Pope Francis has made a controversial decision regarding his visit to Bolivia on July 8 by stating that he plans to sample leaves from the Coca plant, the raw ingredient in cocaine. Although he will not be sampling the illicit drug, the leaves of the Coca plant are known to be mild stimulants.
Metro U.K. reported that Coca leaves are classified as a narcotic and have been illegal since 1961. However, cultivation of the plant is still rampant in Bolivia and the surrounding areas. The leaves are still imported into the United States, nearly 100 tons each year, and ingredients are extracted to use in the manufacturing of Coca-Cola. Coca-Cola attempted to remove the ingredients from their beverage by releasing New Coke, but were quickly berated and returned to their original recipe.
Eating Coca leaves has proven beneficial for individuals that live in high altitudes, such as the Andes mountains, to relieve altitude sickness and other such ailments. However, other than to Coca-Cola’s third party processor, the leaves are not legally allowed elsewhere.
Pope Francis is not expecting to experience the full effects of cocaine use during his visit, but is instead opting to participate in the standard tradition for visitors to Bolivia. He opted to forego drinking the customary Coca tea and has opted to chew the leaves, since it is more traditional. According to the BBC, Pope Francis “specifically requested” to chew the Coca leaves.
Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia, was once a Coca farmer and is an activist to rid the leaves from the stigma they have long endured. It is his hopes that Pope Francis’ sampling of the Coca leaves will assist his campaign to decriminalize the Coca plant.
Marko Machicao, Culture Minister of Bolivia, welcomes Pope Francis’ request to sample the Coca leaves and is excited to present him with the opportunity.
“We will be awaiting the Holy Father with the sacred coca leaf”
In 2013, the United Nations voted to allow the Coca leaves to be chewed in Bolivia. The legalization came after only fifteen countries voted against legalizing the Coca leaves. Although it is still considered illegal elsewhere in the world, Bolivia has maintained legalization because it is not used for narcotic pleasure, instead as a traditional medicine. However, the Coca leaf is still barred outside of Bolivia, save for its inclusion as an integral ingredient in Coca-Cola.
The Vatican has not released a comment on the Pope’s decision.
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