Colombia, Bolivia to ask UN to remove coca leaf from narcotics list

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BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia and Bolivia will jointly ask the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs to remove coca leaves from its list of prohibited substances and accept the plant's traditional uses, Colombia's government said on Wednesday.

The proposal, which the two countries will make at the commission's session in Vienna in mid-March, is a bid to de-stigmatize conversations about the problem of drugs, Colombia's vice-minister for multilateral affairs, Laura Gil, said in a statement.

"Bolivia and Colombia consider it is the moment to once again put this issue on the table," she said. "To remove the coca leaf - the leaf, not cocaine - from the prohibited substances list."

Coca leaves are widely used in different countries in Latin America, especially by indigenous groups, to treat stomach aches and altitude sickness, among other ceremonial uses.

Colombia's leftist President Gustavo Petro - who took office just over six months ago - has derided the U.S.-led war on drugs as a failure and called for a new international approach.

Petro and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken have discussed stepping up intelligence sharing and other measures but remain at odds on some issues like extradition.

Bolivian President Luis Arce said in January his government would push for coca leaves to be removed from the list so they can be commercialized, after his predecessor Evo Morales decriminalized coca nationally.

Colombia's potential cocaine output rose 14% to 1,400 metric tons in 2021 and the area sown with coca shot up 43% to 204,000 hectares (500,000 acres), the UN said in an annual report last year.

Bolivia's coca crop was up 4%, covering 30,500 hectares in 2021, the UN said.

(Reporting by Nelson Bocanegra, additional reporting by Daniel Ramos in La Paz; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Marguerita Choy)