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Bolivia to Quit United Nations Drug Convention Over Coca

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #690)
Drug War Issues
Politics & Advocacy

lime powder container (used traditionally in coca chewing), 1st-7th-century, Colombia (Quimbaya), Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
Bolivia is preparing to withdraw from the 1961 United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs to protest its classification of coca leaves as an illegal drug. A law that would do just that has already passed the lower chamber of Congress and is likely to pass in the Senate, where the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party of President Evo Morales has a two-thirds majority.

The Congress is acting at the request of Morales, a coca union leader. His government sought late last year to amend the convention to reclassify coca leaf, but that effort failed in January, so now Bolivia will withdraw from the convention altogether.

Coca leaf has been used for thousands of years in the Andes, and Bolivia has long argued that coca in its natural state is not an illegal drug, just a plant with traditional, therapeutic, and industrial uses. The Bolivian constitution obligates the government to preserve and protect the chewing of coca leaves as a cultural heritage and ancestral practice.

Under the draft law, which has already passed the lower chamber of Congress and is likely to pass in the Senate, where Morales's party has a two-thirds majority, Bolivia would keep its international obligations in the fight against drug trafficking. Foreign minister David Choquehuanca said the country could rejoin the convention next year, but with a reservation: that it be allowed to consume coca legally.

lime spoons, coastal Inka, Peru, mid-15th to 16th century, Metropolitan Museum of Art
"This is an attempt to keep the cultural and inoffensive practice of coca chewing and to respect human rights, but not just of indigenous people, because this is an ancient practice of all Bolivian people," Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca told the British newspaper The Guardian Thursday.

Bolivia is the world's third largest coca producer behind Colombia and Peru. Much of the production is diverted into cocaine destined primarily for Brazilian and European markets. Bolivia has intensified its fight against drug trafficking, but says it is fighting a losing battle as long as demand for cocaine remains high in the West.

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.


maxwood (not verified)

Morales is pointing to long-time use of coca leaf without the high tech extraction processes which have given the world cocaine, a pharmaceutical product with risks (aspirin is another pharmaceutical product, with risks including death; legal drugs are said to cause hundreds of thousands of deaths). 

What if it were legal to possess-- and chew or smoke-- dry but unpharmaceutified coca leaf?  What if every user, instead of rolling up a big 500-mg hot burning overdose $igarette alias "joint", used a 25-mg-capacity one-hitter, or a vaporizer?

Here, as with cannabis, the rational nonsledgehammer dosage moderation approach seems to be "the road not taken" while prohibitionists rant about the dangers of "the drug".

Fri, 06/24/2011 - 5:50pm Permalink
TrebleBass (not verified)

In reply to by maxwood (not verified)

I agree. I think too little is said about dose awareness and control, even by harm reduction advocates. For basically any drug, dose awareness is the most obvious harm reduction measure, and it should always be remembered as such. There seems to be a sense by some that drug users cannot control their dose, because "that's what addiction is", and so on. I think if authorities talk about dose control instead of only about abstinence, people will know it is a valuable measure and they will be more intent on implementing it. 

Sat, 06/25/2011 - 12:47pm Permalink
McD (not verified)

In reply to by mcweinerstine (not verified)

Not fair, 'bro': just because someone can spell and write sentences with lots of words and real, old-fashioned capital letters (gasp!) does not mean s/he is a prude or a 'smug ass'. How s/he comes over to you says more about you than it does about them. Personally, I'm inclined to go with the guy who puts a space after commas and full stops, and uses big, grown-up letters in the right places. Judging from the reaction to your comment, it would seem I'm not alone.

Presumably, 'bro' is short for 'brother'? Presumably, you don't know Maxwood personally? Why on earth, therefore, would you presume he would like to be your 'brother'?

Fri, 07/01/2011 - 11:07am Permalink
Carl (not verified)

To cultural imperialism. To the racist attack on the use of the traditional plant poisons Cannabis, opium and coca leaf by a dominant armed culture that has caused much corruption, death and suffering throughout the world.

