Coca Yes, Cocaine No? Legal Options for the Coca Leaf

9 May 2006

A simple leaf of an ancient plant will feature prominently on the international agenda this year. A decade-old demand to remove the coca leaf from strict international drugs con­trols has come to the fore again. Time has come to repair an his­to­rical error responsible for including the leaf amongst the most hazard­ous classified substances, having caused severe consequences for the Andean region. This issue of Drugs and Conflict explains the motives, context and range of this petition, as well as the procedures that need to be followed to reach this objective.

The coca leaf has come to symbolise hopes for a more equal and inclusive future, for a large, impoverished share of the Andean population, many of whom are indigenous peop­les. This symbolism draws on a rich tradition of uses for the leaf, with archaeological evi­dence revealing its widespread and varied use in the pre-colonial period, as opposed to its modern fame, which associates it with the extraction of one of its alkaloids - cocaine.

Since the coca leaf is currently listed together with cocaine and heroin on Schedule I of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961, public awareness of the intrinsic difference between the leaves and their cocaine derivate has gradually vanished. At the recent 49th CND session, the Bolivian delegation announced that it would ask the inter­national community to reconsider the inclusion of the coca leaf in these schedules.

There is enough scientific evidence to substantiate that the traditional use of coca has no negative health effects; that it serves positive therapeutic, sacred and social functions. Its classification as a narcotic drug was a mistake. However, whilst the slogan "coca is not cocaine" is a valid assertion, it cannot be denied that the leaf contains cocaine. Those seeking the revalorisation of the coca leaf need to face up to the complexity and integrity of the leaf, including cocaine.

The inclusion of coca in the 1961 Convention has caused much harm and a historical cor­rection is long overdue. For the international community, this year will become a moment to decide: do we really stand by the cultural insensitivity and scientific nonsense that placed coca under the control of the UN Conventions, or do we have the courage to say 'we apologise for the pain our prejudices have caused these past decades, we stand corrected.'

Coca Yes, Cocaine No? Legal Options for the Coca Leaf
Drugs & Conflict Debate Paper 13, May 2006

The briefing will presented oficially in Vienna on 12 May at "Linking Alternatives 2", the meeting of social movements and civil society organisations parallel to the official fourth Summit between the Heads of State and Government of Latin America, the Caribbean (LAC) and the European Union (EU).
Venue and time: 16.00-18.00 - Room 1, Stadthalle, Vogelweideplatz 14, Vienna.
For more information contact Pien Metaal: 31-6-4079 8808

Recent publications from Drugs and Democracy

The Rise and Decline of Cannabis Prohibition

Cannabis was condemned by the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs as a psychoactive drug with “particularly dangerous properties” and hardly any therapeutic value. Ever since, an increasing number of countries have shown discomfort with the treaty regime’s strictures through soft defections, stretching its legal flexibility to sometimes questionable limits.

Cocaine: towards a self-regulation model

By taking cues from users’ self-regulation strategies, it is possible to design innovative operational models for drug services as well as drug policies, strengthening Harm Reduction as an alternative approach to the disease model.


Eyes Wide Shut: Corruption and Drug-Related Violence in Rosario

In Rosario, Argentina, the presence of criminal organisations involved in drug trafficking was a low priority for the government until New Year’s day 2012, when the killing of three innocent civilians by members of a gang sparked press attention.

First Southeast Asia Opium Farmers Forum Yangon 2013

In July the First Southeast Asia Opium Farmers Forum was held, bringing together some 30 representatives of local communities involved in opium cultivation and local community workers from the major opium growing regions in Southeast Asia.