UN Accepts Coca-Leaf Chewing in Bolivia

By Ben Feuerherd 01/11/13

Bolivia wins reinstatement to the UN Narcotics Convention—even though growing coca remains legal there.

Bolivian president Evo Morales fought for
legal coca leaves
Photo via

Bolivian president Evo Morales, who has chosen to regulate rather than ban coca leaf growing in his country, won a victory today, as Bolivia was accepted back into the 1961 UN Convention on Narcotic Drugs. Bolivia rejoins the convention with one clear reservation: "...Bolivia reserves the right to allow in its territory: traditional coca leaf chewing; the consumption and use of the coca leaf in its natural state for cultural and medicinal purposes; its use in infusions; and also the cultivation, trade and possession of the coca leaf to the extent necessary for these licit purposes." Bolivia withdrew from the convention last year due to the controversy over coca leaves. The leaves—which can be used to produce cocaine but are a much milder stimulant when ingested in their raw form—are traditionally chewed by indigenous Bolivians. Fifteen countries, including the US, opposed Bolivia's reinstatement to the convention because of fears that legal coca leaves will lead to increased cocaine production. But this number fell short of the 21 votes (one third of the 63 signatories) that were needed to successfully block the move. “We oppose Bolivia’s reservation," a US State Department official tells the Washington Post, "and continue to believe it will lead to a greater supply of cocaine and increased cocaine trafficking and related crime.” Bolivia is a significant producer of cocaine, but its government vows, in wording of its reservation, that: "...Bolivia will continue to take all necessary measures to control the illicit cultivation of coca in order to prevent its abuse and the illicit production of the narcotic drugs which may be extracted from the leaves.”

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Benjamin Feuerherd is a city reporter at the New York Post. He has previously worked for The Daily Beast and NBC. You can find him on Linkedin and Twitter