Saturday, March 1, 2008

Cocaine Conversion: Back to Coca!

Originally published in the
1992 conference paper compendium of the
Washington, D.C. based "Drug Policy Foundation"


Douglas A. Willinger

Sixth International Conference on Drug Policy Reform

Washington, D.C.

November 8-11, 1992


Especially with regard to our international drug policies, we should listen to ideas from leaders of other countries. For instance, the 1990 platform of Peru's Cambio 90 party (whose candidate, Alberto Fujimori, is now president) suggested that a legal market for coca-based products could reduce the scope of the illicit drug trade while providing employment for peasants. The products mentioned included pharmaceutical- cocaine hydrochloride is used medicinally in the United States- as well as coca tea, which is sold in some parts of Latin America today and was legal in the United States through the early 1900s.
(The Andean Strategy Reconsidered; Towards a Sensible International Drug Policy) 1

This was an excellent point for the Drug Policy Foundation to commence its 1992 report The Andean Strategy Reconsidered upon. A response to last February's International Drug Summit in San Antonio Texas Conference, this report did more then criticize that summit for advocating the failed policies of the past 75 years; it provided a direction- publicly ignored by the politicians- for getting us out of our mess with that much misunderstood drug cocaine, and away from the policies that have gotten us there.


Many view cocaine as unacceptable. As David Musto once put it,

"cocaine is the one drug that quickly persuades people to be against drugs [sic]. It ends the debate about legalization because its effects are so frightening, so dangerous."

Although Musto neglects to say so, cocaine hydrochloride and sulfate (blow and crack in street parlance)- unnaturally concentrated forms of the drug- and more specifically their abuse produce frightening and dangerous effects. Cocaine itself is just an alkaloid that serves as a central nervous system stimulant, found in minute amounts within certain plants. As such, cocaine is a member of the same family of substances found in plants, such as caffeine and nicotine: drugs that are accepted word wide.

Most people are unaware of this conceptual confusion; they fail to realize how oddly cocaine is judged and viewed; condemning cocaine is as popular as failing to note that cocaine is viewed in a context rarely- if ever- shared by any other naturally occurring stimulant: e.g. caffeine and nicotine. Although some people take caffeine in concentrated form as pills, with a few- mainly college students cramming for their exams- occasionally being known to snort ground up No Doz or Vivarin in a manner like cocaine today, the landscape of usage of naturally occurring stimulants is exclusively indirect, through natural, or otherwise diffuse forms. Almost always, caffeine- the alkaloid found in Coffee beans, many teas, and the Kola nut- is taken through the use of these parent substances. Ditto for nicotine, the alkaloid found in the leaves of Tobacco plant, popularly ingested through Tobacco products.

Applying today's "cocaine" paradigm to caffeine or even nicotine would be seen by most people as clearly foolish, as would an argument that caffeine or nicotine- and by extension Coffee, Tea or Tobacco- are unequivocally deadly for human consumption. Any stimulant would present all sorts of problems if misused as cocaine is under prohibition; any is potentially lethal in pure form, including caffeine; and taking any in such concentrated forms would be potentially more habit-forming and toxic then if taken in diffuse form. Surely, rational people would see policies that promote a concentrated form of a stimulant by effectively squashing a safe, diffuse form as foolish- if not downright evil.

With cocaine though, normally rational people blindly support the policies that accomplish this foolishness with cocaine. Illegalized by the Harrison Act of December 17, 1914, effectively banning "Coca leaves, or any compound, manufacture, salt, derivative or preparation thereof [or anything containing cocaine or ecgonine]" cocaine has been the target of a relentless campaign driven by the strong, unyielding belief that it is unequivocally pernicious. What cocaine is seen as, has to do with what people see, and how they are told to see it. Certainly there is no doubt that cocaine in the concentrated forms as available under prohibition is an object of legitimate concern for anybody facing the legalization issue. While cocaine users even now greatly outnumber abusers, it is reasonable to expect use in general with a corresponding amount of abuse to rise, if only in the short-term, if the concentrated drug were made more available. Consequently, prohibition enjoys widespread support.

An interesting and important fact most people overlook is that cocaine need not be any more harmful than caffeine, as borne out by the drug's history prior to prohibition. While compulsive use, depressive rebound (the sudden end of the cocaine "high" followed by the craving for more) and manifestations of toxicity mark concentrated cocaine's abuse, cocaine's use in contexts comparable to those accepted for caffeine or nicotine was never more harmful then the use of Coffee or Tobacco. Before prohibition, most cocaine was consumed as an alkaloid in low concentrations in beverages and other products, taken in the fashion caffeine is accepted. Used in this manner, for instance, say 5 milligrams of the alkaloid per fluid ounce, cocaine shows no indication of being dangerous or harmful, as witnessed in the early history of Coca-Cola.