It is our culture that corrupted the coca leaf into cocaine and opium into heroin and oxycodone and  spread a culture of crime and police state repression worldwide.

I salute you Bolivia. I hope other nations follow your lead.

Fri, 06/24/2011 - 11:22pm Permalink
sicntired (not verified)

In reply to by Carl (not verified)

Oxy,codone,which is the drug in oxycontin,has no place on your list.It is an opioid,not an opiate.Straight big pharma chemical copy.The cops in Canada have launched a war on poppy plants.Better tell granny that patch in her yard is possession for the purpose of manufacture of a dangerous narcotic.Harpers Canada is a thought free zone and as anti drug as thailand.

Tue, 06/28/2011 - 9:49pm Permalink
Carl (not verified)

In reply to by sicntired (not verified)

Oxycodone is a semi-synthetic derivative of the opium alkaloid thebaine as is oxymorphone, hydrocodone, and buprenorphine.

Thebaine in it's natural state is a stimulant that acts on the same parts of the brain as endorphins and narcotics. It produces addiction/withdrawal, allegedly, though it does not possess narcotic/analgesic properties. It's chemical structure is similar to morphine and it can be chemically converted to a variety of narcotic drugs that do not occur in nature as well, I think, as those that do, morphine and codeine.

Thebaine is allegedly what produces opiums cerebral stimulant effect. This and some of the other alkaloids present in opium counteract/moderate morphines soporific and depressent effects producing the high that opium users/addicts enjoy.

Tue, 06/28/2011 - 11:49pm Permalink
Carl (not verified)

In reply to by Carl (not verified)

Heroin and dilaudid are semi-synthetic alkaloid derivatives too. Synthesized from morphine. Much of the street heroin in the U.S. is not true "heroin" (dimorphine) primarily, but monomorphine, the result of improper acetylization or of the partial chemical breakdown of dimorphine. Several other narcotics have also been synthesized from morphine, so I've read.

Wed, 06/29/2011 - 12:01am Permalink
TrebleBass (not verified)

I wonder if the legalization of coca, marijuana, and opium would go a long way in reducing the harms of prohibition. With time, perhaps the availability of coca leaf products like energy dringks (including strong versions of them, although i don't know if that technically makes it cocaine) could reduce cocaine use, and the availability of opium could reduce heroin use. Maybe not, but it's not inconceivable. It would be a really nice, clean measure to start with, just legalizing those three (although it might instead start a new market where there currently is none, and that could be a problem (not with coca, but with opium). Maybe in the long run, though, heroin users would slowly switch to opium and the new experimenters of opium would stop taking it once it stopped being an interesting new thing and it started being seen as just addictive). To replace cocaine we might also want to legalize khat, ephedra, and other natural stimulants. Just passing a law that says all plants should be legal would be a relatively risk-free version of legalization because you can allow people to get signigicantly high (and hopefully satisfied), with a low risk of overdoses (assuming the opium is smoked and not eaten). 

Sat, 06/25/2011 - 1:20pm Permalink
sicntired (not verified)

In reply to by TrebleBass (not verified)

Come to Vancouver.It's not as easy to find as it was but it's here and the people in the know have continuous access.By the by,if you are in the know,call me.

Tue, 06/28/2011 - 9:52pm Permalink
Carl (not verified)

In reply to by sicntired (not verified)


I'm happy to hear that users up there have the ability to choose opium over H and oxy, at least some of the time.

Opium (Persian and other) was occasionally available in LA throughout the 70s.

For the first ~3 years or so after the '79 Islamic revolution in Iran it was common on the black market. The newly illegal opium sticks fled the country with the many opium users  who could afford to relocate to other countries and avoid what was to come for addicts in Iran under the new regime. Smokable Persian dross in water (shari'i?) was sold for a while longer and then that was gone too.

