Sunday, July 27, 2008

Cocaine Prohibition: Its Effects, Quantitative and Qualitative

Douglas A. Willinger 1992


Since 1914, the meaning of cocaine policy has been the prohibition of the (non-medically prescribed) production, sale, and use, of cocaine, regardless of its form or consequences. Cocaine is a naturally occurring alkaloid found in the leaves of certain varieties of Erythroxylum Coca. In addition to being an effective local anesthetic© the only one found in nature, cocaine serves as a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant. As such, cocaine is a member of the same family of drugs as caffeine and nicotine, alkaloid-stimulants found respectfully in Coffee beans and Tobacco leaves. Cocaine however is classified by statute most differently, as a "narcotic." While that word has generally evolved into a catch-all phrase for officially disapproved drugs, the controlled Substances Act of 1970 defines cocaine and the Coca leaves that contain as "schedule II" substances. These are defined by that Act as substances said to have a high potential for abuse, a currently accepted medical treatment in the U.S., and a high potential for abuse, of which may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence.


By definition, cocaine prohibition aims at the reduction or elimination of cocaine's production, sale and use. Because of the perception that cocaine is intrinsically a bad drug, prohibition in turn is viewed as "good" policy. Hence it is assumed that restricting cocaine's use necessarily serves the general welfare.

Questions of prohibition's effectiveness, as exemplified by the October 11, 1992 Presidential debates are answered in the affirmative by references to prohibition's effects at reducing cocaine use: to the President, prohibition is responsible for lower reported levels of cocaine use amongst high school students; to his Democratic Party candidate, prohibition, particularly the criminal justice system© saved his "recovering addict" brother's life; to the Texan alternative, prohibition is the best protection for unborn children from their drug addicted mothers.

None of these men need mention that their support for prohibition rests upon selective observations- if not down right falsehoods: George Bush need not mention that cocaine abuse(such as the use of crack) is up; William Clinton can ignore the high costs of protecting people from themselves in liberty and tax dollars, to say nothing of the philosophical ramifications; Ross Perot need not even concern himself with the recent findings that cocaine itself does not cause birth defects, lest he concern himself with the children rather then the headlines. Clearly, prohibition does not necessarily reduce cocaine usage; indeed it can be said that cocaine prohibition fosters the drug's abuse. Through the 1980s, the U.S. alone increased its drug law enforcement efforts several fold, in police efforts, prosecutions, and tax dollars. Seizures of contraband drugs, property, along with arrests, prosecutions, convictions and prison terms were at an all time high, as are all the problems now associated with cocaine's trade and use. Prohibition supporters could be expected to challenge this implication: that prohibition is not a bulwark but a catalyst for many of today's problem. Nonetheless, if existing policy. If this is the sort of policy that merits our political leaders' unequivocal support, then they have set very low standards for such an important issue. Perspectives of drug policy may differ, yet there can be little disagreement that such policy should serve the public interest, and that current policy frankly falls short.

Perhaps the same thing could be said of the dominant way of viewing prohibition. These usually focus upon isolated quantitative indicators, while almost always remaining wedded to such basic notions that cocaine is a bad drug, and prohibition is good policy. Objectively, furthering the public good should really be the mission of any rational drug policy purported to serve the general welfare. If prohibition's effects upon the public good are truly our base line measurement of its success, judging it solely by selected primary effects upon cocaine production, sale or use cheats the public when that policy is not synonymous with serving the general welfare. Because a law's isolated success does not automatically mean that it serves the social good, an infinitely superior assessment of cocaine prohibition approaches the question of its utility, quantitatively and qualitatively. One way of ascertaining prohibition's effects, for example, would be asking if it resulted in fewer users, and if so, whether this is socially beneficial? The answers, which can be found by comparing periods of cocaine prohibition with those when cocaine was legal, may give us a valuable insights into the true nature of existing policy and to the sense of intensifying it. Quantitatively, we could call cocaine prohibition a success if we focus only upon its primary goals of reducing cocaine's sale and use. In both the amount of the drug consumed and the percentage of the overall population using it, use is far less then if it had never been criminalized. Since prohibition makes cocaine less conveniently available then legal stimulants, relatively few people use it relatively infrequently, relative to the use of its licit counterparts. While a majority of the population take caffeine primarily through beverages such as Coffee, Tea and soft-drinks, and a significant minority take nicotine through Tobacco products and nicotine addiction maintenance devices as chewing gums or skin patches, only a small faction take cocaine.

