(above) Kaveh Kazemi | Getty Images

'Time to bury' US-led law, as Bolivia expands coca production


Karen Gilchrist | @_karengilchri

Bolivian President Evo Morales has signed a controversial new bill which almost doubles the area of land that can be used for legal coca production.

The new law expands the country's authorized coca plantation zones to 22,000 hectares (55,000 acres) from the previous 12,000 hectares.

The coca plant has many traditional uses in the Andes, including as a remedy for altitude sickness. When chewed, its leaves also provide mild stimulation and can suppress thirst and hunger.

However, the plant is also used to make cocaine, prompting warnings from opponents that the new law would boost drug trafficking – a crime which has long since weighed on the country.

President Morales, a former coca farmer, is a renowned supporter of the legalization of the coca leaf chewing and heads a federation of coca farmers.


(below) Spencer Platt | Getty Images

President Morales, a former coca farmer, is a renowned supporter of the legalisation of the coca leaf chewing and heads a federation of coca farmers.

At the signing held Wednesday, he said the law would regulate the revaluation, production, circulation, transportation, marketing, consumption, research, industrialization and promotion of coca in its natural state.

"It was time to bury Law 1008, which sought to eliminate coca in Bolivia," President Morales said, referring to a U.S.-led 1988 law which sought to limit production and impose harsh penalties for illegal coca cultivation.

"That is why this is a historic day.

"This law guarantees coca for life, this is our struggle."

Bolivia is currently the world's third largest producer of coca, behind Colombia and Peru.

While the expansion is expected to increase production, it is likely to further increase competition between farmers in Bolivia's already saturated market.