Legal Status of Coca Leaf

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Posted by aboutcocaleaf | Posted in 7. Legal Status of Coca Leaf | Posted on 10-05-2011

The cultivation, sale, and possession of unprocessed coca leaf are generally legal in the countries of Bolivia, Peru, Chile and Argentina, where traditional use is established. To help prevent the production of cocaine, production of coca is restricted.  (2)

Coca leaves and extracts of coca leaves are both Schedule II in the United States. This means they are illegal to sell without a DEA license and illegal to buy or possess without a license or prescription. (10)

Coca leaf is the raw material for the manufacture of the drug cocaine, a powerful stimulant and anesthetic extracted chemically from large quantities of coca leaves. Today, since it has mostly been replaced as a medical anesthetic by synthetic analogues such as procaine, cocaine is best known as an illegal recreational drug. The cultivation, sale, and possession of unprocessed coca leaf (but not of any processed form of cocaine) is generally legal in the countries – such as Bolivia, Peru, Chile and Argentina – where traditional use is established, although cultivation is often restricted in an attempt to prevent the production of cocaine.

The prohibition of the use of the coca leaf except for medical or scientific purposes was established by the United Nations in the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. The coca leaf is listed on Schedule I of the 1961 Single Convention together with cocaine and heroin. The Convention determined that “The Parties shall so far as possible enforce the uprooting of all coca bushes which grow wild. They shall destroy the coca bushes if illegally cultivated” (Article 26), and that, “Coca leaf chewing must be abolished within twenty-five years from the coming into force of this Convention” (Article 49, 2.e). (14)

Despite the legal restriction, coca chewing and drinking of coca tea is carried out daily by millions of people in the Andes as well as considered sacred within indigenous cultures. They claim that most of the information provided about the traditional use of the coca leaf and its modern adaptations are erroneous. This has made it impossible to shed light on the plant’s positive aspects and its potential benefits for the physical, mental and social health of the people who consume and cultivate it. (15)

Outside of South America, most countries’ laws make no distinction between the coca leaf and any other substance containing cocaine, so the possession of coca leaf (except for de-cocainized leaf) is prohibited.