Qualitatively though, prohibiting cocaine has been a disaster, whether measured by its effect upon cocaine production, how it is used, or the ultimate results of this where abuse becomes likely. Prohibition does not reduce cocaine production, regardless which aspect of "cocaine production" is addressed: its natural synthesis within Coca leaves, or its unnatural extraction and refinement into concentrated form. Indeed, under the latter definition, cocaine production has tremendously skyrocketed, along with the ill social effects we have come to expect with this influence upon the drug's trade and use.

Coca eradication© the effort to thwart cocaine's natural synthesis© has been an exhaustive, expensive, arduous waste. While Coca leaf has been described as delicate, the Coca plant is anything but. A sturdy shrub ranging in fully grown size from a 2 to 30 feet, Coca must be uprooted by hand or poisoned with generally toxic chemicals in order to be effectively destroyed (setting the plants on fire for instance is ineffective, for burnt Coca will re-spout). With thousands of acres of Coca cleared through such labor intensive or environmentally destructive means, these efforts have been virtually for naught; for in contrast to the difficulty of Coca eradication, Coca cultivation is relatively simple, given the right climate. Numerous tropical and semi-tropical regions possess this; hence Coca has been grown outside its indigenous Andean habitat, for instance being cultivated in Ecuador, Columbia, Brazil, parts of Argentina, and even outside of South America, as far as Hawaii, Indonesia and even West Africa.

Eradication's failure from a cost-benefit analysis is eclipsed by its role in setting the stage for how the drug is now made available and how it is used. While people have always use intact plant substances as stimulants, such as the use of Coffee, cocaine prohibition redefines the dominant mode of cocaine production as its refinement from Coca into the concentrated drug, cocaine hydrochloride or cocaine sulfate. This result, is a damning indictment of how prohibition redefines cocaine use. Although relatively fewer people take cocaine, those that do use it, use it in worse ways. While a smaller percentage of the population ingest cocaine, whether medicinally or social-recreationally, habitually or occasionally, then they otherwise would had Federal prohibition had not been enacted, post©1914 events indicate that use has indisputably shifted towards potentially dangerous forms and modes of administration, and away from those that are arguably more benign then the customary consumption of caffeine now. Prior to the Harrison Act banning cocaine outright, and the earlier State laws aimed at suppressing the market in Coca leaf, cocaine was primarily taken indirectly through beverages made from Coca leaves containing no more then 36 milligrams of cocaine alkaloid per fluid ounce. 1

A. Cocaine in the "caffeine" paradigm.

While today's abuse of cocaine extracts a higher immediate social toll per abuser then its licit counterparts, cocaine's use in the context reserved for caffeine may be more benign then that licit stimulant's use through drinking Coffee or Tea. Taking cocaine occasionally or regularly through cocaine-containing beverages as the original Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Cola and Vin Mariani (a Coca leaf wine invented and popularized by Angelo Francois Mariani from 1863 to 1914) is in fact characterized favorably by scholars of this mode of administration for cocaine. Edward Breecher, author of Consumers' Union's landmark 1972 Report Licit and Illicit Drugs, wrote that "in reviewing the historical record on Coca beverages, there is little if anything indicating that they were more threatening to health then Coffee." Joseph Kennedy, the anthropologist who wrote the 1985 book Coca Exotica: The Illustrated History of Cocaine, a comprehensive history of the use of Coca leaves and isolated cocaine, concluded that such cocainated beverages were virtually abuse-proof," recommended that they be made widely available, so as to preserve consumers' right to choice while minimizing cocaine abuse.

