Thursday, April 10, 2008

Traditional coca use: caught in the cross fire

Traditional use of coca in the Andes has been an unfortunate casualty of the emergence of widespread powder and crack cocaine use in the West over the past four decades - or, more specifically the increasingly militarised efforts to eradicate cocaine production. Whilst all containing the same drug, powder, and in particularly crack cocaine have presented some serious public health problems (because they involve dramatic increases in the dosage ingested - over a much shorter time frame), that have never been experienced amongst coca leaf chewers or with coca tea consumption. Whilst the international legal framework in the form of the UN drug conventions has made some efforts historically to accommodate the issue of traditional use of certain drugs, traditional coca use has been particularly effected by attempts to eradicate the plant as a way of stopping cocaine production and use.

These attempts have all failed, consistently over a number of decades now (production has more than kept pace with rising demand), despite many billions being spent on crop eradication, various military interventions, and alternative development. The reasons for this systematic failure concern the unforgiving economics of supply and demand in a completely unregulated illegal market - and are not disputed even by the head of the UN agency that nominally oversees the enforcement of eradication efforts, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (see here and here for example).

There have, however, been a series of unintended consequences of these eradication efforts - not least human rights abuses, violence, environmental destruction, and destabilisation of rural Andean communities that have grown and consumed coca leaf for centuries, but have never had anything to do with illicit cocaine production. Even for those where there has been some cross over into production of coca for non-traditional production, their problems are a direct consequence of externally imposed enforcement of prohibition and the illegal market it creates to serve demand for cocaine in the West.

This new short film produced by the HCLU explores some of the history and recent developments in the clash between traditional coca and cocaine eradication/interdiction efforts.

The interview with the Bolivian minister was filmed at the recent UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna where the coca question loomed large following the UN International Narcotics Control Board's recent call for coca chewing and coca tea to be eradicated entirely.

At that CND I remember thinking it ironic how the INCB members had emerged from a closed session discussing this very issue (prohibiting and crimnalising coca leaf and coca tea, mild stimulants associated with no significant health risks, and arguably some benefits) only to adjourn to on the Vienna International Center's numerous coffee bars and enjoy a selection of cappuccino's, espresso's and lattes. Perhaps if we can find some people in another continent who are abusing pro plus caffeine pills we can then arrange to have the INCB arrested and sent one of those charming Bolivian jails?

For a detailed insight into the coca issues this 2006 publication from the Transnational Institute Drugs and Democracy program 'Coca yes, Cocaine, No? legal options for the coca leaf':

1 comment:

humble b. wonderful said...

This is fucking insane...this goes back to something I love to say out loud, whenever I read something like this, how do you make a plant illegal? Simply put this only hurts the people who aren't doing anything wrong. The drugs will come in until we place a market value on them. Its the only way to beat the black market.