Bolivia Officially Withdrawn from UN Drug Convention

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Starting January 1, Bolivia will no longer answer to a major United Nations (UN) drug treaty. The withdrawal is a protest against the UN’s classification of the coca leaf as an illegal substance, but it is unlikely to prompt a major revision of the treaty.

Bolivia first announced intentions to withdraw from the 1961 Convention on Narcotic Drugs in mid-2011. The petition became effective in 2012.

It is the first country to abandon the UN narcotics treaty in 50 years, reports the BBC. The Convention mandates that signatory countries cooperate in tracing and seizing drugs, as well as extraditing traffickers. 

Nearly simultaneously, Bolivia asked the UN to be re-admitted to the Convention if the UN removes the statute which classifies the coca leaf as illegal. Used as the raw material to make cocaine, the coca leaf is widely used for traditional and medicinal purposes in the Andes.

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According to EFE, the 190 countries who are party to the Convention have a year to consider passing Bolivia’s request. It may only be passed with a two-thirds majority, meaning the treaty is unlikely to be modified and Bolivia may not opt back in. 

Defenders of Bolivia’s decision have said the move does not represent a rejection of Bolivia’s responsibility to fight drug trafficking. Organisms like the UN and the U.S. State Department have said the country is not doing enough to control the illicit coca trade.

Despite these criticisms, it is unlikely that Bolivia’s withdrawal from the Convention will affect the scale of drug trafficking inside the country. The most important effect is the symbolic rejection of the UN’s classification of legal versus illegal substances. 

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