Coca: Migrants and traditional Use

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Coca: Migrants and traditional Use

3 June 2019

By Pien Metaal, Constanza Sánchez, Natalia Rebollo

How to reconcile migrant communities’ right to the enjoyment of cultural life (including the use of traditional plants) with international drug control obligations.

For the past several years, Fundación ICEERS, with the support of allied organisations such as the Transnational Institute (TNI), has been assisting in the legal defense of people with a migrant background who are prosecuted in Spain (or other European countries) for the possession or importation of coca leaf for the purposes of traditional use. These people originate from countries with a legal framework allowing for licit traditional use of coca leaf, such as Colombia, Bolivia, Peru and Argentina. These cases have had different outcomes and, when people have been convicted, sentencing has not been uniform. In this sense, communities have struggled to exercise their basic rights to enjoy their own culture, illustrating new challenges for human rights and drug control. These challenges need to be met within the framework of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, a new reference for UN drug control mechanisms and the global drug policy debate at large.

Almost two years ago ICEERS celebrated the positive result of a court case related to coca leaf in Girona, Spain. After three years of uncertainty, the Public Prosecutor decided during trial to withdraw the charges of drug trafficking against a Colombian citizen residing in Catalonia for receiving by mail a 2 kilogram package of ground coca leaf. Although the withdrawal of charges against the accused, who had been charged with a crime against public health, was very welcome news to the person involved, to his family and friends, and to drug policy reformers, the prosecutor’s decision to withdraw charges, unlike an acquittal or a decision by the judge to reject the charges, does not result in any formal legal precedent which could be relied upon by others accused under similar circumstances.

Last November we also learned about the latest court decision from a case related to coca leaf possession in Spain, in which we had worked closely with the defense team for over two years. This case relates to the broader issue of traditional use of this plant, beyond its local native contexts, and how migrants from the Andean Amazon region are deprived of a legitimate cultural practice, which is embedded in the places from which they come.