As we are speaking of cocaine strictly in its indirect use through that of its parent plant, the drug use advanced here is not those now associated with cocaine hydrochloride or sulfate, but rather that of Coca Leaf. The natural substance that bears cocaine in concentrations generally around 0.5%, Coca has a long history of use predating that of concentrated cocaine, more akin that of the caffeine-containing plants and Tobacco then most people outside the Andes generally realize. Best known of this uses is Coca leaf chewing in South America- primarily in the Andes- for their stimulating and medicinal properties. Like Coffee and tea, Coca has also been taken in beverage form for centuries, since the inhabitants of the Andes discovered that Coca infusions- Coca tea- soothed the stomach, thus making it a useful remedy for numerous disorders of the gastro-intestinal tract, including stomach ulcers. 3

To the conventional wisdom of the 1980s none of these facts mattered; for us, cocaine has been defined strictly as a problem drug of abuse. Given our concerns about our problems with the war on cocaine, the logic of this reasoning is as odd as the way the war's governing concepts are defined. While the words identifying these following concepts are often repeated by the media, remarkably little is said about the concepts themselves. We are told that "drugs" and "addiction" are our primary concerns, yet are these concerns true? Virtually everyone consumes some drug, whether as medicine, as part of a religious or social ritual, or as a simple daily habit like Coffee. If getting rid of drugs or drug addiction were true goals, all drugs, or at least those taken daily and/or over a long period of time would be strictly illegal- addiction after all, stripped of its media generated negative connotations, simply refers to things people do more then once to some degree over a period of time. "Drugs" and "addiction" per se as things to fight? No! Rather, the intelligent concern is with the undesirable manifestations of drug usage, regardless of the exact form- e.g. crack, prescription pill dependency or alcoholism- whether or not legal. In short, the truly rational concern is drug abuse.

If we clear our heads of the false concepts governing the war on drugs, and focus upon the one legitimate concern fueling it- reducing and eliminating drug abuse- converting cocaine use back towards Coca is our only logical approach. While greater efforts of the "zero tolerance" type may lead to a reduction in the use (and hopefully by proportion the abuse) of certain drugs, is there really any legitimate reason why politicians should be continuing along- let alone considering greater expenditures for- such a destructive and counter productive policy approach? To say nothing about the vicious and counterproductive assault upon individuals and freedom of choice, pushing the drug war further is quite likely to lead to synthetics (assuming interdiction could ever be effective) and more direct modes of use, such as "ice" (smokeable methamphetamine: essentially speed in the form of crack). Prohibition's warriors, especially the DEA and other police, have fought vigorously during the 1980s; yet their efforts were rewarded with a drop in "casual" cocaine use, and a corresponding rise in hard core use and abuse- as typified by the crack phenomenon. With these past performances as our indicators, can drug war supporters seriously entertain the notion that the light at the end of the tunnel is anything other then the head lamp of an oncoming locomotive? Nearly eight decades of the government's best efforts have failed to significantly stem cocaine's entry into the country; despite these efforts, sales and use suggest a sufficient degree of popularity. Our metaphorical locomotive has much to haul; demand for cocaine's stimulating properties is here to stay. While this is a seemingly bleak reality in light of the refined drug's abuse potential, must it be?-- when one realizes that cocaine in its natural context of Coca is not a substance of abuse, but one less toxic and more benign then Coffee!


A growing number of voices have advocated replacing refined cocaine with Coca. Much support for this idea comes from South American countries, namely Peru and Bolivia, familiar with Coca's virtues, and the folly of the war against it. In the U.S., the idea can be traced to the late Norman Zinberg and others, who according to Lester Grinspoon, proposed- as "the most humane and sensible way" of dealing with drugs- the idea of "domestication." This is defined as "creating a social situation in which they can be used in a controlled fashion and with moderation," with caffeine given as the example of one drug handled in this manner. 4 Dr. Andrew Weil, a former student of Zinberg's and a physician who has expressed interest in Coca, has put forth essentially the same idea through suggesting that Coca be used "as a substitute stimulant to wean users of amphetamines and [concentrated] cocaine from those drugs, which are more dangerous and have much higher potentials for abuse." 5

Perhaps the most developed outline for this approach was contained within a report to Congress, presented before the Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control, by Richard Karel, a Washington D.C area journalist, published for the September 1988 Congressional drug legalization hearings. A main theme of Karel's- indeed central to his approach to cocaine- was to deal with different forms of drugs in different ways. According to Karel's proposal, Coca products would be legal, being available in supermarkets generally in the forms of teas and soft-drinks; Coca-Cola could again be available in a true, original formula! Stronger preparations such as Coca wines and elixirs would be available in liquor stores. Cocaine hydrochloride powder, while available wherever appropriate in doctor supervised medication, would not be made commercially available, nor would crack 6


