Should Bolivia Legalize the Export of Coca?
Coca is an amazing plant and the cocaine from its leaves has many medicinal properties, in small amounts. It has been used for thousands of years by the indigenous people of the Andes and even made its way to ancient Egypt.
It is a vasoconstrictor and an anesthetic and is used to treat wounds and facilitate healing. It is effective for altitude sickness and coca tea is often prescribed for tourists visiting high elevations in the Andes.
Cocaine also blocks norepinephrine, serotonin, dopamine, and other neurotransmitters in the brain from being reabsorbed. The resulting chemical buildup between nerves causes euphoria and is why cocaine is so ferociously addictive.
Cocaine was an ingredient in Coca Cola for more than 40 years. The first sales were at Jacob's Pharmacy in Atlanta, Georgia, on May 8, 1886 when it was sold as a medicinal beverage for morphine addiction, indigestion, nerve disorders, headaches, and impotence. Coca Cola contained significant amounts of cocaine until 1904 and trace amounts up to 1929.
Cocaine kills thousands of people in the United States each year but most of the deaths are from taking cocaine with opiods. The biggest problem with cocaine is not the overdoses but the deaths from drug gangs and the extremely high economic impact. Far more people die from drug violence than from overdose. The drug war in Mexico has killed more than 200,000 people so far and vastly more in Central and South America.
The U.S. has spent more than $1 trillion on its failed drug war and suffered incalculable social, cultural and economic harm from locking up millions of people for selling or possessing the drug.
Legalizing any dangerous drug is highly controversial but in reality it always results in fewer deaths, vast economic benefits and eliminates the criminal element.
If Bolivia were to legalize the sale of not just coca leaves but cocaine and sell it in bulk to distributors it might force other countries to decriminalize it and enable Bolivia to start selling only to other governments. This could shift the tens of billions of dollar spent each year on cocaine into social programs, including effective addiction treatment programs using neurotherapy, which has an 80% success rate.
The legalization of marijuana has had many positive impacts. Legalization of heroin in Switzerland resulted in large reductions in the use of all illicit drugs and in drug-related crime. The same results could be realized for cocaine if legalization were done intelligently.