Legality of coca leaves

Written by phil whitmer
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Legality of coca leaves
Coca leaf is extensively grown in the Andes. (cocaïne image by Gilles Paire from

Use of coca leaf is a 3,000-year-old tradition in South America's Andes region. In modern times, the leaves can be legally used for pharmaceutical and limited industrial use. Medicinal cocaine hydrochloride is manufactured mainly by the Merck Company in Germany.

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International Legality

In Bolivia, Peru and, to a lesser extent, Columbia, coca leaf chewing is legal among the indigenous populations, and its controlled farming is allowed on a restricted number of hectares. In Bolivia and Peru, the popular mate de coca or coca leaf tea is legal. In Bolivia, legal cultivation of coca for local use is set at 12,000 hectares. In the 1960s, coca leaves were put on the U.N. list of banned substances, severely restricting exportation.

US Legality

In the United States, coca leaf is classified as a Schedule II narcotic drug, making it illegal to buy, sell, or possess without a DEA license or medical prescription. Mallinckrodt Inc. of St. Louis is the only U.S. company allowed to purify cocaine from coca leaves. The Stepan Company of Maywood, New Jersey, is the nation's only legal importer of coca leaf.


According to The New York Times, the Coca-Cola Company still uses a nondrug extract from coca leaves as a flavouring agent in its popular soft drink. The original drink's recipe included cocaine, but the drug was no longer included after 1900.

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