9.3 The Legal Importation of Coca Leaf

The Stepan Company (a $400 million American Stock Exchange company) of Maywood, New Jersey imports 175,000 KG of coca leaves into the United States each year. The leaves come from some of the same farms that supply the Columbian drug cartels. Its finished products end up into nearly everyone in the United States.

One finished product of course is cocaine, which exit the buildings in armored trucks. Tincture of cocaine is one application: in an ointment, it numbs nerve endings in a hurry and it causes vasoconstriction (closure of peripheral blood vessels). The same medical action that controls bleeding in the emergency room is the one that rots away the bridge of a coke abuser's nose.

The other major product is the coca in Coca-Cola©. The Coke formula is one of the most closely guarded corporate secrets in America. The company concedes to using a 'decocainized flavor essence in the coca leaves'-one of the few Coke ingredients the company will publicly acknowledge. When asked why the company uses such a troublesome product as coca leaves, its representative said that 'each ingredient adds to the flavor profile.'

Flavor scientists say that the mysterious essence has no significant taste of its own , but acts as an 'enhancer' PepsiCo Inc. does not use the coca leaf. Flavor scientist Nicholas Feurstein thinks that the average guzzler might well notice the difference if Coke stopped using it.

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The very first batch of Coca-Cola contained an extract of coca leaves back in 1886. Coke had in fact contained traces of cocaine ever since John 'Doc' Pemberton created the drink. At the turn of the century, a public outcry erupted against cocaine. Doctors and editorialists began taking aim at Coca-Cola.

Now the company had a catch-22 problem. If it removed the coca leaf from the product's manufacture, it could no longer defend use of the name. If cocaine was used, an angry public would boycott Coca-Cola. An elaborate extraction process was devised.

The leaf is ground up, mixed with sawdust, soaked in bicarbonate of soda, percolated with toluene, steam blasted, mixed with powdered Kola nuts, and then pasteurized. The Coke-Cola company, forever fearful of the DEA and the drug lords, is a stickler on security and quality.

Drug lords have a less formal way to extract cocaine: they use kerosene as a solvent; the drug leaches out like tea from a tea bag. Cocaine is then recovered by evaporation.

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The Coca-Cola company itself is extremely squeamish about the subject of coca leaves. A 1948 one-paragraph reference to the Maywood's production of coca extract so enraged top Coke officials that they threatened to slash all Wall Street Journal advertising in retaliation. An internal Coke memo, unearthed by historian Frederick Allen blasted the Wall Street Journal s 'an instrument of the chiselers and the substituters' and suggested sending stories to the rival Journal of Commerce, 'which has not felt tempted to publish bits or pieces of our formula.'

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Coke anyone?

..... CJ '99

Resource

Miller, M. "Quality Stuff: Firm is Peddling Cocaine, and Deals are legit" Wall Street Journal 27 Oct 1994.

Weil, A. "Letters from the Andes The New Politics of Coca" The New Yorker May, 1995 pp70-80.