Challenging 'evil': Continuity and change in the drug prohibition regime

Christopher Edward Hobson*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    7 Citations (Scopus)


    The 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs is unique among UN conventions for the appearance of the term 'evil' in the document. Among all the possible wrongdoing and bad things that exist in the world, it is slightly counterintuitive that drugs are the only one to be labelled as 'evil' in international law. Adopting a 'conceptual politics' approach, the article will examine how drugs came to be identified in this manner, with a specific focus on the drafting of the 1961 Single Convention. The latter part of the article focuses on the contemporary relevance of this framing, considering how it contributes towards a much more restrictive environment in which serious change to the drug prohibition regime has proven to be a very difficult task. For those seeking reform it is not enough to demonstrate that the system does not work, they also must successfully challenge the idea of drugs as something evil and a threat to humanity. In concluding it is suggested that by returning to the Single Convention, one finds not only the language of 'evil', but also a more flexible position that allowed for revising the way drugs are dealt with. To bring about change in drugs prohibition regime, reformers will need to recover this more open and balanced approach to understanding drugs.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)525-542
    Number of pages18
    JournalInternational Politics
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 2013


    • Conceptual politics
    • Evil
    • Narcotics
    • Prohibition regime
    • War on drugs

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Geography, Planning and Development
    • Political Science and International Relations


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