Skip to main content

Bolivia Rejoins UN Drug Treaty, Sans Coca Ban

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #767)
Drug War Issues
Politics & Advocacy

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.

The re-accession marks the end of a process that began in 2009. Bolivia attempted to amend the Single Convention, and when that effort was blocked by the US and mostly Western European nations, it withdrew from the Convention with the intent to rejoin with the reservation that it did not accept the language on coca.

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 "What this really is about is the fear to acknowledge that the current treaty framework is inconsistent, out-of-date, and needs reform."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."

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Gart (not verified)

Bolivia has won the right to rejoin the 1961 UN Convention—with the reservation that chewing of coca leaves should be considered legal—by a large margin. Out of 183, only 15 voted against: Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Portugal, Russia, Sweden, the Netherlands, Brazil the UK and the US. 

With one or two exceptions, these countries have comprehensive harm reduction programmes, have decriminalised the possession and consumption of illicit drugs, and some have even legalised the domestic supply of marijuana. Shame on us, we couldn't be more cynical, hypocritical, self-serving or dishonest!

Gart Valenc

Twitter: @gartvalenc

Sat, 01/12/2013 - 10:50am Permalink
saynotohypocrisy (not verified)

In reply to by Gart (not verified)

What country has legalized the domestic supply (growing and distribution) of marijuana?  I didn't think there were any yet.

Which of these countries have decriminalized the possession and consumption of illicit drugs?

Sun, 01/13/2013 - 7:36pm Permalink
kickback (not verified)

Why would anyone want to change Global Drug Law ? Can`t we just do this for a 1000 years ? The Law is written into stone . God forbid that a Human seek pleasure or health from a plant . Our anti-plant crusade is on the line . Can you see the folly ?

Sun, 01/13/2013 - 3:22am Permalink

Add new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.