The Colombian government announced that it will join Bolivia in asking the UN to remove the coca leaf from its list of illicit substances in a few weeks, thus reaffirming Bogotá’s turn to its drug policy, after decades of repression of production and Of consumption. Interview with lawyer Luis Felipe Cruz from the Dejusticia study center.
Colombia will join Bolivia in requesting in the coming weeks to remove the coca leaf from the red list of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs. The announcement was made on Wednesday, February 22, by Laura Gil, Colombian Vice Minister of Multilateral Affairs.
Vice Minister Gil declared that her country wants to follow the example of Bolivia, which is trying to change the perception of the coca leaf as a “psychoactive substance” to an “element of traditional use.”
“Bolivia began an initiative about ten years ago to legalize the traditional use of coca. What they did was denounce the Narcotics Convention,” the vice minister stressed to the Colombian press.
The coca leaf has not been withdrawn at the request of Bolivia from the List of Narcotic Drugs of the UN Single Convention of 1961, which is the list of substances controlled by the international drug treaties.
However, Bolivia entered a reservation in 2013 to the 1961 Convention that allows chewing, infusion, and other non-illegal uses of coca leaf on its territory. The decriminalization of the coca leaf carried out by Morales at the national level focused on the plant of ancestral use in the Andean communities. Its commercialization abroad depends on the authorization of the UN.
The picture is radically different in Colombia, according to Luis Felipe Cruz, a lawyer and drug policy researcher at the Centro de Estudios Dejusticia.
“In Bolivia, for many years, there has been a policy of social control of coca crops. The fact that in Colombia we can imitate that policy is a very good idea to give communities the possibility of controlling the number of hectares (of coca leaf) coca) that are cultivated. What the drug conventions allow is to use the plants or use the substances for some permitted uses, among others, medicinal and scientific. This market could benefit rural communities and in this way would divert the illegal market and criminal economies would be weakened,” says Cruz.
In 2021, the record for coca crops in Colombia was broken. The UN estimated that there was an increase of 43%. He also noted an increase in potential cocaine production of 14%. Hence, this project to legalize the coca leaf has become very thorny for President Petro, in particular, legalizing plots of small growers, reducing eradication and regulating its derivatives.
“In Colombia there has been no talk of regulating cocaine, which is a psychoactive derivative of the coca leaf. Here there has been talk of ‘alternate’ uses. This is part of the discussion, but ultimately, alternate may be the industrial uses, food uses, phytotherapeutic uses, textiles, and that is a clear difference that must be made. President Petro has stated in some international scenarios that the regulation should be proposed, but in this government I do not see the possibility of it being regulate the use of cocaine. In fact, the government has been very cautious in raising this issue,” adds this lawyer from Dejusticia.
What have been the effects of the eradication policy that has been in force up to now on people who grow coca leaves?
“These are impacts of human rights violations, campaigns of violations of the right to health, vigorous air operations, violations of the territorial rights of indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples. There are effects on the environment. In Colombia, the dynamics of the war against drugs was articulated with the dynamics of the armed conflict. So, many peasant populations are both victims of drug policies and victims of the armed conflict or of the armed actors,” concludes Cruz.