In noting the harmlessness of this mode of diffuse cocaine use, Kennedy observed that this was evident not so much from recent research, but from Coca's 3,000 year history, for most scientific studies have focused upon refined cocaine, the drug of abuse, rather then cocaine the caffeine substitute. Fortunately however, a number of medical researchers have worked towards closing this research gap through the latter 1980s, amongst them Dr. Ronald Siegel of the UCLA. Regarded as one of the most knowledgeable pharmacologists, who has studied the world's popularly employed stimulants, Siegel states that of "all the stimulants, natural or synthetic, licit or illicit," Coca stands out as the "easiest to control and the one least likely to produce toxicity or dependency." In a letter published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in 1986, Siegel noted that South American Indians have drank Coca leaf tea "for hundreds of years with no ill effects and some medical benefit." 2

More recently, JAMA reports that Steven Karch of the University Medical Center of Southern Nevada, a researcher of cocaine and cocaine-alcohol toxicity, rates these traditional modes of Coca consumption, as well as last century's practice of drinking "cocaine-laced wine" a "benign indulgence." 3

Those accustomed to the negative portrait of cocaine displayed through the 1980s may want to have their attention drawn to the frame this "painting" now hangs in: its paradigm. By popularized definition, cocaine is a drug likely to lead to compulsive use and toxicity: a perception based upon the context the media, the state and the medical guilds view it, as a concentrated drug, a white powder (cocaine hydrochloride) or rock (cocaine sulfate) taken intranasaly, by injection or smoked. This perception however is not applicable to cocaine in the paradigm traditionally reserved for caffeine. Taken in this way, orally and diffusely, relatively moderate amounts of the drug (in comparison to cocaine's abuse in its current forms) are slowly absorbed into the bloodstream from the mucosal, stomach and upper intestine membranes. Such doses give a long-lasting effect said to ebb so gently that there is none of the post-stimulatory depression now associated with cocaine known for inducing the infamous "coke craving." Additionally, cocaine's property as an local anesthetic probably serves as a significant factor in discouraging excessive imbibing due to its anesthetic action upon the nerve endings in the stomach whereas the drinkers appetite for more is inhibited. This anesthetic-inhibiter action is a likely reason why cocaine-containing Coca beverages where widely regarded as a socially desirable substitute drink for alcoholics throughout the 1870s and 1880s. 4

How the paradigm shift occurred.

Prohibition, which locks cocaine into its current paradigm, was but the culmination of a chain of events where perceptions lead to the actions that converted cocaine from a delightful alternative to caffeine to a potentially dangerous, seductive white powder poison of abuse. Cocaine's isolation from Coca around 1860, its commercialization as an isolated, concentrated drug circular 1884, the medical shift from Coca leaf infusions to cocaine hydrochloride/sulfate and the subsequent market shift after 1900 were all events catalyzed by certain narrow way of thinking that placed dogmas over reason.

How people thought© particularly with their perceptions and reactions© is crucial in regards to the public's support for prohibition. Imagine, if you will, a scenario where other substances of cocaine's category inhabit its familiar context. Instead of being popularly consumed as components of Coffee, Tea or Tobacco, caffeine and nicotine are white powders that people took up their noses, whereas the public simply sees these plants as illicit drug sources: for remember, in this reality, they are illegal. Since these drugs are popular and illegal, a lucrative black market abounds, where their per gram weight is higher then that of gold (Tobacco, for example was more expensive then gold during the 1600s when it was illegal throughout much of Europe). As stimulants, each has an abuse potential with ill effects more similar then dissimilar then that of refined cocaine. Taken in concentrated form, they would give spectacular but brief effects likely to lead to compulsive use. As such, caffeine and nicotine have toxic potential, both acute and chronic. As one illustration of this: laboratory rats injected with large doses of caffeine become highly agitated, to the point of biting off their limbs in an extreme manifestation of formication: the toxic symptom whereas one may feel like bugs are crawling under their skin. This, of course is commonly attributed only to cocaine because cocaine has only available in concentrated form for nearly eighty years. In our inverted alternative world, caffeine develops this reputation for the same reason: for being available only in refined form, each is popularly conceptualized as a drug of abuse; however, this is so because they are strictly illegal.

