Decriminalize victims of the cocaine trade

According to the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961 as amended by the 1972 Protocol, both the coca leaf and cocaine are scheduled as Schedule I drugs, which means that they are subject to all measures of control applicable to drugs under this Convention. According to its Article 5b: “A Party shall, if in its opinion the prevailing conditions in its country render it the most appropriate means of protecting the public health and welfare, prohibit the production, manufacture, export and import of, trade in, possession or use of any such drug except for amounts which may be necessary for medical and scientific research only, including clinical trials therewith to be conducted under or subject to the direct supervision and control of the Party.” Since virtually all UN Member States have adopted the Single Convention in their national laws, all the production, manufacture, export and import of, trade in, possession or use of cocaine is illegal and anyone participating in any of such acts are considered criminals under most jurisdictions around the world.

In other words, people who cultivate the coca plant, people who convert coca leaves into cocaine, people who export, import or trade in coca or cocaine, people who possess cocaine and people who use cocaine are criminals because national laws define them as criminals. Even though each of these acts in themselves are nonviolent and victimless, penalties for committing those acts are high and vary from years to lifetimes in prison or even the death penalty.

Given its illegal status, the relative scarcity (the coca plant does not grow in most parts of the world) and the high worldwide demand for cocaine, the profits of the international cocaine trade are high, which makes it an ideal business for organized crime groups. Such groups often tend to settle their disputes and protect their interests through (excessive) violence, which makes the international cocaine business a highly violent one, having left hundreds of thousands of deadly victims around the world and particularly in Latin America. However, not all people involved in the global cocaine trade are actually involved in violent acts or crimes that leave a victim. These “criminals” are actually victims: victims of organized crime groups who violently force them to work in the cocaine trade, victims of a social system that does not offer them other forms of employment to survive, victims of a legal system that locks them up for many years or even legally kills them.

Victims of the cocaine trade include the coca farmers in the Andes who cannot survive by growing bananas, the men and women who are forced to manufacture cocaine in the Colombian jungle, the mules who traffic cocaine to all parts of the world, the street dealer who is trying to make a living or who simply makes more money by selling cocaine to consenting adults, the people who use and possess cocaine simply because they want to or because they need to. Faitrade Coke believes that these perpetrators of nonviolent and victimless crimes are actually victims of the cocaine trade themselves who should be decriminalized or helped to find other (legal) ways to generate a stable income.

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