Thursday, June 25, 2015

Coca Leaf's Back (It Never Left)

A cure for migraines, diabetes, insomnia? In La Candelaria, a sign on a stand selling coca leaf products boasts of their supposed health benefits.
Relax. Now you can legally consume coca leaf products, again. Well, almost all of them.

In February 2010, the INVIMA, Colombia's food sanitation agency, issued an alert declaring the sale of all products made from coca leaves illegal outside of indigenous territories.

No matter that many coca leaf products, such as teas and balms, have been consumed without incident for decades, if not millenia; No matter that the coca leaf is quite nutritional and, at worst, benign; No matter that every coca leaf made into food, drink or medicine is one which won't end up as cocaine.

Bags of coca leafs for sale.
"The INVIMA calls on the citizens to abstain from consuming or commercializing products such as tea, aromatics, cookies or any other food containing coca leaf among its ingredients," the agency said. "These products lack Sanitary Registry and their medicinal, curative and therapeutic benefits are not authorized or supported by the INVIMA."

Certainly, one should be cautious with any nostrum or other 'health' food - but not paranoid. Potential buyers can look for INVIMA's seal on the package and decide for themselves. They can also decide how much stock they put into the hygiene policies of a government which requires businesses to label the sink 'lavamanos' so that nobody confuses it with a lamp or an oven, but turns a blind eye to air pollution.

Coca tea, and coca rum for sale.
This week, the Council of State annuled the INVIMA ruling, pointing out that coca leaf products have received the approval of entities such as the nation's Ombudsman and the Institute of Anthropology and History.

'The use of coca leaf by part of indigenous communities makes up a fundamental part of their millenial traditions and has great medicinal and nutritional benefits," the council wrote.

Of course, coca leaf products never stopped being available throughout Colombia, both on and off of indigenous territories. Prohibition has never worked.

Try a coca tea.
This is all actually a return to the past. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, before prohibitionist drug laws, coca leaves and cocaine were seen as sorts of miracle drugs, and placed into all sorts of products, including a wine supposedly endorsed by the Pope. (Back then, the colonial powers established coca plantations in far-flung places like Sri Lanka, Taiwan and Java, making me ask why narcotraffickers, who display tremendous in the ways they traffic drugs, don't plant it outside three Andean nations.)

So, consume your coca leaf products if you want to.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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