If one were to wake up to this sort of world, one might scream at the absurdity, as would a Vin Mariani drinker from the latter 1800s upon viewing today's cocaine scene. That people do not see today's situation with cocaine this way is a result of how things are perceived. Since most people perceive things merely according to what they see and how they are told, they can be conditioned to accept the current situation as normal. Such is one of the main effects of dogmas.

Today's scenario with cocaine sustains the dogma that it is necessarily a problematic drug: pictures of the out of control cocaine sniffer, or the pregnant crack-addict can only reinforce this perspective. Yesterday's controversy over cocaine however, also provide an excellent insight of how narrow perspectives focused upon one context of cocaine usage have blurred the paradigms and created a great deal of confusion. As we shall see, this was inevitable when people, rather then viewing and perceiving something in all of its dimensions, instead fix upon a simple belief usually from one's first impression© that they become proud of: whether it be Sigmund Freud or Mark S. Gold. When pride prevents them from admitting such erroneous presumption, this as cocaine's post 1884 history indicates© can have disastrous results.

The early debates about cocaine featured three operative dogmas: that cocaine was a good drug, that cocaine was a bad drug, and that refined drugs were superior to unrefined herbal preparations. Each of these had their truth. As an ingredient of Coca, cocaine was clearly a good drug, clearly superior to caffeine in Coffee or nicotine in Tobacco in a number of regards. Unlike either of these licit stimulants, cocaine was non-physically addictive, inducing no withdrawal.

During the 1980s, in a misguided focus upon the drug's identity rather then its perverse modes of use, the depressive rebound of relatively large amounts of intranasal, injected or smoked cocaine was widely mis-cited as "withdrawal" by the popular press. In the moderate doses taken through Coca beverages, cocaine increased the heart rate to a lesser degree then a comparable dose of say caffeine for a given increase in mental acuity, making it a safer stimulant for those with heart conditions. This of course is very applicable with cocaine when taken in concentrated form, as Sigmund Freud's friend Ernest von Flieschl and the U.S. anesthesiologist William Halstead found. Given cocaine by injection respectfully as a morphine substitute and as a nerve block, both men became strongly habituated to the injections, even while suffering the ill effects of cocaine poisoning.

Logically one could have expected a resounding criticism of cocaine hydrochloride's introduction into medicine and a recommendation that, as far as cocaine was concerned, that asides from its application as a local anesthetic, as first used by Dr. Carl Koller for eye surgery in 1884, we continue to use Coca in most instances. As Coca had been employed safely and successfully in the European and North American medical professions for over twenty years with none of the abuse liabilities of isolated cocaine, the abuse of the latter© particularly when taken by injection© no more indicted cocaine per se© and by extension Coca then poisoning someone with massive doses of pure caffeine would condemn caffeine and Coffee.

Nevertheless, prevailing way of perceiving things led to the blurring the paradigms, as Coca's safety was beaten in the headlines by the dangerous of isolated cocaine's abuse. Within the medical community, this perception was undoubtedly catalyzed by the popular idea that herbal medicines were "old fashioned," while refined drugs were "modern." Hence "cocaine," rather then the abuse or the use of refined cocaine, was targeted as the problem. In later years, when virtually no one dared to defend the alkaloid by name, the reluctance to do so would only confirm the misconception that cocaine© and therefore Coca© was unequivocally pernicious.

