Yesterday the unprecedented resolution of a court case for the importation of coca leaf powder (also known as mambe) took place at the Provincial Court of Girona. F.T., a Colombian citizen living in Spain, was acquitted of charges of drug trafficking following the presentation of evidence and arguments about the historical, cultural, social and medicinal value of coca leaves.
“The resolution of this case represents a victory for human rights with regards to traditional plants that fall victim to drug policies based on ignorance,” said Dr. Constanza Sánchez, Director of Law, Policy and Human Rights, International Center for Ethnobotanical Education, Research and Service.
The case began in 2014 when F.T. was arrested for mailing a package containing 2kg of ground coca leaf, which is used in the Andean and Amazonian regions of South America for ceremonial, medicinal and nutritional purposes.
Accused of receiving “cocaine” and “motivated by the purpose of distributing cocaine among third persons,” the Prosecutor’s Office requested 4 years of imprisonment, establishing at the same time that the amount of cocaine intended to be obtained was 6.3 grams (note that, according to the doctrine of the Spanish Supreme Court, the threshold for possession of cocaine for personal consumption is 7.5 grams).
After several years of process, on March 15, 2017, the trial of F.T. took place, ending with the dropping of the charges by the Public Prosecutor and the acquittal of the accused (the official sentence is still due). The F.T. defense team, led by Barcelona lawyer Roberto Castro, and supported by ICEERS and the Transnational Institute (TNI), has reached an unprecedented goal in a coca leaf case in Spain, with potential impact in other European countries.
“Currently, coca leaf use in its unprocessed form is no longer restricted to indigenous territories and populations – these practices are expanding because of coca’s stimulating, nutritional and medicinal properties,” says Pien Metaal of the TNI Drugs and Democracy Programme.
Expert witness testimonies focused on the legal status of coca, international debates on its classification in international drug treaties, its alleged health benefits and its role of social cohesion both in the original contexts and in the Andean diaspora around the world. Furthermore, expert witnesses emphasized how the revival of coca use outside the limits of what would be considered, in purist terms, traditional or indigenous. Finally, they argued that the accusation that the defendant had imported two kilos of ground leaf with the purpose to extract cocaine for later distribution was absurd – an opinion which was corroborated by experts of both the defense and the National Institute of Toxicology during the trial.
“The consumption of coca leaf is not comparable to the consumption of cocaine,” said Dr. José Carlos Bouso, Scientific Director of ICEERS. “There is no scientific evidence that chewing coca leaves is harmful to one’s health. Rather, there is increasing evidence to the contrary, for example, research has shown that it is a stabilizer of blood glucose levels, a benefit that is of paramount importance with numerous medical applications, ”
During this important legal case, not only the was F.T.’s innocence and honor demonstrated, but also the historical error of the prohibition of the coca leaf and of cultural practices that surround it.
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Thumbnail: Flickr CC Shawn Harquail