Toke of the Town
|First Indigenous Bolivian President Evo Morales|
The South American nation of Bolivia is set to withdraw from the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, adopted in 1961 to outlaw "illicit substances" across the planet. It plans the move in protest of the U.N.'s classification of coca leaves as an illegal drug.
President Evo Morales -- who, not coincidentally, is also leader of one of the country's biggest coca producers' unions -- has asked the Bolivian Congress to pass a law that would take the nation out of the Single Convention, reports the Sydney Morning Herald.
Morales, an Aymara Indian who came to power as the leader of coca growers in the Chapare region, has moved away from the forced eradication of coca plantations while at the same time stepping up efforts against cocaine traffickers, with record seizures.
|Photo: Cannabis Culture|
|Bolivian kids in the coca field|
Like neighboring Peru, Bolivia permits the limited cultivation of coca for legal use in cooking, folk medicine and Andean religious rites. Unadulterated coca is a mild stimulant that counteracts the effects of altitude sickness and helps to suppress hunger pangs, reports Fox News Latino.
According to the Bolivian government, the Single Convention contradicts the Bolivian constitution, which says the country is "obliged to preserve and protect" the chewing of coca leaves as a cultural heritage and ancestral practice.
For years now, Bolivian officials have argued that coca in its natural plant form is not an illicit drug. The plant is legally grown in Bolivia for medicinal and traditional purposes. A considerable portion of the supply is also diverted and processed into cocaine for the U.S., Brazilian and European markets.
An international attempt to remove coca chewing from the U.N.'s illegal drugs list failed in January, so the government, based in La Paz, is now ready to withdraw from the convention.
|Photo: Cannabis Culture|
|Bolivians harvesting coca leaf in the fields|
No signatory nation to the Single Convention has ever formally withdrawn from it in the 50 years that the treaty has existed.
Under the draft law, which has already passed the lower chamber of the Bolivian Congress and is expected to pass in the Senate -- where leftist President 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 would rejoin the Single Convention next year, but with an important exception: That Bolivians be allowed to consume coca legally. The legislation states that Bolivia may rejoin the Convention only if the articles that outlaw the chewing of coca leaf -- in contravention of Bolivia's 2009 constitution -- are removed.
In 2009, Bolivia began a process to amend Article 49 of the Convention, which prohibited consumption of the coca leaf from 2001, reports SSDP UK. Its proposal for amendment was formally opposed by 17 other Convention signatories, including the United States, United Kingdom, France, Japan, and Russia.
|Photo: Cannabis Culture|
|Bolivian woman selling kilo bags of coca leaves at the market|
The Chinese government has been supportive of Bolivia's actions, comparing a ban on chewing coca in Bolivia to a ban on drinking tea in China.
"The 1961 convention prohibits coca-leaf chewing. If we don't (withdraw), our brothers and sisters will not be able to take part in this ancestral practice," Choquehuanca said.
"[This] is an attempt to keep the cultural and inoffensive practices of coca chewing and to respect human rights, but not just of indigenous people, because this is an ancient practice of all Bolivian people," Choquehuanca said.
President Morales has said in the past that the chewing of coca leaf dates back to 3000 B.C., and that it is impossible to eradicate such an ancient practice.
The legislators' vote comes the day before the release of a U.N. annual report on coca cultivation in Andean countries and before Bolivia's former drug czar, Gen. Rene Sanabria, pleaded guilty Thursday in U.S. federal court in Miami to federal cocaine trafficking charges. Sanabria promised to help U.S. drug agents in exchange for a reduced prison sentence, reports InSight.
Opposition lawmakers slammed Morales's request to Congress, submitted without prior notice, and claimed it ran counter to the country's efforts to combat drug trafficking. The government, however, insists it will "respect Bolivia's commitments" in that regard.
The head of the pro-government legislators, Edwin Tupa, defended the measure, saying it upholds "Bolivians' dignity." Tupa added that opponents are acting on behalf of the "empire [the United States] which regrettably wants to continue to classify coca as an illegal drug."
Bolivia ranks number three in the world in coca production (behind Colombia and Peru), with much of the supply ending up as cocaine smuggled into other nations. The country has said that it cannot defeat its own drug traffickers without a reduction in demand for cocaine across the rest of the world.