This paradigm shift, started during the 1880s, but took thirty years before coming to full fruition. Through the 1890s, even after 1900, cocaine continued to be overwhelmingly consumed through Coca beverages containing modest amounts of the alkaloid: a past time of sufficient popularity to have possibly influenced the christening of that decade as the Gay Nineties. While there were press accounts of cocaine hydrochloride's intranasal abuse, upon being merchandised as a sniffing powder for treating catarrh (not a good idea!), these were isolated enough to be newsworthy. The statistically significant shift towards refined cocaine only came on the heels of the great anti-cocaine crusade of the early 1900s and the subsequent laws against cocaine¬™ containing beverages such as Coca-Cola. A campaign that was interestingly most intense in the south-eastern U.S. where Tobacco was economically entrenched (Coca after all was widely promoted as a Tobacco substitute that gave smokers "the excitement they sought, while preserving their intellectual facilities”, 6 it came on at full strength with the intervention of United States Department of Agriculture. Following soon on the heals of its experiments with the cultivation of Coca and other "drug" crops (including Hemp and Opium, but apparently excluding Coffee, Tea, Tobacco or any of the crops customarily cultivated for fermentation into alcohol) on the Potomac flats to explore the feasibility of their commercial cultivation in North America, 7 ; a campaign against Coca leaf was initiated through USDA Bureau of Chemistry head, and the first FDA administrator Harvey Wiley. Known primarily for his efforts to protect the public from "dangerous" substances, notably certain food preservatives, Wiley was famous for researching the acute toxicity of such substances through the use of human test subjects, who were fed food laced with certain preservatives and monitored for symptoms of toxicity.

While Wiley has been lionized for his efforts at safeguarding the public's health; nonetheless, the reasoning particularly its lack of any relevance to health matters© behind his campaign to illegalize Coca, and the FDA's early decision to exempt Tobacco products from regulatory review has generally gone un-noted by historians, none of whom apparently dare touch upon these decisions where Coca was condemned for being "habit-forming" while Tobacco products (particularly cigarettes) were quietly "grandfathered." From a perspective grounded in concern for public health, none of this made sense. No one, even at the turn of the century would deny that Tobacco was not usually "habit-forming." Publications of the time were full of reference to its habit-forming, indeed addictive properties, whereas Tobacco consumers found it difficult or impossible to quit. As society has long tolerated, indeed sanctioned the daily use of natural stimulants though, Tobacco's addictiveness indeed being one of the most reinforcing and indeed the most physically addictive substances known, more so then heroin has not been a bar to its acceptance. Indeed, if cigarettes were harmless, there would be relatively little concern over their addictiveness; rather it is their ill effects upon health that made it a popular target for remedies (of which Coca was widely recommended for) to help the Tobacco addict quit. Even then Tobacco was recognized as a health threat, for debate on this issue hinged upon the question whether Tobacco was harmful or harmless. On the contrary, any debate about Coca concerned the degree to which it was beneficial. By 1902, over 7,000 physicians had endorsed the use of Vin Mariani, and even those that were not favorably disposed to it merely saw Coca as not very beneficial, and not as a health threat.

Wiley would have undoubtedly have had a good illustration of the relative toxicity and lack of such of Tobacco and Coca if he had even tested them the way he did food preservatives. As Tobacco is one of the most toxic plant substances known© a single seed can kill a bird, while a cigar contains enough nicotine to fatally overdose three men© a simple experiment of Coca leaf and Tobacco chewers forced to swallow one quid of their leaf of choice would provide an example of the irrelevance of twentieth century drug policy to health matters. While the Tobacco chewer would be in great pain, spitting up blood (if not kneeling over permanently), the Coca chewer would feel a mild pleasant sensation in the stomach, and a slight mood elevation while taking in harmless amounts of cocaine, and sizable portion of one's daily recommended nutritional requirements for vitamins B1, C, and riboflavin.

Actual health matters asides, the USDA, its new spin off, the "Pure Foods & Drugs Administration," the American Medical Association and the American Pharmaceutical Association lead a campaign to pull Coca products of the market. From 1907 onwards, model legislation was submitted to the legislatures of each of the States with this goal. In marked contrast to earlier anti-cocaine laws, such as that of Oregon's in 1887, which were directed only at the pure drug or preparations containing it in higher concentrations, these newer laws purposely eliminated any allowances for low amounts of cocaine found in Coca. Through the years leading to 1914, the States passed such laws with an increasing frequency.

