Sending the wrong message
The INCB, rather than making harsh judgements based on a selective choice of outdated treaty articles, should use its mandate more constructively and help draw attention to the inherent contradictions in the current treaty system with regard to how plants, plant-based raw materials and traditional uses are treated.
The 2006 International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) report emitted a clear signal to the governments of Bolivia, Peru and Argentina that growing and using coca leaf is in conflict with international treaties, particularly the 1961 Single Convention. That was nothing new. Several previous INCB reports have remarked upon the contradictions between practices and treaties, but less explicitly and insistently than was done this year. All of the countries mentioned are asked to adapt their national legislation and change their perceived permissiveness back in line with the conventions.
The Bolivian national policy, in particular, is targeted in this year’s report, with the argument repeated in three different sections. The “Special Topics” section dedicates its first part to this, while another section “urges the Governments concerned to ensure the full implementation of the provisions of the 1961 Convention as amended by the 1972 Protocol concerning the production of coca leaf, its industrial uses and international trade. The Board is concerned that that action could serve as a precedent and may send the wrong message to the public if it is allowed to stand”.1 The report does not explain why the proposed use of coca leaf is wrong, but this is surely due to the fact that the treaty still considers the leaf itself to be a narcotic drug.
The 2005 INCB report already reminded the parties of the fact that “the transitional measures regarding the licit cultivation of coca bush and consumption of coca leaf under the 1961 Convention ended a long time ago”.2 It seems to interpret licit consumption and cultivation for traditional consumption as a sign of reduced efforts caused by “perceived difficulties in fighting illicit crops”. The board will continue to ignore the existence of millions of coca leaf consumers for as long as the international legal framework is based on the false assumption that harm is inflicted upon people’s health when consuming the coca leaf. Moreover, the INCB seems to be unaware of the existence of article 14 of the 1988 Trafficking Convention, which explicitly allows traditional coca leaf consumption in those places where historical evidence exists.
• The INCB, rather than making harsh judgements based on a selective choice of outdated treaty articles, should use its mandate more constructively and help draw attention to the inherent contradictions in the current treaty system with regard to how plants, plant-based raw materials and traditional uses are treated.
• It should suggest recommendations to address these inconsistencies, as it did in the now long-forgotten 1994 supplement in which the INCB pointed out that the drinking of coca tea “which is considered harmless and legal in several countries in South America, is an illegal activity under the provisions of both the 1961 Convention and the 1988 Convention, though that was not the intention of the plenipotentiary conferences that adopted those conventions”. The Board expressed its confidence “that the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, on the basis of scientific evaluation, will resolve such long-standing ambiguities”.
• A logical first step to take is to request an expert advice from the WHO, which is mandated to recommend changes in the scope of control of substances.
• The coca leaf itself can by no means be regarded as a narcotic drug with addiction-producing properties and cannot be kept in Schedule I under that false pretext. A comparison with opiates and with plants whose active ingredients are controlled by the 1971 and 1988 conventions should lead to the conclusion that the fact that cocaine can be extracted from the leaf is also not sufficient justification for its inclusion in Schedule I, because the “extracts that are actually abused are already controlled under the 1961 Convention”.
• There is a strong case to make for withdrawing the coca leaf from the 1961 schedules.
- Articles & Videos