I haven't seen it for sale on the street in almost 30 years.

I live in northern CA now, a more tolerant area by far than most of the uber-reactionary USA. And there are a lot of "plant people" up here as we all know. I have heard of home-grown O. It is very esoteric though. Never seen it in the "flesh".

Little kids pop pills but relatively few older mature adult narcotic users have ever even tried opium.

Dreary dirty Mexican tar junk and oxy are the dominant street narcotics here, though virtually every pharm. narcotic or drug is also available.

Go Oxy!!!! Go Purdue!!! Go DEA!!!! USA!!! USA!!! USA!!! (a cheer) Sorry. A sarcastic lapse. I took a couple hits of  pot without a prescription. Forgive me. It won't happen again. :-)

Wed, 06/29/2011 - 1:15am Permalink
TrebleBass (not verified)

Imagine you could get CBD pills (natural extracts, not synthetics) at the supplements aisle at your local pharmacy. How many pain killing, neuroprotectant, antioxidant, anxiolitic, antipsychotic, sleeping aid, that's impossible to overdose on, is not habit forming, and not psychoactive, products are out there? And they wouldn't even have to legalize marijuana to do it, just hemp (I think, because if you grow for the purpose of high-cbd, that automatically means low thc). In fact, hemp farmers in Canada and other countries should look into this as a business venture. Plus, marijuana users who are prone to getting paranoia could take these pills and not get paranoia, rendering marijuana basically risk-free. I'm not certain that cbd does all these things, but as far as i understand it does. And it would proabably even be cheap too. 

Sat, 06/25/2011 - 2:24pm Permalink
TrebleBass (not verified)

In reply to by Old Hippie (not verified)

oh well, at least it does some other stuff,  right?  I know it's antispcyhotic, and probably antioxidant and neruoprotectant by itself; i don't know about the other properties i mentioned though. As for its anxiolitic effects and as a sleeping aid, i imagine it might help. Although those are more subjective even than pain, so they might vary from person to person. I just wish people had access to it as a sole ingredient so they could experiment with it and see what things it's good for. I would definitely participate in those experiments. At least we know it's a safe substance. 

Sat, 06/25/2011 - 7:17pm Permalink
ComradePyro (not verified)

In reply to by TrebleBass (not verified)

Actually, marijuana is known to exascerbate psychotic symptoms, which is quite the opposite of "antipsychotic". CBD and THC are both cannabinoids, and both can function independantly, to suggest otherwise is asinine and uninformed. They have markedly different effects, and there is synergy going on, to be sure, but they're still psychoactive independantly. See also: Synthetic cannabinoids ala JWH.

Mon, 06/27/2011 - 12:57pm Permalink
ComradePyro (not verified)

In reply to by TrebleBass (not verified)

Actually, marijuana is known to exascerbate psychotic symptoms, which is quite the opposite of "antipsychotic". CBD and THC are both cannabinoids, and both can function independantly, to suggest otherwise is asinine and uninformed. They have markedly different effects, and there is synergy going on, to be sure, but they're still psychoactive independantly. See also: Synthetic cannabinoids ala JWH.

Mon, 06/27/2011 - 12:58pm Permalink
TrebleBass (not verified)

In reply to by ComradePyro (not verified)

Actually, thc is the only one that seems to exacerbate psychotic symptoms. CBD by itself is not only non-psychoctive, but actually does almost the opposite of thc (i don't think they complete negate each other's effects, just modify each others effects), but thc by itself i've heard is very likely to exacerbate psychotic symptoms (which is why marinol is such a crappy drug), and cbd by itself is antipsychotic:


from wikipedia (

"Leweke et al. performed a double blind, 4 week, explorative controlled clinical trial to compare the effects of purified cannabidiol and the atypical antipsychotic amisulpride on improving the symptoms of schizophrenia in 42 patients with acute paranoid schizophrenia. Both treatments were associated with a significant decrease of psychotic symptoms after 2 and 4 weeks as assessed byBrief Psychiatric Rating Scale and Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale. While there was no statistical difference between the two treatment groups, cannabidiol induced significantly less side effects (extrapyramidal symptoms, increase in prolactin, weight gain) when compared to amisulpride.[14]"

a relevant video:
Mon, 06/27/2011 - 4:51pm Permalink
sicntired (not verified)

