The Coca Debate

Sunday, May 25, 2008

In March 2008, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) provoked outrage in Bolivia by calling for the elimination of traditional uses of coca, such as chewing coca leaves and drinking coca tea. A new briefing urges to address the current erroneous classification of coca under the UN conventions. It also notes an apparent shift on the issue by the US government and urges the US to formally clarify its position. 

In a briefing The Coca Debate: Headed toward Polarization or Common Ground? the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and the Andean Information Network (AIN) call on the INCB, the US government and the UN drug control system to recognize and begin to address the inconsistencies and contradictions regarding the coca leaf in the international drug control conventions.

Correcting the erroneous classification of coca as a narcotic drug faces formidable obstacles. The briefing notes an apparent shift in policy by the US government.  The US delegation at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) in March 2008 "fully backed the INCB’s call for Bolivia and Peru to 'abolish or prohibit … coca leaf chewing and the manufacture of mate de coca (coca tea).' During consideration of the INCB report by the CND plenary, the US delegate stated that the US government supports the 'call for all states to comply with the obligations of the 1961 convention' and that 'the provisions of the 1988 convention even with reservations do not absolve states of the obligation to comply with the treaty… Coca leaf is a narcotic drug … [and] coca should be limited as is the case with any other narcotic drug.' "

The explicit US support for the INCB position on coca at the CND could be interpreted as a significant shift in US policy, the briefing says: "To date, US officials have accepted – though perhaps reluctantly – that coca leaf chewing and coca tea drinking are part of the fabric of daily life for millions of people in the Andes, and that the coca leaf itself has historical, religious and cultural significance. The show of US support for the INCB stance on coca – while consistent with strong US backing for the international drug conventions – evidently contradicts a long-standing US position recognizing the legitimacy of traditional uses of coca."

WOLA and AIN urge the US government to formally clarify its position on this matter: "Does the US indeed endorse the INCB call for Bolivia and Peru to outlaw and eliminate traditional uses of coca? Or does the US continue to recognize the legitimacy and legality of traditional coca uses?"

Download the full report 

See also: Abolishing Coca Leaf Consumption? The INCB needs to perform a reality check, TNI Press Release, March 5, 2008