Two things happened in the ensuing climate. The first was the dramatic decline of Coca leaf imports. From 1906 to 1907 for instance, Coca leaf imports fell by 50%, as prohibitive State laws, and numerous Federal prosecutions forced Coca manufacturers to give up, or take rear-guard actions that could have been interpreted as admissions that the government's cases had merit. Some manufacturers removed the cocaine from their products altogether, while others down-played the alkaloid's presence. Mariani & Company for instance ran advertisements insisting that Vin Mariani was not a cocaine preparation (rather it was a coca preparation), hence the law did not apply to it. Even though this was technically true, this approach could have been taken as evidence that cocaine per se was something to be ashamed of, and was nonetheless only good until the next time the Illinois State legislature could meet and close this loophole. The manufacturers of Koca-Nola, an U.S. soft-drink, on the contrary, declared their product "dopeless." As cocaine was [generally] not associated with "dopey" behavior that gave opiates or even marijuana this nick name, this approach too was technically true. Since though the popular press was applying that term to cocaine however, this approach could have been interpreted as a lie, while reinforcing the new dominant perception of cocaine as something to avoid altogether.

The other main development of this age was cocaine hydrochloride emergence as a growing menace. This of course is the well known white powder form customarily sniffed that "cocaine" is known as today with all its potential ill effects upon individual and societal stability. In noting the growing market in this powder-form of the drug in 1907, The New York Times established the perception that the new laws, such as New York's Smith Act, were not to be blamed for spurring this shift in drug's form and use, even as the concentrated substance was rapidly displacing the bulky 17 ounce bottles of Vin Mariani that had previously dominated the market, for the Times with other major U.S. papers interpreted this as reason to intensify such laws by calling for their federalization. This culminated with the Harrison Act of 1914. Named for its Congressional sponsor, New York Representative Francis Burton Harrison of Manhattan's Upper East side/Harlem district, this act continued to allow the over the counter sale of medicines containing small amounts of narcotics, yet banned such sales of anything containing any amount of cocaine. Although subsequent Treasury department records make it virtually impossible to ascertain how much Coca was prescribed by doctors afterwards, because they lump Opium and Coca products and derivatives together, no Coca products were available to consumers through licit or illicit channels in the U.S. by March, 1915 when that act took effect.

The same of course can not be said about the concentrated article, cocaine hydrochloride, the object of a lucrative black market trade ever since.

C. Intensifying the Shift: The Road to Crack

Prohibition receives praise for confining cocaine use to a relative small fraction of the popularity. While an estimated 65 million and 150 plus million respectfully consume nicotine or caffeine, a mere 5 million take cocaine. Existing policy of course only focuses upon a drug's identity, and not the results© whether actual or potential© of the substance popularized under the respective policy. No where was this more apparent then with the actions of the FDA and the DEA during the 1980s with regards to Mate de Coca and crack. Representative of both extremes of cocaine use, the stories of these substances are rich in irony for illustrating prohibition's true effectiveness.

Prohibition is certainly effective at keeping consumers away from Coca tea. The stuff had been imported into the U.S. since the early 1980s, when the Peruvian government Coca monopoly ENACO 8 began marketing it as a decocainized product, which was and is legal under existing "narcotics" legislation. In actuality, the tea was not decocainized, a reality which was determined when the tea was assayed in late 1985© early 1986 when it was found useful in satisfying the cravings of those habituated to intranasally administered cocaine. Upon finding that the tea contained cocaine© roughly 5 milligrams to a single-serving bag, the DEA moved to pull the tea off the market, even though nothing indicated that this had threatened the public health in any way.