In reply to by TrebleBass (not verified)

I'm on a study of this big pharma substitute for cannabis and was hoping it would be less thc and more useful for sleep and pain control.It's too psychadellic for my liking.I was prescribed 4 or 5 pills per night and 1/2 of a pill is like burning a joint of good BC bud.All my requests to be switched to the real deal have been denied and now MR.Harper wants to cede growing rights to the private sector and out of the hands of patients.He persecutes everyone in the country for pot and then wants to hand the business over to his big business friends.This not only violates the court ruling dealing with the subject but violates the charter which is why the court ruled against the government monopoly in the first place.Harper will destroy everything that this country has been praised for in the world press over the years and he will do it by waging a new Canada made war on drug users,medical patients and he will put the cost of the drug in the legal market out of the reach of the truly ill people who really need it.

Tue, 06/28/2011 - 10:08pm Permalink
Carl (not verified)

From elsewhere:

"Make pot avaliable by prescription for cancer patients and other illnesses, decrim pot growing, use, and possession. Make opiates a schedule four by prescription instead of schedule two, allow all pharmacies to dispense methadone and suboxone daily by prescription, make penalities for violations up to a max of two years of mandatory treatment not prison as this only compounds the problem. Allow prison for those to sale/give to minors( under 18) not for two adults that transfer drugs to each other, these are sensable solutions to the costly drug war"

"Your reforms would have very little or no effect changing the status quo or ending the drug wars.
Only complete destruction of the black market will achieve this.
It's basically all or nothing.
Judge people by their behavior, not their conformity.
Adults should bear the consequences of their (our) decisions and actions.
Chronic tobacco use causes cancer, etc. Daily use of opium produces addiction.
Grin and bear it.
Pharmacies would have no interest in acting as sub/methadone clinics dispensing daily doses.
Sub/methadone suck anyway, as do all chemical drugs.
I would promote a culture of tolerance for the non-debilitating use of natural plant poisons (Cannabis, coca leaf, opium), as opposed to chemical poisons for use by mature adults in pursuit of pleasure.
I would promote a culture that considers the use of chemical drugs to be best suited for use as medicine, not as recreational intoxicant.
I would not legislate against adult consumption of most chemical drugs (even I draw the line with chemicals like PCP) despite the fact that they suck." .

Tue, 06/28/2011 - 11:26pm Permalink
McD (not verified)

In reply to by Robert G. (not verified)

If they manage to withdraw, and you can rest assured the forces that will align themselves against such an event will be no less overwhelming than those that suppressed Bolivian attempts to re-schedule in January, so it's far from a done deal (But I have a feeling they'll manage it.) they will be immediately demonised and severely punished. Think how many thousands of children needlessly died of leukaemia and other treatable conditions as a result of America's (under the guise of the 'UN') sanctions against Iraq. I can't imagine why they'd change their tactics to deal with an insurgent country which actually threatens the current New World Order far more realistically than Iraq ever could. Surrendering to terrorists, which is how those aligned agaist them will paint them, and allowing people to see cracks in the armour is not something the US will allow: 'We don't negotiate with terrorists. (We starve them, deny them basic infrastructure - and certainly elements of a more developed society, like pharmaceuticals - and only then go in to bravely kill them with depleted uranium bombs if they continue to disobey.)'

The New World Order - turning the whole world into one big Gaza Strip.

Fri, 07/01/2011 - 12:11pm Permalink
McD (not verified)

This could well turn out to be the single most significant event in the history of prohibition.

Fri, 07/01/2011 - 11:49am Permalink

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