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Bolivia: Coca leaves ban must be overturned

Bolivia is on a mission to legalize the chewing of coca leaves. The United States, the world's biggest cocaine consumer, is not convinced.

Bolivia coca
An Aymara woman chews coca leaves near the town of Santa Barbara in western Bolivia on October 18, 2010. (Aizar Raldes/AFP/Getty Images)

Bolivia has embarked on an international mission to try to end the ban on chewing coca leaves. But the United States plans on getting in its way.

Coca has been used in the Andes for thousands of years as a mild stimulant and herbal medicine, but it is also a raw ingredient in the drug cocaine.

Bolivia, which argues that chewing coca leaves is part of indigenous culture, hopes to take coca leaves off a UN treaty on banned drugs, BBC News reports.

President Evo Morales, a former leader of a coca growers' union, argues that it is discriminatory to classify coca as an illicit drug and launched a global campaign after his election in 2005 to legalize it.

Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca has begun a European tour to gain support for Bolivia's efforts to amend the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotics Drugs, thereby making coca a controlled substance but not illegal.

Spain has already given its support to Bolivia's campaign.

"Spanish foreign minister Trinidad Jimenez told Mr Choquehuanca in Madrid that she 'understood' Bolivia's demand and would try to mediate with other European countries thought to be considering an objection," according to BBC News.

The United States plans on formally objecting to Bolivia's proposal on Wednesday, AP reports. It argues that changing the convention would pave the way for other nations to challenge the inclusion of certain narcotics based on parochial reasons.

Signatories to the convention have until Jan. 31 to object to Bolivia's amendment. If no objections are registered, it automatically takes effect.

Meanwhile, Bolivia launched a new soft drink made from coca leaves called Coca Brynco, AFP reports.

"Intended to rival its more famous US cousin Coca Cola, the fizzy drink, much like last year's introduction of Coca Colla, is at the center of a plan from coca growers in the central rural Bolivian province of Chapare to boost coca production," it states.

Do you think chewing coca leaves should be legal? Does it matter that they have been part of the culture in the Andes for thousands of years? Leave your comments below.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/bolivia/110118/bolivia-coca-ban