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Bolivia tells UN body it will launch bid to end int’l coca leaf prohibition

Vienna, Mar 13 (EFE).- Bolivia said here Monday at a United Nations drug policy meeting that it will launch an initiative aimed at ending the international prohibition of coca leaf, which has been traditionally chewed or brewed into tea by Andean peoples to combat hunger and altitude sickness.

“A historic mistake was made in 1961,” Bolivian Vice President David Choquehuanca said at the 66th session of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) in Vienna, recalling the year in which coca leaves – organic precursor for cocaine – were declared an illegal substance under a UN convention.

In a subsequent press conference, Choquehuanca said his country will exercise its right as a signatory of international treaties and request that the World Health Organization conduct a “critical review” of the coca leaf’s properties.

Coca leaf is included in the UN’s 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs’ Schedule 1, which is reserved for dangerous substances such as heroin and cocaine that are subject to the strictest international control.

“The ritual use of coca leaf is not substance abuse,” said the Bolivian vice president, who added that the international ban has resulted in “six decades of discrimination and colonization.”

“When laws are inefficient, justice is unjust,” Choquehuanca said, noting that his country will launch its legal process in the coming weeks with a letter to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

WHO experts would then be tasked with studying the properties, toxicology and harmful effects of coca and preparing a report with their findings, a process expected to take at least a year.

The experts finally will submit their recommendation to the CND’s 53 member states, which could adopt it or submit it to a vote.

The WHO may recommend maintaining coca leaf’s current classification, moving it to a less strict level of international control or removing it from the Convention’s schedules altogether.

No vote on coca leaf by the CND is expected to occur until the end of 2024 or early 2025 at the earliest.

Choquehuanca said he is confident the WHO’s scientific studies will lead to coca leaf being “declassified” as an internationally controlled substance.

“We’re convinced, in light of scientific studies, in light of the truth, that coca leaf should not be included in Schedule 1. The world needs to know the science-based truth,” he said.

Colombia, which like Bolivia has a leftist government and is a major global cocaine producer, has already announced its support for the Andean nation’s initiative, and some diplomatic sources told Efe that the WHO study and its recommendations will be crucial for garnering additional backing.

Bolivia has secured different reservations and exceptions pertaining to the use of coca leaf, including a special dispensation recognizing the traditional chewing of coca leaves as legal within the borders of the Andean nation.

But until now it had not sought to end the international prohibition on coca leaf.

Bolivia allows coca cultivation for traditional consumption on up to 22,500 hectares (55,500 acres) of land, and more than 100,000 families depend on that crop for their livelihoods.

The vice president reiterated on several occasions that coca leaf is not cocaine and that his country is fully committed to the fight against drug trafficking.

Bolivia’s government has complained for years that treaty-based restrictions on coca leaf and its derivatives are hindering the development of a potential international market that could benefit coca-growing communities.

“As millenary peoples, we have the right to export, to market, to industrialize the sacred coca leaf,” Choquehuanca said. EFE


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