Side event: Scenarios for innovation: Regulating the coca/cocaine market

Zara Snapp, Acción Técnica Social: For the past 52/54 years, Colombia has been involved in a conflict. Point 4 of the Peace Agreement to end that conflict, is about eradicating [300,000 hectares]. The Government claims it has done half of this. But this is also about integrating people in the formal economy. This will have very little impact in the market, because crop cultivation just changes place, displaces. Colombia continues to be the main exporter of cocaine. The United States continues to be the main importer. Most of this cocaine is used for non-medical use. The Global Drug Survey says that 80% of people who use cocaine uses less than 10 times a year. Sporadic use. In social settings. Most people who use cocaine do not associate major health effects to their consumption. Cocaine prices vary enormously. How those revenues are divided in the production chain is also very unequal. In Colombia, as the FARC retreats, new actors enter these territories to fill the gaps. They might not have political demands, but only economic interests. Coca Regulada, Paz Garantizada is about thinking how we could think of an alternative future. This study was done with the Externado de Colombia. Since we see this is the main threat for sustainable peace. For the last two years we have been undertaking this study. We have conducted workshops to feed to the study. What would we imagine a market to look like?

Pien Metaal, Transnational Institute: TNI has dived into the history and the evidence used for the UN to decide to include the coca leaf and its derivatives into the 1961 Convention. This was an ECOSOC mandated study in the 1950s to Peru and Bolivia on the request of Peru, to look into the harmful effects of coca chewing. The study was nowhere to be found. We had to look for it everywhere. Reading the study, we put it online, everyone can do it too. At that time, the way indigenous habits were looked upon were  were not the same as we look upon them now. The main reasons cocaine was deemed dangerous was the fact that the research was made by pharmacists from the US and France, who considered indigenous peoples were developing a negative habit. There was plenty of prejudice. The recommendations of the Commission suggest this study and its conclusions would have been rejected nowadays. Together with cocaine, coca was listed as a substance. One of the countries that had one of the biggest users asked for this consideration. The fact is that it has become equally controlled as its derivatives. Traditional use was considered backwards, and that it should disappear. The Conventions have provided for the disappearance of these uses. That’s the reason why Bolivia asked to delete this paragraph from the Treaty.

Zara Snapp: During the expert workshops, in Colombia and Vienna, one of the questions we asked was “How could we regulate the cultivation and harvest of the coca leaf for its market use in Colombia and the world?”.

– In Costa Rica we have an Institute that regulates how coffee grows.
– Alternative development programmes.
– De-schedule coca. Big market of coca leaf and products online.
– Despite the Peace Agreements, violence remains a challenge. Regulating the market is an alternative. In Colombia, there’s a legal framework for the ancestral and cultural uses.
– A regulating agency. A value chain. We need to estimate the markets for these products. Including the coca farmers.
– Regulating it like a “soft drug”. Could it affect the use of other harmful substances? Are there substitution effects?
– Some people have discussed coca growing clubs.

Zara Snapp: There are very few studies on cocaine. Coca tends to be associated to cocaine and cocaine base paste.

Pien Metaal: In 1992, as cocaine consumption had surged. The WHO carried out a study on the uses of cocaine. It included from the coca leaf to crack. There were 17 cities involved. The results were never published. Mainly because some countries were ot happy with the outcomes. It was not a clinical study but an inventory of uses and harms. Around the use of coca as a leaf, there were no identified physical or health problems associated. If any, it had positive impact because of its embeddedness in traditional/cultural practices. For cocaine, limited negative impacts, but not such that it justified the most straining control. With crack and cocaine base paste, they did identify some problems. The United States threatened with retreating its support to the WHO.

Zara Snapp: How would we regulate cocaine?

– We should regulate all drugs. Prohibition has caused all kinds of problems. Including violence.
– For us, the biggest preoccupation is the environmental impact.
– The production of the coca leaf is much more straightforward. Fair trade model. Around cocaine, testing, manufacturing standards, learn from the experiences of other legal drugs, different purity levels.
– Markets should be strictly controlled.
– First step should be the regulation and chemical control of the precursors.

Zara Snapp: 20 million people who use drugs who don’t want to contribute to an illegal market and who would like to access a product that’s not adulterated. Most people who use cocaine would be even willing to pay more for a fair trade/regulated cocaine. Our study found five dimensions to work on for the study on regulation: environmental dimensions, economic dimension, local economics development and product branding, political dimension with a focus on governability. Strategic variables: fair and sustainable market model, behaviours and consumption, violence and trafficking, qualitative and quantitative systems of information, formulation of policies orientated towards (…) Pieces to think about the legal regulation of cocaine. (…) We charted a series of scenarios. The idea is that in 2022, there would be a better understanding by the general public of the market and realities of use, better information gathering tools, more countries implementing public health/harm reduction-orientated policies, trafficking would still continue. Same but better information. 2028, concrete changes starting around medical, industrial, and research purposes. (…) The next six years will be decisive in the regulation of cocaine. We expect and end of taboo by 2022; legislative basis to be laid in 2028; and a regulation of 30-50% of the market for non-medical use by 2034. The Colombian elections will have an impact. The experiences of cannabis and heroin regulation will inform this process. (…)

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