United Nations Single Convention on Narcotics and Drugs



As u might know, cocaine is made out of coca leaves. But did u know coca only contains 0,5% of cocaine? Coca grows at an altitude between 500 and 2000 metres, and the Andes mountains in Bolivia, Peru and Colombia offer the perfect climate for cultivating coca. Centuries before cocaine was being discovered, indigenous people across South America consumed coca. The cultivation and consumption has been of cultural and social value, and therefore an important of their economy. Besides the social and economic importance, coca was also used as a medicine. Coca is a mild stimulant that fights altitude sickness, enhances concentration and is very nutritious, among other things.  Because of its medicinal and nutritional qualities indigenous people considered coca to be sacred: la hoja sagradaDSC07460 bewerkt

When European colonization started across the world and Spanish settlers set foot on the South American continent, they were confronted with the local consumption of coca. They perceived the chewing as an ugly custom, something animals would do. Simultaneously, the Spanish conquerers saw coca consumption as a way to exploit their indigenous laborers. The indigenous miners for example, were better able to fulfill their hard work in the mines, as they get energy from chewing the leaves.


In 1860 the German scientis Albert Niemann discovered cocaine, a chemical product made from coca. Sigmund Freud found the anesthetic value of cocaine. This new panacea was then processed in several medicines. It was even used to help children overcome their shyness. At the turn of the 19th century, thanks to globalization and industrialization, the Western economy grew. The brain-workers in the upper class used cocaine as a means to deal with the heightened work pressure. Also popular soft drinks of that time used coca in their products. Coca Cola still processes coca leaves, and therefore Coca Cola has the monopoly of importing and exporting coca products.

When did cocaine became illegal?

During the twenties in the USA, politics and media started to warn for the risks of cocaine consumption: health issues, addictions and societal moral decay were things to look out for. The lack of a policy for cocaine got critisized more and more. After some measures of control the political attention dropped. However, in the sixties cocaine became a hot topic again when president Nixon declared the War on Drugs. Several sources argue that the War on Drugs wasn’t about protecting the country from the consumption of a dangerous chemical. They state the War on Drugs is a Trojan horse to have control in the South American continent. It is also proved that Nixon used the War on Drugs to weaken The Civil Rights Movement and the hippies that spoke out against the Vietnam War. Both of these groups were framed as regular drug users and a violent and moral threat to society. Ethan Nadelmann, former chairman of Drug Policy Alliance, explains in the video below the underlying racism of the War on Drugs.


In The Candy Machine Tom Feiling explains president Nixon aimed to win the second term in office. The sixties was a troubled decade. The Vietnam War, the hippie culture, the growing manifestation of the Civil Rights Movement generated anxiety amongst the white middle class. The drug culture was also a phenomena they feared. There was a growing need for safety and stability. President Nixon anticipated on the people’s fear and announced the War on Drugs, a propaganda method to meet the insecurities of the white class. With the War on Drugs Nixon profiled himself as a crimefighter.

During the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotics and Drugs  in 1961 cocaine and heroine became prohibited. This entailed that the cultivation of coca was restricted as well; like cocaine coca is categorized as List 1 forbidden drugs. As a result, coca leaves are stigmatized as being a dangerous drug. Transnational Institute argues that the prohibition of coca is in conflict with the UN Declarations on the Rights of Indigenous People. Moreover, the psycho-active  effects of chewing coca is similar to the effects of tea and coffee. Hence, it is incorrect to equate the consumption of coca with cocaine. TNI therefore advocates for a distinguishment of the two in this particular treaty.



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