Clearly the social, health, and economic benefits of such a move would be enormous; replacing potentially dangerous practices with benign ones would reduce the nation's health care costs, as today's cocaine sniffers and smokers switched to Coca. Steven Karch, research director of the Trauma Center at the University Medical Center of Southern Nevada, Las Vegas, who has done much research on cocaine toxicity, reported a recent Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) article, described Coca use- specifically chewing Coca leaves or drinking cocaine-laced wine- a "benign indulgence." 7

As such, Coca's use as a substitute for today's cocaine could save the U.S. alone billions in the need for drug treatment and in health care costs in general. Although one may assume that Coca users would need "treatment" because Coca contains cocaine, such a presumption rests upon the earlier discussed conceptual confusion between cocaine itself and the use and abuse of the drug's concentrated forms, and not upon any pharmacological understanding. As Ronald K. Siegel of UCLA noted in his 1989 book Intoxication, Coca "stands out among all the stimulants, licit and illicit, as the easiest to control and the one least likely to produce toxicity or dependency." 8

Coca use does not satisfy the diagnostic criteria of cocaine abuse. 9 Coca users would not need treatment, anymore then organized psychiatry may want to declare coffee or tea drinking itself a medical disorder, if those practices were made illegal. Hence, limited treatment resources could be directed towards the reduced body of drug abusers, increasing our odds at dealing with others more effectively. Additionally, as Coca is non-toxic, it is physically impossible to take a fatal dose of the unrefined leaf; three thousand years of use in South America has produced no fatal overdoses, due to its low concentration of cocaine and lack of any harmful ingredients. Consequently, its displacement of refined cocaine would eliminate countless overdoses and their unfortunate consequences, such as heart attacks and deaths, and the corresponding divergence of hospital emergency team efforts from other matters.

Conversion to Coca- cocaine domestication- would have benefits that go far beyond those listed above. In addition to the reduction in health care and drug treatment costs, Coca's displacement of concentrated cocaine would eliminate the employee absenteeism and reduced work output now attributed to cocaine abuse. Greater work productivity need not be limited to refined cocaine's substitution; as Coca has been known for centuries as an excellent energizer, workers who take Coca may perform better, both physically and mentally, then those on Coffee or other licit stimulants. Because domestication would negate the problems marking refined cocaine's abuse, commonly overlooked side benefits of legalization will not be outweighed by a rise in abuse related costs. Asides from greater worker output with this legalization model, there would be more money for consumer goods. Billions of consumers' dollars, money now spent by cocaine users could be re-directed to the general consumer market. In the current situation, millions of people may spend hundreds of dollars a month on a social-recreational cocaine ritual where friends sit around and sniff several grams of cocaine powder together. Even though they may remain productive, the money spent on this drug- due to its grossly inflated price under prohibition- diverts a great deal of money from other pastimes: billions of dollars which could be spent on more consumer goods, from durable goods such as appliances, CDs (compact discs), and automobiles, to nontangibles like travel. By maintaining policies that distort the market in this manner, we have undoubtedly hurt our consumer products industry greatly. As I asked one group of friends who spend at least $100 @ weekly apiece on cocaine powder where they may have spent their hard earned cash instead, several admitted this was the reason why they could not afford cars and vacations, amongst other things. In light of this, it is amazing that so many businesses, particularly the automobile manufacturers support prohibition.


The savings in money involved with these social dividends would be enormous, even if only some of today's cocaine users switched (a point James Ostrowski made with the example of cocaine versus Tobacco cigarettes). As this presumably referred to the concentrated form that people sniff, these benefits would pale in comparison to a comparable switch to herbal Coca.

Nevertheless, all of this is in danger of being undermined by certain notions and ill-conceived policy proposals that often go together: that drug users naturally gravitate to the most potent modes of drug use; that patterns of hard drug use are too ingrained to be changed; and that instead of properly informing the public about the differences between different types of products, we should strictly prohibit the marketing and advertising of anything now illegal, regardless of a substance's safety or benefits. Such threats to cocaine domestication- the transformation or conversion of cocaine use back towards Coca- should not be taken lightly, for they are likely to stymie the popularization of safe drug use while doing absolutely nothing to discourage unsafe drug use.


Accordingly, people will chose more harmful or dangerous forms of a substance- e.g. IV heroin over Opium, crack over Coca- because of an innate desire for the most intense "high." Such a desire is deemed so basic that we should not even try to alter the drug market. Hence, we are not even to try the marketing and promotion of safe alternatives such as Coca.

