Think you have green fingers, fancy yourself as the next Pablo Escobar or just want to puff the magic dragon?
In Bolivia, incarcerated persons can wait longer than two years before being sentenced. Prison conditions are primitive, overcrowded and prisoners pay for their own room and board. While drugs such as cocaine, marijuana, opium, heroin and methamphetamines are all highly illegal, there is some good news for those users currently flushing their drugs down the toilet.
Firstly, not every pleasure inducing substance is criminalized; alcohol, tobacco, caffeine and coca leaves are legal. Secondly, while the law may be strict, enforcement is another matter. Sr Adolfo Espinoza, public relations manager of the Special Drug Police Force (FELCN), says, “In reality the police do not have the money or resources to incarcerate small time users.”
Espinoza says that if a person is caught with a small amount deemed for personal use, for example, less than 50 grams of cocaine, they will be released without charge or fine. The worst that may happen is they will be detained for up to eight hours for interrogation to discover where they obtained the drugs and from whom. The users of marijuana and other illicit drugs are treated the same.
Espinoza says, “If a person transports the drug, sells it or has a large amount… A kilo, this is a different story.” In this case, the person can be imprisoned for two to five years or longer depending on the seriousness of the case. Although the law stipulates that fines apply to drug related crimes, Espinoza says that this is not enforced.
Some of the more important sections of Bolivian drug law include:
Any person who illicitly sows, harvests, cultivates or gathers plants or parts of plants such as coca or marijuana, or other controlled plants will be punished with imprisonment for a term of one to two years.
Any person who illegally manufactures controlled substances shall be punished with imprisonment for a term of five to fifteen years.
Any person who engages in traffic in controlled substances shall be punished with imprisonment for a term of ten to twenty-five years.
Consumption and possession for consumption
Drug-dependent persons or non-habitual consumers apprehended in the possession of controlled substances in minimal quantities that are presumed to be intended for their own immediate personal consumption shall be detained in an institution for drug-dependence to receive treatment until such time as certainty regarding their rehabilitation has been established.
(Espinoza says that in reality, the Bolivian government cannot afford to rehabilitate users and so, while the users may be referred to organisations such as churches and rehabilitation centres, rehabilitation is voluntary.)
Any person who illicitly administers controlled substances to other persons shall be punished with imprisonment for a term of ten to fifteen years, whatever the quantity administered.
Any person who illicitly supplies controlled substances to others shall be punished with imprisonment for a term of eight to twelve years, whatever the quantity supplied.
Any person who illicitly and knowingly carries or transports any controlled substance shall be punished with imprisonment for a term of eight to twelve years and permanent confiscation of his motorised or other transport equipment.
Any person who is proved to have directly or indirectly made or offered gifts or rewards of any type - even if not accepted - to any public employee, with the aim of inducing the official to take or fail to take action in implementation of the law, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term of four to eight years.
While chewing coca leaves is accepted and legal in some South American countries, it is certainly not legal to bring coca leaves or other related products into Western countries such as the US. In fact, it’s a good idea to get rid of your coca before you cross any borders, for example, chewing coca leaves is accepted and legal in Argentina, but it is illegal to import coca leaves into the country.
There is reportedly a scam running in Bolivia, which involves an unwitting tourist purchasing an illicit substance off a dealer. Upon concluding the deal, the tourist will be approached by two men purporting to be police. The tourist is threatened with arrest and at this point generally agrees to pay a bribe of around U$100.
Theo van den Berg