Would You Pay More for Fair Trade Cocaine?

    [This article was co-written with Zara Snapp and Julian Quintero.]

    People spend more per gram on cocaine than any other drug, with a global average of $91 per gram. However, the majority of the economic gains don’t ever make it to the primary country of origin, Colombia.

    Coca leaf production in Colombia has reached record levels, and increasingly diverse supply routes and multiple trafficking organizations have resulted in widespread availability and increased purity across the European market. The cocaine trade in 2018 is booming. While cocaine use can lead to dependence and numerous health harms including death, the costs of the failed international drug control system and the national policies that implement it are far greater.

    The Global Commission on Drug Policy was set up by former heads of state and high-level former UN officials in response to the ongoing human costs of failed drug policies. They have recently put forward alternatives for control, alternatives that would help combat the harms to democracy and diminish the destructive power of organised crime—contributors to hundreds of thousands of deaths each year, loss of opportunities for those caught up in gangs, and communities that find themselves powerless to harness the financial value of their crop.

    After seven years of releasing reports and signalling the many failures of the current drug control model, the Commission has come out with a report which highlights a clear counterweight to prohibition: Regulation – The Responsible Control of Drugs. There is no doubt in their minds that this is the only way to put people, human rights, health and development at the center of our drug policies.

    Existing laws mean it is hard to have honest conversations about drugs. Ideology blinds people to the reality that for many people, drug use plays an important and positive role in their lives, often for a few years, and that for the overwhelming majority, drug use is an episodic and pretty rare activity.

    Data from the last four years of the Global Drug Survey suggest that 75 percent of people who use cocaine and most other drugs (other than cannabis) use them 12 times or fewer in a year. These people tend to be otherwise law-abiding citizens. They have jobs and families, they may be into soccer, fishing, clubbing, yoga—they might even be vegan. But because cocaine is illegal, if they choose to use it, they have little choice but to indirectly support organized crime, human trafficking and an illegal market. Based on anecdotal evidence and ongoing surveys with people who use drugs, most of them would rather this was not the case.

    An additional component that would support a regulated market is the development of new guidelines to support self-regulation, as the Global Drug Survey has already done for cannabis at www.saferuselimits.co. Actually, we have data from tens of thousands of people who use cocaine that could be used to develop these—and when funding arrives we’ll create it.

    Such guidelines would be a useful contribution towards the possible regulation of cocaine for recreational use. But unlike cannabis or MDMA—where production can be local to distribution—cocaine regulation would require agreements between producer countries, such as Colombia, and the regions of trafficking and consumption, such as the Mexico, the United States and Europe.

    Based on this, in March 2018, our Global Drug Survey partners in Colombia and Mexico suggested we include some questions about whether people who use cocaine would be willing to pay more for “ethical” or “fair trade” cocaine. We thought this was a very interesting question.

    So this year, we want to know: Would you pay more for cocaine if you knew it came from a regulated (even fair trade) market, without the inherent destruction and chaos of an illegal market? And if so, how much more would you pay?

    Take part in GDS2019, and we will tell you whether people are willing to become more ethical when they use cocaine and how much more they are willing to pay. Just for fun, we will also figure out if vegans would be more likely pay for fair trade cocaine than meat-eaters.


    A slightly different version of this article was originally published by Talking Drugs. The site covers international drug policy and is operated by the charity Release, the UK’s national center of expertise on drugs and drug law. Follow Talking Drugs on Facebook and Twitter.

    Photo via flickr

    • Adam Winstock

      Adam Winstock, MD, MRCPsych, MRCP, FAChAM, is the founder and director of Global Drug Survey. As a consultant addiction psychiatrist, he looks after the care of people who use drugs in prison. He is also an honorary reader at University College London and has published over 100 research papers on areas including cannabis, new drugs and chemsex. He lives in London.

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