The main flaw with this attitude- asides from its defeatist attitude: we know we are going to fail, even though we have not even tried this approach- is its myopic, purely demand side perspective. Yes there have been people who graduated from soft to hard substances; yes there are people who chose more potent substances. Yet such people are in the distinct minority amongst users of illegal drugs, and an even smaller group among drug users in general. Even a cursory glance at the drug market in general indicates that few choose hard drugs, and when they do, this only occurs when the safer, natural forms of a given drug are rendered unavailable by prohibitive laws. This was a main point Richard Cowen made in his landmark December, 1986 National Review article- a landmark for a Conservative publication, for acknowledging prohibition's baleful effects, both from an economic and moral perspective.

History bears this out. Accordingly, Coca products were first introduced outside of South America by Angelo Francois Mariani (1838-1914) in 1863. From these humble beginnings in this Corsican pharmacist's apothecary close by the great opera houses of Paris as the favored drink of vocal instructors and their over-stressed, over-achieving stage performers, Angelo Mariani's Vin Tonique Mariani ala Coca du Perou grew exponentially in sales, ultimately becoming one of the planet's most widely used beverage products through much of the half century immediately prior to prohibition in 1914.

Cocaine was first isolated around 1860; however the concentrated drug remained primarily a laboratory curiosity, until being made widely available by the large pharmaceutical firms of Merck and Parke-Davis around 1884. Therefore, all cocaine up to that time was consumed indirectly through Coca leaf and Coca products. With the concentrated drug's debut, medical attention shifted towards the alkaloid, and its use- alas, more directly- in isolated form. A chain of events that had not happened with caffeine or nicotine, concentrated cocaine's promotion was the result of several factors: the misconceptions that cocaine embodied all of Coca's effects and that refined, white powder medicines were necessarily superior to herbs, as well as a failure to appreciate the concentrated drug's likelihood and potential for abuse.

Nonetheless, consumer preference remained with the drug's diffuse forms; even though Parke-Davis merchandised injectable cocaine- complete with a syringe- along with its Coca Cordial, the vast majority of the public primarily used the drug indirectly throughout the 1890s and early 1900s. Even when Coca leaf imports fell drastically for a time due to South American political instability, and a business decision by Parke-Davis to set up cocaine processing plants there, so as to save on shipping costs (Coca leaves decay relatively rapidly, are not as stable as the alkaloid's hydrochloride or sulfate forms, and are far more bulky) during these pre-Panama Canal days, most cocaine was consumed safely in beverages. While Joseph Kennedy have noted the widespread use of cocaine hydrochloride as a simple and cheap ingredient in many products. 10 Its excessive concentration was found in pharmaceutical preparations, primarily sniffing powders- then sold as a hay fever remedy. As a post 1906 study of cocaine-containing soft-drinks for the food commissioner for the State of Texas found, the highest concentrations were only five one hundredths of a grain [3 milligrams] per fluid ounce; 11 Hence an 8 ounce serving gave a modest therapeutic dose akin to that of caffeine in a cup of Coffee.

The significant shift in cocaine usage patterns occurred after 1906 with the enactment of the Pure Food and Drug Act. This legislation established the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Chemistry's authority over what constituted "adulterated" and "misbranded" products- shipment of which across State lines now being illegal. Essentially given the power define "good" and "bad" with regards to foods and drugs, this bureau's chief administrator Harvey Washington Wiley (1844-1930) defined cocaine as unacceptable; hence any product containing it ran the risk of being labeled adulterated. In this climate, many Coca product producers were hesitant to admit that their products contained the cocaine alkaloid; one such product, Koca-Nola, in response to the early 1900s muckraking journalism against "dope" (e.g. opiates and cocaine), went so far to labeled their product "Dopeless." Coca, of course contains cocaine as Coffee contains caffeine, and many of these products were clearly labeled as containing Coca. Nevertheless, this did not shield Coca product manufacturers from being successfully prosecuted for "misbranding" and "adulteration."

In concert with the AMA and the APhA, Wiley pushed model legislation upon the States banning anything containing cocaine. Within one year, Coca leaf imports into the U.S. were down by 50% in 1907, as Coca beverage manufactures faced growing legal challenges to their right to market and promote their products. Understandably, cocaine hydrochloride's use began rising sharply. Although illegal, cocaine hydrochloride was infinitely easier to smuggle then bulky bottled beverages, notably Vin Mariani and the other hold-outs loyal to whole Coca. From 1907 to 1914, the FDA pursued numerous legal actions against manufacturers for employing Coca. No mention made of health matters, firms were prosecuted for using a "habit-forming" substance: most ironic, given the benign neglect towards Tobacco. By 1915, Coca was effectively criminalized nationwide with the Harrison Act, which took effect that March 1st.