Opposing [certain] drugs for their legal status rather then their actual effects was the norm for the eighties, as evident by the expenditure of U.S. law enforcement resources upon a British tourist who possessed a bag of Coca tea. On August 24, 1986, Kumar Ashwani Korpal, 27 of Withhington, Manchester was arrested at Kennedy International Airport after he declared 30 cents worth of Coca leaves (two and a half ounces at Cusco, Peru prices) to customs officials. Told by a tour guide that bringing Coca leaves onto U.S. territory could be done "without any problem" if he declared his tea, Korpal was actually in violation of the law, under which the possession of Coca leaves was effectively a more severe crime then possessing an amount of isolated cocaine equivalent to that contained in the leaves: while the .7 grams of cocaine alkaloid contained within the 2.5 ounces of leaves would constitute a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year of incarceration, possessing over 2 ounces of the leaves themselves is a felony punishable by as much as eight years to life! Korpal could not have picked a worse time to have been caught: remember that mid 1986 was the summer of drug war hysteria that came upon the heels of Len Bias's fatal cocaine over dose that June. In a rare instance when the law was indisputably violated, the grand jury nonetheless did not indict Korpal, possibly because their sensibilities were violated by the law. To Queens District Attorney James Santucci, the fact that the Coca leaves were "contraband" though apparently mattered more then the fact that they were benign(or that he had wasted the taxpayers' dollars by even pursuing such a case). In response to the grand jury's action, Santucci declared his intent to pursue like prosecutions against tourists bring Coca leaves into the country, with the full weight of the law:

"They're not souvenirs. They're contraband... If discovered, you will be arrested, jailed and arraigned. You will face grand jury action with every possibility that the result will be far different then what happened in the first case."

[By this, DA Santucci declares his intent to commit the crimes of kidnapping and extortion to enforce laws of criminal mercantilism that subvert people's health and that violate the 1st and 9th amendments of the U.S. Constitution]

One can not know whether demagoguery or ignorance prompted Santucci's support of the waste of law enforcement resources on such as case while the New York Metropolitan area was facing the media-heralded crack epidemic of 1986. Did he actually thing that Korpal was endanger himself with Coca tea, let alone presume he would soak the leaves in solvents to produce less then three quarters of a gram of cocaine powder, let alone mix this with baking soda for sale as crack in Washington Heights?

The irony of these action however should be no mystery. While the FDA, the DEA and Customs are able to stop Coca, and may gloat over the ease by which they can pluck boxes of teas off supermarket shelves or bags of tea from hapless tourists, they can not stop cocaine. Six years after the crack menace first hit the headlines, crack's use has risen: an unpleasant reality now masked by government reports of reduced "cocaine use" (whereas that term is redefined exclusively as intranasal cocaine use). Although fewer people reportedly sniff cocaine, greater numbers now smoke it, with an overall rise in overall cocaine use.


Removing prohibition would certainly go far to remove the negative pressure upon cocaine's trade and use that guarantees today's perverse situation. Rather then having a situation where cocaine is available and used exclusively as a concentrated, potentially dangerous substance, cocaine would be available in the contexts where it once again was available as a sort of benign alternative to caffeine.

Some people may contend that this would not necessarily result in much of a social benefit. Although it is difficult to deny that a significant portion of today's cocaine market would be ceded to the re-incarnated market in Coca products, several objections have been raised, particularly by an article by Mark A.R. Kleiman, Associate Professor of Public Policy at the John F, Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. 9 Although none of them claim that switching cocaine use towards Coca use is a bad idea, there are fears that this could encourage today's type of cocaine use by making the alkaloid available to more people. With regards to cocaine in general, Mark A.R. Kleiman writes:

If all cocaine-taking involved low-dosage oral forms of the drug, cocaine might be no more controversial then its chemical relative, caffeine. It is the administration of the purified chemical, either as a powdery hydrochlorite salt, which can be snorted or injected, or as an anhydrous base (freebase or crack) which can be vaporized and inhaled, that has twice given cocaine an evil reputation.

Kleiman nonetheless dismisses the "obvious regulatory restrict cocaine to dilute forms designed to be swallowed," concluding that, “as bad as our current cocaine prohibition is, I cannot invent a version of legal availability for cocaine that would not be worse.” His reasons represent an essential fear that people could extract the cocaine (and use it as it is now used), and that those who would otherwise not be interested in trying cocaine in its current embodiment would be introduced to the drug through the beverages and then "graduate" to the concentrated drug. 10

Accordingly, dilute oral cocaine would replace some use of the concentrated drug, against a probable backdrop of rising snorters, smokers and injectors. Whether the absolute numbers of the latter did occur, would depend upon the relative magnitudes of two opposite effects Kleiman mentions: the expansion of the total market, and the substitution of weaker for stronger forms (each would “depend primarily on consumer preferences rather then on official regulations).

