On July 30th the Bolivian proposal to amend the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs by deleting the obligation to abolish the chewingof coca leaf was on the ECOSOC agenda (UN Social and Economic Council). After informal negotiations, the 54 members of ECOSOC decided unanimously to pass the amendment proposal on to the Parties of the Convention for their consideration. They now have 18 months to express any objections or comments on the Bolivian request.
In March 2009, Evo Morales sent his formal request to the Secretary General Bang Ki Moon to delete articles 49(c) and 49(e) of the 1961 UN Single Convention that explicitly mention that "coca leaf chewing must be abolished with twenty-five years from the coming into force of this Convention" (which happened in December 1964). The request will be discussed on Thursday, 30 July, at the annual meeting of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Putting this request on the ECOSOC agenda is a required procedure for amendment proposals. It is under Agenda item 14 (d), Narcotic drugs, General Segment (see the Note of Secretary General).
On 12 June 2009, TNI submited a memorandum to the 'House of Commons Select Committee on the cocaine trade' to allow the coca leaf in its natural form on the UK market, as a mild stimulant and as an infusion. The leaf is now still classified along with cocaine and heroin as a Class A drug.
When we think of people like Pope Paul VI, the Queen of Spain or Britain’s Princess Anne, most of us do not think of them as criminals. But that is what they are, under the current international drug law. Their crime? They all sipped coca tea on their arrival to the Bolivian capital La Paz.
A similar version was published as an OpEd in El Tiempo, June 26, 2009
See also: Coca Myths, Drugs & Conflict Debate Papers 17, June 2009
When we think of people like Pope Paul VI, the Queen of Spain or Britain’s Princess Anne, most of us do not think of them as criminals. But that is what they are, under the current international drug law. Their crime? They all sipped coca tea on their arrival to the Bolivian capital La Paz. Bolivia is planning to submit a formal request to the UN to declassify coca as a narcotic drug, emphasizing in its arguments the traditional uses, such as the chewing of the leaf.
Coca farmers should be identified as drug traffickers / Coca farmers only grow coca to satisfy traditional indigenous uses
It is in the social realm that the attitudes surrounding coca sometimes find their most intransigent expressions, with extreme positions underpinned by deeply ingrained cultural prejudice. Some say "coca farmers should be identified as drug traffickers", others, "coca farmers only grow coca to satisfy traditional indigeous uses"Further reading: Coca Myths, Drugs & Conflict Debate Papers 17, June 2009
The use of coca is symptomatic of hunger and malnutrition / Coca is a solution to the world’s hunger problem
While for some people, “the use of coca is symptomatic of hunger and malnutrition”, others state the opposite saying that “coca is a solution to the world’s hunger problem”. It has long been common among superficial observers to confuse the use of coca with an inadequate diet, and thus to claim that coca is in some specific sense responsible for malnutrition among the Andean population. At the opposite extreme, there exists an increasingly vocal lobby, which defends the use of coca not so much as a stimulant, but as a food supplement, and sometimes engages in extravagant claims regarding coca’s dietary benefits.
Cocaine can easily be extracted from coca leaves / Coca leaves contain no cocaine
To some people, “cocaine can easily be extracted from coca leaves”, to others, "coca leaves contain no cocaine". The extreme positions in this discussion have an even longer and more ideologically charged genealogy than those in the coca and nutrition debate.
The use of coca produces a form of drug dependence / The use of coca will cure dependence on cocaine and crack
To some people, “the use of coca produces a form of drug dependence”, to others “the use of coca will cure dependence on cocaine and crack”. And, like a Peruvian expert added ironically in 1952, there is a third position, that of the members of the UN who maintain that it is not an addiction, but should be treated as such since it is a pernicious habit. The absence of scientific backing did not prevent the WHO Expert Committee on Drug Dependence from ruling twice, in 1952 and 1953, that coca chewing should indeed be considered a form of “cocainism”.
Coca cultivation is devastating the rainforest / Coca is an ideal crop for poor soils in the tropics and will be cultivated everywhere once declared legal
Since at least the 1980s, there has been a consistent effort to link the growing of coca with widespread environmental degradation, baptized recently by the Colombian government as “ecocide”. Others state that "coca is an ideal crop for poor soils in the tropics".
On Monday the 18th, at the UN-ECOSOC session in New York, elections took place for six members of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB). The Board consists of only 13 members, so almost half of this UN body was up for election. Taking a look at the INCB-section on our website quickly reveals our troubled history with this ‘quasi-judicial’ and supposedly independent body that monitors compliance with the UN drug control treaties.
A clear divide in drug control approaches became apparent at the end of the High Level Segment of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) on March 11-12 in Vienna, where countries gathered to review to progress since the 1998 UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) and set a framework for the next 10 years through a Political Declaration and Plan of Action.
At one side of the divide a growing number of countries opt for pragmatic evidence-based harm reduction policies, while at the other side countries desperately cling to a zero tolerance approach that has failed to produce any significant result the past decade. Despite the diplomatic façade, the conclusion cannot be otherwise that the Vienna consensus on drug control that has paralysed progress in international drug control for decades, has fallen apart.
In Peru, the commercialization of coca leaf powder or coca flour has seen a huge increase in popularity in the market for healthy food, with a fairly broad range of applications.Following this, the legal status of both rural producers and traders and sellers of final products containing coca flour, requires legislative reform.
The last of the four ‘round tables’ of the high-level segment of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs was devoted to the broad issue of Countering illicit drug traffic and supply, and alternative development. TNI had been nominated by the Vienna NGO Committee to give a statement on the issue of Alternative Development (AD), being one of the few member NGOs with a track record on this issue and having actively participated in the Beyond 2008 initiative, including the negotiations at the July NGO forum to reach consensus on the text of a paragraph on AD in the final declaration. This is our impression of the event.
The first day at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs was marked by the announcement of President Evo Morales of Bolivia that he would start the process to remove the coca leaf from the 1961 Single Convention as well as the suspension of the paragraphs of that convention that prohibit the traditional chewing of coca leaf. Holding up a coca leaf in front of delegates at the UN summit on drugs he underlined his demand.
The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU) filmed the speech of the president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, at the high level UN meeting in Vienna on March 11, 2009, in which he announced that Bolivia would start the process to remove the coca leaf from the 1961 Single Convention as well as the suspension of the paragraphs of that convention that prohibit the traditional chewing of coca leaf. You can watch the video with English subtitles.