As concentrated cocaine's popularity has been established, skeptics need not argue that prohibition does not engender hard drugs, but rather that today's white powder users are so habituated to these potentially dangerous drug forms and will not give up the reinforcing effects of concentrated doses. It is sensible to view this as one of gradients amongst different drug forms and individuals. Since many of those hooked on crack are habituated to its ultra-potent effects, a sizable percentage of today's crack users would be less likely to use Coca instead. As the majority of today's cocaine users are cocaine sniffers- a mode of administration far less potent then crack- most users would be more likely to eschew their current mode of drug use in favor of Coca. Determining the exact percentage of current cocaine users and abusers who would convert to Coca can not be predicted- but only brought about or thwarted.

Some people may not view the matter this way: instead relying upon broad generalizations to support the belief that we should not even try to persuade today's drug users to switch. Ronald Seigel, the same physician to state that Coca is the most benign of all the stimulants licit or illicit, sets up what could be mistaken for a strawman argument- one that is easily blown over- in Intoxication. 12 In directly addressing the idea of switching the market, Siegel starts out by discussing an experiment where the National Addiction Research Foundation provided their patients in cocaine detoxification with as much Coca tea as they desired. They found Coca was "helpful in satisfying the patient's craving for cocaine itself," even though the tea was a weak preparation- containing approximately 5 milligrams of cocaine alkaloid per tea bag: a form of the drug Siegel characterized as "abuse proof." In addition to being satisfying, and helpful in getting the patients to adjust to a lower and slower acting dose, the Coca tea drinking provided mild stimulation, mood elevation and an increased pulse rate (things that could be said of Coffee). More important, noted Siegel, "the Coca tea drinkers did not satisfy the diagnostic criteria for cocaine abuse, and their claims of controlled use seemed to be correct." 13 Interestingly, the cocaine abusers within this study averaged only two cups of Coca tea per day.

Nevertheless, Siegel concludes that persuading drug users to use the plants is "not the answer," due to this experiment's failure to convert cocaine sniffers, smokers and smokers to the tea. It is not abundantly clear whether Siegel was referring to cocaine users broadly (those across the nation) or narrowly (only those the subject of the experiment). His following examples given- where current day illicit drug users failed to switch to the safer plant substances- though suggests he was speaking broadly. Coca tea, Tagetes lucida, Lactucarium- more commonly known as lettuce opium- and Kava are given as examples of milder substances not accepted by today's consumers of cocaine, LSD, heroin and alcohol. However, asides from lettuce opium's brief promotion during the 1970s, Siegel disregards the fact that most illicit drug users have never even heard about these more benign substances, let alone had the opportunity to purchase them. After all, how many LSD users know about Tagetes lucida, or ever saw this plant being hawked at a Grateful Dead concert? Indeed, if he could accurately poll the nation's cocaine users, probably only a small fraction probably were aware of Mate d' Coca, Health Inca Tea or Tea of the Incas' availability, let alone knew these products contained their alkaloid of choice- contrary to their labeling and advertising as being de-cocainated.


With consumer knowledge the neglected issue, the fatal flaw of many legalization proposals must be addressed; if we do not, we run the risk of getting the worse of legalization and prohibition. Legalization's benefits of course go far beyond this paper's scope, having been outlined on numerous occasions. We would have less crime, due to the reduction in drug prices and the elimination of turf war violence- a fact of life common under drug prohibition. Increased abuse- particularly with cocaine- is a most legitimate concern of the prohibitionists; that approach is seen as a bulwark for abuse for making certain drugs less available and more expensive. As we know though, the replacement of concentrated cocaine with Coca would effectively address this. If we can make cocaine sniffing or crack as unpopular and unchic as, say, whipping out a box of No Doz or Vivarin, chopping up the tablets and snorting or smoking the results, a great victory in the fight against drug abuse would have been accomplished.

It would be sad if policy proposals were adapted that thwarted, or prevented cocaine's domestication from crack to Coca. We should not be as pessimistic as Seigel- letting our conditioning, the result of an unpleasant eighty year separation from common sense, blind us to wonderful though overlooked potential of Coca- especially when no effort has been taken to undercut today's cocaine scene. Absent this conditioning, abhorrent forms of taking any stimulant, sniffing a white powder or smoking a rock would be seen as such by virtually anyone- including many of today's cocaine users. As one cocaine-sniffing, caffeine drinking individual- a person fond of spending any of his extra money to powder his nose- once responded when I suggested he try sniffing a ground up caffeine pill: "that's disgusting; why would I want to do that!" Creatures of custom and habit as we are, though, there is a real possibility that there would be an increase in cocaine abuse- even if only briefly- if made less expensive and more available as envisioned by most people when they here about drug legalization.

