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While coca leaf has been an integral part of Andean civilization since long before Europeans arrived in the Americas, it has been the target of attacks by Catholic priests, moralizing modernizers, and international drug warriors over centuries. In 1961, the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs placed coca on its Schedule 1 list of controlled substances, along with heroin and cocaine, and decreed that coca-chewing must be abolished within twenty-five years. The basis for this attack was the report produced by the United Nations Commission of Enquiry on the Coca Leaf in 1950. While the investigation was ostensibly an objective one, the commission’s final recommendation to eradicate coca consumption had been contemplated in advance. The commission’s methodology was loose and arbitrary, with little scientific foundation and scant field research (a mere three weeks in Bolivia), and the report was plagued by derogatory assumptions about Indians. Ultimately, its conclusions served the interests of the U.S.-based pharmaceutical firms and regulatory agencies that sought to control the licit production and processing of the leaf, as well as the licit commercialization and use of cocaine for medicinal purposes. Into the twenty-first century, Bolivia has made repeated efforts to undo the ill-informed international drug regulations applied to the coca leaf.

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