It is surprising that Kleiman realizes this, given his disregard for traditional drug use patterns, and his advocacy of policies certain to thwart the expansion of the markets in Coca products at the expense of isolated cocaine. In any licit drug market in history involving plants, people have always preferred the natural substances out of custom and taste. Of course, as prohibition has already reinforced if not established the use of isolated cocaine, Kleimans concern is not altogether without merit. His reflex though to flirt with elaborate regulatory schemes – to speak metaphorically of applying more coats of paint when a good sandblasting is in order – lead Kleiman to unwittingly take certain policies for granted that would reinforce prohibition’s perverse effect upon cocaine use: absolute bans on advertising on advertising the currently illicit substances. Although it is tenable to advocate such a ban on advertisements for hard – re, white powder – drugs, Kleiman fails to make this distinction, hence advocating an absolute ban on promoting Coca products. Indeed, while such restrictions may be conceptualized as bans upon billboards for crack, this concept often takes form as an absolute ban on anything that is now currently illegal.

Opposing advertising may be politically correct – usually because of alcohol and Tobacco – but also the ironic effect of this would be banning the promotion of the most benign stimulant – Coca just when it is needed the most. Nonetheless, it should serve as a potent reminder of the danger of letting the State decide which speech to ban, and is a damning indictment of the Supreme Court’s dubious decision to exempt economic speech from the Constitution’s explicit provision against Congress passing any such law. In view of the desirability of shifting or converting the cocaine market back to Coca, this policy makes absolutely no sense.

But then again, what really makes sense with existing drug policy? Although drug prohibition may be presumed to have something to do with the effects of drugs, we know this is not the case. If it was about addiction, as with that which results in physical withdrawal, then Coffee, let alone Tobacco would be illegal along with the opiates. If it were about psychological addiction, then everything but bitter tasting medicines taken occasionally would be illegal. If it were about the health effects of long term chronic use, caffeinated beverages might be legal, though there is little or no doubt that [Virginia Bright Leaf] Tobacco would be a schedule I controlled substance for having a high potential for abuse and about no recognized medicinal virtues. Coca leaf in contrast has a long history of medicinal use, is more benign then Coffee, is not physically addictive, hence the fact that it would likely be used as a daily stimulant would not be a cause of alarm, but rather one of its advocates would contend, be a cause to celebrate.

Of course this will sound like heresy to those conditioned into assuming that drug prohibition ever had the public’s health as its key goal: this conditioning occurring because people view cocaine in its current context – where it is indisputably something we would be better off with less – and because they view cocaine in the context it has been placed by prohibition. Only when people realize the circular evil of this century’s crusade against cocaine, and divorce themselves from any pride standing in the way of this realization, will they find themselves able to stop this.

Douglas A. Willinger July 1992

1 Swann, John, Science and Regulation; The Establishment of the Drug Laboratory of the USDA Bureau of Chemistry, unpublished. Presented at the History of Science Society in Madison, Wisconsin, November 3, 1991

2 Siegel, Ronald, letter, “Cocaine in Herbal Tea,” JAMA, January 3, 1986, Vol. 255: 40

3 Randall, Teri, “Cocaine Deaths Reported for Century or More, JAMA, February 26, 1992, Vol. 267: 1046

4 Personal observation.

5 During the 1980s, in a misguided focus upon the drug’s identity rather than its perverse modes of use, the depressive rebound of relatively large amounts of intranasal, injected or smoked cocaine was widely cited as “withdrawal” by the popular press.

6 Mariani, Angelo “Coca and its Therapeutic Applications,” 1892: 55

7 “ Uncle Sam’s Poison Farm,” The Boston Sunday Globe, January 10, 1904

8 Empresa Nacional de la Coca

9 Kleiman, Mark A.R. “Neither Prohibition Nor Legaliztion: Grudging Toleration in Drug Control Policy,” Daedalus: Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Summer 1992: 53

10 ibid 74-75

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