For this reason, consumers must be offered a choice. Coca products must be made available, as should information about their availability, benefits and uses, so that today's cocaine users have an alternative; people are more likely to say no, if they have something better to say yes. Incredibly though, many otherwise intelligent policy proposals would effectively undermine domestication by promoting ill conceived prohibitions on two of the most effective tools to bring this about- methods that would cost the taxpayers nothing: marketing and advertising.

Two papers in last year's Drug Policy Foundation compilation, New Frontiers in Drug Policy, by Rufus King, and by Peter Hirsch embodied the idea of strict prohibitions on advertising of currently illegal substances. According to King, there is a "need" to "prevent the commercial exploitation of the now prohibited drugs." 14 The "bottom line" (interesting pun), wrote Peter Hirsch, [following italics added], was that "all advertising of legalized drugs, even marijuana, should be absolutely prohibited for at least five years following legalization. 15

Consciously, the driving idea here is fear of a repetition of the promotion of alcohol and Tobacco, as both articles specifically cite these fears, that, in Hirsch's words, must be met "head on." Both fears are quite understandable when we view the ill health effects of the popular use of these substances, particularly with the abuse of the former and addiction to the latter. As alcoholism and the ill health effects of habitual cigarette smoking cost half a million lives in the U.S. alone, and billions in added health cost, those fearing the worse of a legalization scenario may react against the advertising of the now illicit substances, and hence resist ending prohibition.

What King and Hirsch propose may sound reasonable to some people at first glance; given their implications, a closer look is merited. Presumably their ultimate goal is serving the broad interest is serving the public's health. For this reason, more then a few have criticized the promotion of alcohol and Tobacco products, due to the problems associated with their use. In this regard, advertising prohibitions could make sense if the products involved threatened the public health. From a paternalistic perspective, this would be acceptable for thwarting the popularization of dangerous or potentially dangerous substances, if grounded upon a reasonable, objective, pharmacologically based standard. Hence, a ban on promoting cocaine hydrochloride and crack, let alone alcohol and Tobacco could be justified.

Alas, the advertising ban they propose would subvert the very public health interests governments presumably serve. While an advertising ban might promote health by targeting the more health-threatening substances, it would in practice do the opposite; for the suggested broad ban lacks any pharmacological basis. While existing, widely used and abused forms of cocaine under prohibition are logic targets for an advertising ban, a like ban on Coca marketing, in light of the relative harms and merits of all these substances, totally defies logic with regard to protecting the public's health. As the most benign of all the stimulants, licit or not, Coca would be preferable not only to cocaine-concentrate, but probably even Coffee or tea, let alone Tobacco (or alcohol); Coca's use in lieu of these substances, particularly with those latter two substances that so concern King and Hirsch, would save billions of dollars in health costs.

If the concern is about the ill effects of alcohol and Tobacco, then advocates of commercial speech exemptions to the first amendment should logically propose banning alcohol and Tobacco advertisements; after all, would not it be logical to ban the most harmful substances instead of banning the safest? If it were an objection to drug advertising per se, then Coffee and soft drink advertisements as well as upon Alcohol and Tobacco would be included as part of an overall ban on promotion. Better yet though, how about leaving the first amendment alone and let the truly free market work- especially the market in knowledge and ideas?! As Nancy Lord pointed out in a speech at Harvard last May 9- legal cocaine need not take the form of today's potentially destructive forms, as it once again could be the benign practice of Coca-Cola drinking. Why then illegalize the best means of bringing this about?

Such an advertising ban can not be taken as a policy proposal to serve the public's interest, nor can it be viewed as an objection to drug advertising per se. If it were either, then it would ban the advertising of substances with regard to their effects upon health, and not upon their prior legal status. Across the board advertising bans can not be seen as rational, let alone consistent with the principles embodied in the First Amendment (bad Supreme Court precedent notwithstanding). They do, however display a basic flaw of entrusting the government with making decisions best left to individuals. Such a perspective views people as being in need of having the State place its hands over their ears while holding their hands as they make their decisions. In theory, people are ill-equipped to chose; hence the government must protect them from themselves. While this is sometimes true with the less competent, this perspective makes a two crucial mistakes: it makes us too dependent upon having others make our decisions, and it presumes that the incompetent are found only outside the government. If the government's action earlier this century in banning Coca along with concentrated cocaine (while exempting Tobacco cigarettes from FDA regulation) can be taken as a clue, the combination of these mistakes can be disastrous, for by their very nature, bad collectivist decisions force people in general to suffer from a bad decision, not merely those making it for themselves.

