Working towards a legal coca market: The case of coca leaf chewing in Argentina

Ricardo Abduca Pien Metaal
Series on Legislative Reform of Drug Policies No. 23
June 2013

Cover-1Modern use of the coca leaf in Argentina provides a series of examples that could contribute to dispelling many of the myths that have polarized debate about the subject over the last few years. Argentine coca consumption does not fit commonly held preconceptions on the subject. Furthermore, the social acceptance and legitimacy of the habit has created an absurd situation in which the sale and possession of coca leaf for consumption is legal, but the supply and wholesale purchase of it are prohibited, and therefore part of an illegal circuit.

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Key points

  • Argentine coca leaf consumption is definitely traditional but not entirely indigenous. It is rooted in the Northwest of Argentine in every social class, and not only in the poorer sectors. Argentine consumption of coca is legal and very widespread.

  • The Northwest of Argentina is a choice destination for a significant proportion of the Bolivian crop. This fact was never taken into account by international narcotics control bodies, nor did it ever influence the design of public policy in Argentina.

  • Attention must be drawn to the sheer scale of Argentine coca imports, and to the border rent which appears to remain forever in the hands of the ‘backyard’ of security forces, and other networks of a similar kind.

  • It is high time that a new bilateral agreement be established between the two countries with the aim of regulating legal imports of the coca leaf.