Bolivia commences process to allow coca-leaf chewing under international drug control scheme

4 August 2009

At the Substantive Session of the Economic and Social Council on Thursday, 30th July 2009 in Geneva, Bolivia commenced the formal process by which they hope to delete article 49, paragraphs 1(c) and 2(e) of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961, as amended by the Protocol amending the Single convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961.

Article 49, paragraph 2(e) states that ‘coca leaf chewing must be abolished within twenty-five years from the coming into force of this Convention as provided in paragraph 1 of article 41’; paragraph 1(c) states that a Party to the Convention may reserve the right to permit coca leaf chewing temporarily in any one of its territories, subject to the restrictions established in paragraph 2(e), that is, for a period of no more than 25years.

The Bolivian proposal was supported by a letter from the President of Bolivia, Evo Morales, which explains that coca leaf chewing is a non-harmful and ancient socio-cultural practice and ritual of the Andean indigenous peoples closely linked to their history and cultural identity practised today by millions of people in Bolivia, Peru, northern Argentina and Chile, Ecuador, and Colombia. The Bolivian delegate to ECOSOC assured other delegates that ‘we are not talking about free growing of coca so as not to feed the narco trade’ and explained that the proposed amendment to the Convention would allow countries to ‘make up their own minds’ on coca-leaf chewing and would not require any change in the domestic law of other countries, she said ‘this is a full application of the principle for non-intervention and non-meddling in the sovereignty of states’. The delegate further stated that the Bolivian government plans to hold a seminar for interested parties on coca leaf chewing in October of this year. Read the Bolivian proposal below.

The United States of America and Sweden both raised their flags on this agenda item but the resulting dramatic tension was quickly abated by a procedural question with regards to the consultation process. The question was answered as follows: if the proposed amendment is not rejected by any Party within eighteen months of 30th July 2009, it shall enter into force. If any rejection is forthcoming, however, a conference shall be called to consider the amendment.