Broad advertising bans- given Hirsch's reliance upon former Supreme Court Justice Brennan's remarks about the weight "passion that marks a given age" need be given in Constitutional interpretation 16 are best viewed as knee jerk reactions against (the now) illicit drugs: a reaction more the result of today's popular (mis)conceptions then anything else. For thwarting the spread of information about safe substances when potentially dangerous substances are too popular, the King/Hirsch proposal does not meet our true concerns head on; rather it would derail them as it would hinder the trend towards safer alternatives that otherwise would be expected with re-legalization. One, however might conclude there are vested interests who would prefer that Coca be thwarted; after all, a broad advertising ban upon substances now illegal could be seen as beneficial by certain businessmen, for such a ban would serve to freeze the status quo. Social benefits of cocaine domestication aside, only the most short-sighted business persons would try to prevent Coca's legalization; for those that now market Coffee, tea and Tobacco already have the infrastructure in place necessary for Coca's widespread marketing, hence such interests could profit greatly from Coca. Although some may conceivably fear that Coca products would cut into existing licit drug markets, nothing need stop those involved in these markets from getting involved in the new Coca products market, nor need there be any economic dislocations. Due to acquired consumer tastes, Coffee will always be around. Columbian and Brazilian Coffee interests could nonetheless benefit easily from Coca, as would Columbia in general if that nation were to veer away from its current self-destructive drug war, for they could easily grow Coca and Coffee. Much of Columbia, with the high altitudes and appropriate climate, is most suitable for commercially grown Coca that may one day be advertised as the world's best Andean Coca. Brazil on the other hand has relatively little land at comparable altitudes, yet the low altitudes there have helped born large leaf Coca with unique characteristics rendering it suitable for different products. Amazonian Coca, as it is called, is known for its delicious taste and low cocaine content, might make an ideal replacement for Tobacco snuff; not only is Coca evidently non-cancerogenic (oral cancer is rare in Bolivia and Peru 17, Brazilian Coca literally melts in your mouth- thus there's no need to spit.

Because of the Coca plant's climate requirements, U.S. Tobacco growers (remember that Coca was widely advocated as a Tobacco substitute before 1914), would not be able to grow Coca commercially. Since the plant can not tolerate frost, its cultivation in most of the U.S. would require greenhouses and therefore could not compete with tropically grown Coca. However, this need not be a problem for farmers around the world who now grow Tobacco, who could grow Hemp for its numerous commercial applications once the laws against that commodity were removed. If Coca wine- whether or not fermented- were once again popularized, as in the days of Angelo Mariani, the demand for domestic grapes for beverages would skyrocket, hence giving U.S. farmers a most lucrative alternative crop.


From any perspective, transforming today's cocaine market back to Coca would clearly be a positive development. While prejudice against cocaine per se is strong, this is based upon viewing the drug in the undesirable contexts it was placed by misguided medical science and prohibition. Most people don't realize the folly of how we view cocaine because they only know this "Lady" of drugs in such "cracked" manifestations as blow and crack, even though inverting the paradigms of cocaine and its licit counterparts would clearly reveal this unacknowledged fallacy. To rectify this, we need to turn the cocaine market back around towards Coca. Accomplishing this would require a re-educating the public: showing them the dangers of concentrated drugs, and the benefits of Coca we have denied ourselves for so long. Some may prefer this not happen; however, such a view is incredibly short sighted from both a business and moral perspective. Converting the market to bring about concentrated cocaine's virtual disappearance and Coca's reemergence would have benefits worth billions- both from eliminating the negative effects of the drug today and by giving us the benefits of Coca tomorrow, including those that could be expected from the development of Coca based pharmaceutical medications: unique preparations with unique applications.

All of this though could very well be thwarted by well meaning, though ill conceived ideas, namely Hirsch's idea, that would prevent Coca advertisements during the five years following prohibition's repeal. In addition to slowing down Coca's re-popularization, their proposal would likely result in a scenario where the use (and by proportion the abuse) of isolated cocaine would likely rise as it became more available. Making Coca available would go far in pulling consumers away from the concentrated drug; however, if advertising is prohibited for Coca products, the possibility is real that rising cocaine hydrochloride and sulfate abuse would occur and be interpreted not as a signal to go forward with Coca, but to go backwards to black market concentrated cocaine. At least one writer has speculated upon a future William Bennett Presidential campaign calling for a return to prohibition after just such a rise in abuse following a hypothetical legalization. Perhaps we might want to proceed with the legalization, marketing and promotion of Coca products prior to legalizing concentrated cocaine- if we were to legalize the latter substances at all, to give Coca a head start. In light of Coca's historically established- though rarely acknowledged- attractive potential, though, such a head start might be unnecessary; Coca's re-popularization only needs a level field. With our potential to innovate, the chances are excellent that we could bring about this needed change in the market, and consign today's deplorable situation with cocaine to history. Given the shortcomings from where things are today, standing in the way of entrepreneurs to transform the market would be unconscionable.

