|As evil as cocaine and heroin?|
|A Bolivian miner chews away (Life Magazine).|
Who knows? But, at the very least, they're not bad for you.
|A leafy Evo Morales|
Across Colombia coca tea, soft drinks and bags of leaves are sold openly, marketed by indigenous groups, making one wonder why the government believes that chewing the leaves is so terrible. Colombian officials haven't explained their position. For its part, the U.S. government made a confusing statement about Bolivia's proposed amendment creating "ambiguity" about controls on coca leaf. That's hard to understand, since coca leaves' drug alkaloid content is about one percent, meaning they have about as much in common with cocaine as grapes do with wine. You could eat coca leaves all day long, and you'd get a stomach ache but you wouldn't get high.
|Selling Evil? Coca leaves, tea and other stuff for sale|
in a Bogotá flea market.
Is it conceivable that a few leaves will be exported and then turned into cocaine overseas? Well, just barely. But, the authorities have lost the drug control battle, anyway, so it's time to try something different.
That's the brunt of this Boston Globe article about Portugal's decriminalization of drug consumption (but not sales) and investment in rehabilitation, which appears to have decreased drugs' social costs in disease, crime and addiction, but also increased experimentation with drugs. Coincidentally, U.S. anti-drug czar Gil Kerlikowske just visited Colombia - and told El Tiempo newspaper that the U.S. won't reconsider its opposition to drug legalization, because 'that's been studied for many years, and nobody's found a legalization system that's been succesfull on any level.' I wonder what Mr. Kerlikowske thinks about the decision to end drug prohibition? Here's a response in El Tiempo and an editorial which argue that prohibition has failed so manifestly that it's stupid not to try something else.
What is undisputable is that every coca leaf which is chewed or consumed in tea, wine or medicine is one fewer leaf that becomes cocaine or crack. The Colombian and United States government should pull off their ideological blinders and back every initiative to pull this base ingredient out of the illegal drug market.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours