Our studies will confirm the certainty of our assertions

Saturday, March 8, 2008

coca-chewingRecently, TNI put online the Report of the Commission of Enquiry on the Coca Leaf, that was published in 1950 and provided the rationale for the inclusion of the coca leaf in the 1961 Single Convention. The report is difficult to find nowadays.

A classic article, "The New Politics of Coca", by Andrew Weil, published in The New Yorker (May l5, 1995) describes how the chairman of the Commission Howard B. Fonda approached the study.

The Commission was tasked to "investigate the effects of chewing the coca leaf and the possibilities of limiting its production and controlling its distribution." Fonda had little or no knowledge of ethnobotany, pharmacokinetics, or Andean culture. He was an executive with the Burroughs Wellcome pharmaceutical company and a member of the American Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association. On arriving in Lima in September, 1949 he gave an interview to the leading newspaper, El Comercio, before beginning his work, in which he said:

"We believe that the daily, inveterate use of coca leaves by chewing ... not only is thoroughly noxious and therefore detrimental, but also is the cause of racial degeneration in many centers of population, and of the decadence that visibly shows in numerous Indians – and even in some mestizos – in certain zones of Peru and Bolivia. Our studies will confirm the certainty of our assertions and we hope we can present a rational plan of action ... to attain the absolute and sure abolition of this pernicious habit."

Even before the study started, Fonda already had his conclusions formulated. The Commission systematically ignored bibliographic references that even then spoke of coca's beneficial properties. It delivered its final report to the United Nations in June, 1950. Two years later, the WHO Expert Committee on Drug Dependence took the official position that coca chewing was a form of drug addiction. A decade later, the UN put coca on Schedule I in the Single Convention, a list of the most dangerous and highly restricted substances together with cocaine and heroin. And the coca leaf has remained there ever since.