Bolivia will rejoin the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs after its bid to rejoin with a reservation that it does not accept the treaty's requirement that "coca leaf chewing must be banned" was successful last Friday. Opponents needed one-third of the 184 signatory countries to object, but fell far, far short despite objections by the US and the International Narcotics Control Board.
Coca, from which cocaine is derived, has been used as a stimulant and appetite suppressant for thousands of years in South American's Andean region. The Bolivian government of President Evo Morales considers coca part of its national patrimony.
The Bolivian reservation applies only on Bolivian territory, and the export of coca remains proscribed under the Convention.
The nations that objected to Bolivia's reservation mainly objected on procedural grounds, though some worried that it could lead to an increase in coca production. Only Sweden objected on the basis that coca leaf chewing should be abolished, arguing vainly that "the ambition expressed in the convention is the successive prohibition also of traditional uses of drugs."
"The objecting countries' emphasis on procedural arguments is hypocritical. In the end this is not about the legitimacy of the procedure Bolivia has used, it is not even really about coca chewing," according to Martin Jelsma, coordinator of the Transnational Institute's Drugs and Democracy program. "What this really is about is the fear to acknowledge that the current treaty framework is inconsistent, out-of-date, and needs reform."
The Institute noted that Bolivia's success can be an example for other regional countries where traditional use of the coca leaf is permitted, including Argentina, Colombia, and Peru, to challenge the Single Convention on coca. It also called for the World Health Organization to undertake a review of coca's classification as a Schedule I drug under the Convention.
"Those who would desperately try to safeguard the global drug control system by making it immune to any type of modernization are fighting a losing battle," according to John Walsh, director of the Washington Office on Latin America drug policy program. "Far from undermining the system, Bolivia has given the world a promising example that it is possible to correct historic errors and to adapt old drug control dogmas to today’s new realities."