Douglas A. Willinger 1992

[1] Drug Policy Foundation, The Andean Strategy Reconsidered; Towards a Sensible International Drug Policy, 1992: 24

[2] Kagan, Daniel. "Drug War I: How America Lost Its First Drug War," Insight magazine, November 20, 1989: 10

[3] Grinspoon, Lester, Bakalar, James, "Coca and Cocaine as Medicines: An Historical Review," in Journal of Ethnopharmacology, volume 3 (1981): 151

[4] Grinspoon, Lester, Bakalar, J., Cocaine: A Drug and its Social Evolution, 1975: 233

[5] Weil, Andrew, "Coca Leaf as a Therapeutic Agent" in American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, vol. 5, no. 1: pp. 75-86 (1978); cited by Antonil, MamaCoca, 1978: 141

[6] Karel, Richard, "A Scenario for an Enlightened Drug Policy," in Legalization of Illicit Drugs: Impact and Feasibility; Hearings before the Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control, Part II, September 28-29, 1988: 159-174

[7] Randall, Teri, "Cocaine Deaths Reported for Century or More," Journal of the American Medical Association, February 26, 1992- Vol 267: 1046

[8] Siegel, Ronald, Intoxication, 1989: 300

[9] Siegel, Ronald, "Cocaine in Herbal Tea;" letter in the Journal of the American Medical Association, January 3, 1986; Vol. 255, No. 1: 40

[10] Kennedy, Joseph, Coca Exotica: The Illustrated History of Cocaine, 1985: 88

[11] 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 on November, 3, 1991

[12] Siegel, Ronald, Intoxication, 1989: 301-303

[13] ibid: 301

[14] King, Rufus, "After Repeal: Notes of a Pragmatist," Drug Policy Foundation, New Frontiers in Drug Policy (The World After Prohibition), 1991: 398

[15] Hirsch, Peter, "Advertising and the First Amendment," ibid: 407

[16] Hirsch, ibid: 407

[17] Grinspoon, Lester, Bakalar, J., Cocaine: A Drug and its Social Evolution, 1975: 127

1 comment:

logcabin said...

Finally,,,a excellent,,truthfull research paper on coca,,and trully only coca,,in its traditional natural form..With many many innocent peoples lives literally being destroyed,either by false claims of ,''cocaine use''being put on there record for life over this corrupted ,''random drug/compound making test kits,'',when in FACT these humanbeings truly only drank a cup of coca tea,,the literally censoreship in our own courts system,ie,,''motion denied,'',or threats of imprisonment for comming forward with the absolute truth,that coca in its natural form is only coca,NOT cocaine.Or this ,''land of the free,'' own government going into peronal computers,re-editing any documents that spills the truth,,that coca MOST be converted to benzoylecgonine in order to be able to be used in their gas spectrometer machines,or editing any 1980 documents that state coca must be converted to there alkaloid statuse,such as ecgonine,hygrine,etc all first being chemically synthetically made first in order to ,''test'' for the alkaloid percentage,,,All these chemical sythnesis for converting a harmless tea plant to a terrible drug is done by the scientist,the government labs,etc,,,,NOT,,,by people who truly just enjoy a cup of tea.These true false positives,created by America's N.I.H.,,D.E.A,,,.H.H.S.,,,,A.M.C.SU.S. Pharmacopia,and many other government funded departments,with my tax dollars.Should be help liabel for maliciosly violating the publics trust,abuseof power and of our monies,and outright corruption for blatenly lieing,falsifying government documents,to put forth a agenda of destroying to exstinction levels a harmless agricultural crop of anothers country,for money,power and deceit..They should be held liable for every job lost,every suicide from job lost,loss of government benfits,loss of ones healthcare,loss of ones homes,loss of ones life,,over there corrupted propaganda campiegn to destroy the truth,that coca,,''solvent free,'',is harmless,not cocaine and is truly the definition of decocainized,ie,solvent free coca is coca in its natural form.That these so-called drug test,,never ever test anyone for cocaine ever,but actualy make the compound benzoylecgonine..Prime example of this American government corruption is thier changing of the definition of true white powder cocaine to now as of 2010 they are changing that honest,truthfu;l definition of cocaine a white crystalline powder to now mean benzoylecgonine,,on our dime,,gee maybe they can change the definition of freedom to mean spying on all innocent people in the world,yikes,already happened..Great article,,we need more truthful articles like this put out to the public,,thanks,,,paita