Monday, March 31, 2008

1988- Bolivia Re-Legalizes Coca Food and Drug Products

From my unpublished manuscript "Coca- Forgotten Medicine"

The years 1989-1992 marked the greater part of the 4 year term of Bolivian President Jaime Paz Zamora (Movement of the Revolutionary Left) who took office August 6, 1989, with an active pro-Coca agenda including expanding the variety of commercially available Coca products, and followed by expanding their markets internationally through Coca’s "de-penalization" with a campaign before the United Nation’s World Health Organization and its International Narcotics Board to de-list Coca from the 1961 Convention’s list of scheduled substances. (Despite Paz Zamora’s Bolivian government’s clear interest in the Coca issue, the Drug Policy Foundation did not include any speakers on this issue from the Bolivian government.)

By 1990, Bolivia approved the domestic sale of additional varieties of Coca products, developed and introduced by a budding homegrown industry. In addition to raw Coca leaves, teas, and the four preparations approved in 1988 -- and in contrast to Peru, where Coca was available either in raw form, or in simple tea bags through the Peruvian State Coca monopoly: E.N.A.C.O. -- Bolivians saw Coca sodas, Coca chewing gum and even Coca cookies: There are a few specialty coca shops in La Paz. There is one tucked into one of the many artesanals (courtyards or maze-like tunnels full of small merchant booths) along the main street about a block uphill from the San Francisco church. The shop displays a sign displaying the name COINCOCA, a Cochabamba-based home industry that manufactures various coca products. It sold coca leaves, coca teas, COINCOCA Vino de Coca (coca wine), several brands of coca balm, Co-Dent toothpaste, and other coca related products. I ran across similar shops in Coroico, and I'd wager that most Bolivian towns have them.

Bolivia’s pro-Coca policies invoked comments elsewhere, such as in Europe, with United Kingdom's Princess Anne's publicly expressed support for the peasant growers of Coca against the drug laws which she ridiculed in a speech by having us imagine have some foreign power do to the French custom of wine drinking the way industrialized nations treat Coca:
"We must not forget that most drugs developed from bona fide herbal remedies. I took advantage of one of them when I visited Bolivia ... (where) the natives for thousands of years have been using the leaf of the coca plant, either drunk as tea or chewed ... Science, needless to say, hasn't caught up with the reasons for this, but I can vouch for the tea ... To stop (coca) producers is like asking the Scots to stop growing barley because people one the other side of the world can't hold their drink, or the French to stop growing grapes."
The United States government would respond with its defense of the status quo with its insistence upon forced eradication of “excess” Coca crops.

By 1992, several thousand Bolivian peasant farmers each contributed some $25 apiece for the purchase of an abandoned match factory to set up La Paz's first coca market. (One year later, the 22,000 members of the Departmental Association of Coca Growers, ADEP-COCA, are selling 50,000 pounds of coca leaves a week. "We bought the market with our own money to demonstrate to our government and the international community, especially the United States, that coca is not a problem," said Geronimo Meneses Mollo, president of ADEP-COCA. "The market is our chance to show the world that we can come up with our own model of alternative development.")

By 1992, it was the incident of the Spanish police confiscating the some 20 pounds of Coca leaves shipped for Bolivia’s entry in the 1992 World Exposition in Seville, Spain scheduled to open April 20– intended to show the "scores of cultural use of coca in Bolivian society" that would frame the start of Jaime Paz Zamora’s “Coca Diplomacy” before the very international bodies with the authority over defining what constituted a “dangerous controlled substance.”

Within the following month, Bolivian President Paz Zamora gave a speech at the 45th annual meeting of the U.N. World Health Organization (W.H.O.), calling it investigate Coca's possible medical and nutritional properties, (as reported a June 17 1992 article in The New York Times):
"with an eye toward[s] removing it from the list of products that can only be sold under tight government supervision." . . .
The World Health Organization (WHO) Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD), according to its 28th Report, discussed Coca as one of ten psychoactive substances to be considered for a critical review procedure.
"the chewing of coca leaves was reviewed at the third and fourth meetings of the Committee, which concluded that is was a form of 'addiction' (4) ... Since then, there has been no official evaluation of coca leaf chewing by WHO". It would so conclude "the coca leaf is appropriately scheduled under the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961, since cocaine is readily extractable from the leaf. The Committee did not recommend coca leaf for critical review." (5)
W.H.O. would furthermore state that Coca’s removal from the list of controlled substances under the 1961 Single Convention would require the approval of the 1961 Convention’s monitoring body, the U.N. International Narcotics Control Board, I.N.C.B., established in 1968. The I.N.C.B.’s 1992 response was:
"to relax the controls under the international drug control treaties over coca leaves and a variety of coca based products such as coca tea and coca toothpaste" as "contrary to the provisions and aims of the 1961 Convention"
The 1961 Convention specifically limits all such activities, from production to use of coca leaves and coca - leaf products. Relaxing the controls of the Convention would enable coca leaves and coca - leaf products to be marketed internationally for other purposes would require a radical change in the attitude of the international community and amendments to the 1961 Convention. Without amending the 1961 Convention, its control over imports for non - medical or scientific purposes would effectively embargo attempted exports for such purposes…

Alternatively, the 1961 Convention allows a course of action where a substance can be effectively dropped from such a list of dangerous controlled substances, by its provision allowing individual nations to formally denounce the Convention via giving a 12 month notice that they would no longer be bound by the Convention’s requirements. Theoretically, Peru and Bolivia could denounce the Convention, along with any other nation.

None of this was going to happen with the political status quo.

Under this status quo, a person in the United States who drank Coca tea faced the same problems in loosing job eligibility as a person who snorted or shot cocaine hydrochloride powder or smoked cocaine sulfate, with regards to pre-employment drug tests which did not differentiate these very different modes of drug.

A page one, October 23, 1992 article in The Washington Post by Gabriel Escobar, would report upon the story of Jeannette Vidangos of Arlington Virginia, who was accused of being an illicit drug [ab]user, and dropped from consideration for a job when the urine test result was positive for cocaine metabolites. Taking issue with this accusation, Vindangos, 47, who emigrated from Columbia 15 years earlier, and whose husband Jorge was originally from Bolivia, said she had not used cocaine itself, but rather that the cocaine reading -- for which there apparently was no controversy -- resulted from her use of an herbal tea she had been drinking since undergoing an operation. (This was a use echoing the previous century's use of in convalescence.) Accordingly, the two had purchased "several large boxes of Bolivian coca leaf tea two years earlier at Plaza Latina in Alexandria [Virginia], and Vindangos drank it daily for several weeks after her operation."

No comments: