with the unbalanced nature of its contribution to the much more complex and sensitive debates surrounding the issue of illegal drug markets and how best to respond to them. Consequently, critics have pointed out that the Board has moved away from its intended mandate as the ‘watchdog’ of the conventions – describing the global situation, and bringing attention to challenges and dilemmas – to become more of a ‘guardian’ of the purity of the conventions – challenging any policy or activity that does not correspond with what it perceives as the original vision of the control system. By adopting such an uncompromising stance, the Board undermines its own authority, and runs the risk of being seen as irrelevant to the shifting challenges faced by national governments and municipal authorities in responding to the widespread use of illegal drugs