Should Coca Leaf Chewing be Legal?

From an article in AFP we find the following:

Bolivia has petitioned the United Nations to overturn a provision of the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which considers the coca leaf a narcotic and calls on countries to eradicate coca leaf chewing.

Andean people have chewed coca leaves as a mild stimulant since ancient times. Coca is currently being used as an ingredient in Bolivian soft drinks, tea, flour, toothpaste and liquor.

The article is primarily about how the US is in opposition to this change. As it is the US that has a cocaine addiction problem, not Bolivia, Colombia or Peru, and the countries between the coca growing countries and the US tend to be the victims of illegal drug flow, this seems like a topic worthy of discussion here.

Historically, over 70 years ago the US banned growing marijuana (with a temporary legalization during WWII so that hemp could be used to make rope and such). It is pretty clear that this ban plus sometimes severe penalties for possession which is implemented at the state level has not stopped consumption as a drug.

Chewing coca leaf happens. Legislation will not stop this. Yes, it did cause Coca Cola to no longer have coca in it. But to make things every more interesting, you can buy coca leaf tea in the U.S.

The real issue here is whether the practice of chewing coca leaf in Bolivia (and I expect other coca producing nations) has anything to do with/will make any change in cocaine use in the user nations. To me this feels a lot like suggesting that if we don't tell teenagers what sex is, they won't have it.

While I haven't verified this, I was told by a Colombian that it is peer pressure, not criminalization, that controls cocaine use in Colombia. She said there are occasional consumption problems but the general response is that the person did something stupid, not that the law would be involved.

Is there any basis for the idea that legalizing something in one country where millions of people do it anyway will change what seems to be an almost unrelated problem?

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Should Coca leaf chewing be legal?

Of course it should. After all, it wasn't coquero indians in Bolivia that came up with the process to convert coca leaf into cocaine.


Objections by countries might just be “objections noted” not objections acted upon (there is no objection with veto power). An Amendment like this has not just the historical claim of usage but, perhaps more importantly, a technical legal one – namely that 1961 Resolution conflicts with the UN’s 2007 Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (which is newer and should take precedence). Additionally, Boliva (and Peru) negotiated a formal declaration to the 1988 Revision – and since then Bolivia has Constitutionally identified Coca a part of the country’s patrimony. The whole matter was forced by the INCB (International Narcotic Control Board), not the UN directly. The list of countries originally claiming they may file an objection was measurable: United States, Colombia, Egypt, the Russian Federation, Japan, France, the UK, Germany, Italy, Sweden, & Denmark. Spain was undecided. Since then Spain decided not to, along with most others (objecting to the amendment is not the same as objecting to the practice as the wording of the amendment was of concern to some parties). Egypt was the first country to Object, but they removed their objection recently. Macedonia objected, but also removed the document recently. Colombia was the only Latin American country to object, but they, too, removed that following the 2010 UNASUR Conference. The U.S. probably thought half or more of these parties above would object, then they would join in, making it appear as though they do not lead the push. But, it may have backfired badly – which is why they now seem to be filing alone, and right before the deadline.


"Bolivia's leftist government, which is led by a former coca growers union leader, and its supporters contend the language they want removed is discriminatory."

"The official said "there is evidence to suggest that a substantial percentage" of the increased coca production in Bolivia over the past several years, registered in U.N. surveys, "has indeed gone into the network and the marketplace for cocaine."

This is other article that address the topic with amplitude.


Coca tea doesn’t necessarily even include the alkaloid “cocaine” in any measurable quantity (it is there, just as there is minute quantities of caffeine in decaf coffee). Just as one may decaffinate coffee, one may de-cocainate (if that is a word?) coca for use in drinks and other products. The legal sale of cocainized things in the U.S. is dependent on them being decocainized.

back in the early 90's..

i was doing some hiking around mt.cristobol colon in columbia..we went in the back way..not from the coast..we had to get permission from the indians to enter there territory..the indians all carried a gourd filled with crushed sea shells and a stick they dipped into the gourd..then they would rub it on the wad of coco leaves they had in there mouth..said it helped to keep them warm..i thought it was interesting

So did Amerigo Vespucci

From his 1499 diary regarding a visit to what is now part of Venzuela: "We descried an island in the sea about 15 leagues from the coast and decided to go there to see if it was inhabited. We found there the most wild and ugly people we had ever seen: very strange of face and expression, and all of them had their cheeks full of a green herb that they chewed constantly like beasts, so that they could barely speak; and each one carried about his neck two gourds, one of them full of that herb that they had in their mouths and the other of a white powder that looked like pulverised plaster, and from time to time, they dipped a stick into the powder after wetting it in the mouth, then put the stick in the mouth, an end on each cheek, in order to apply powder to the herb that they chewed; they did this very frequently. We were amazed at this thing and could not understand its secret or why they did it."

Acually makes sense

In La Paz, if you buy coca leaf, you also get baking soda which is to activate the effect.


chewing coca leaf does not make somebody paranoid or violent or immediately ill, society has no legitimate need to outlaw it. The fact that somebody might refine it to make cocaine is a separate law enforcement issue. One can make molotov cocktails out of gasoline, but is that any reason to outlaw gasoline?

''Remember, when seconds count, the police are only minutes away''

Chewing a leaf relieves the symptoms of altitude sickness

A friend of mine was birding in Equador and went up a mountain to see high altitude species. She had a touch of altitude sickness -- headache, whatever. One of the Ecuadorians gave her a coca leaf to chew and the relief was almost instantaneous.

Rebecca Brown