Global Drug Survey: Large Majority of Cocaine Users Would Pay More for Safer, “Fair Trade” Supply

As the international cocaine supply becomes increasingly risky, most people who use the drug are in favor of a regulated, “fair trade” market for the stimulant, according to a new global survey.

On May 15, the 2019 Global Drug Survey (GDS) reported that over 70 percent of participants who recently used cocaine would support a regulated market aimed at making sure local producers see the returns of an industry estimated in 2017 to be worth up to $143 billion worldwide.

“The current mean global price of €80 [$89] per gram still leaves lots of money that could be more fairly distributed to producers and local healthcare, education, and social programs within producer and consumer countries,” wrote the team behind GDS. Additionally, 85 percent of the respondents would be willing to pay more—on average, 25 percent more—for the drug in this scenario.

The majority of survey respondents were from Germany, followed by the United States and New Zealand. They indicated their desire for a fair-trade industry in the context of some countries already moving toward a regulated cocaine market. Bolivia has fully legalized coca leaf, while Colombia, Peru and Mexico permit possession of varying quantities of powder cocaine. Portugal has decriminalized all drugs.

The growing popularity of a regulated, fair-trade market accompanies growing risks to the international cocaine supply. The US Drug Enforcement Administration has reported an increasing trend of fentanyl, the potent opioid in part driving the North American overdose crisis, being cut into the supply from San Diego to Florida.

“There’s been an alarming rise in stimulant deaths. [Of] about 70,000 deaths in the US [in 2017], 10,000-15,000 of them are stimulant-related,”  Steve Rolles, a senior policy analyst at the Transform Drug Policy Foundation, a UK think tank, recently told Filter.

In 2018, GDS respondents, who were overwhelmingly white and male, were more likely to seek emergency medical care for symptoms related to their cocaine use than in past years. Of the 20,000 people who completed the section on cocaine use in the last year, 1.1 percent sought emergency medical treatment following use—an increase from past years’ rates of 0.9 percent in GDS2018 and 0.6 percent in both GDS2017 and GDS2016.

The risks posed by unregulated cocaine are exactly why Rolles thinks cocaine should be legal. “The danger of a particular drug is the reason to regulate it, not the reason to run away from it,” he said.

Major hurdles remain for decriminalization, regulation and fair-trade marketization. Although cocaine users favor a regulated market, practical implications deter its implementation. GDS2019 found that the majority of respondents are wary of going public with their use in order to access a regulated product.

“We shouldn’t be surprised that only 30 percent would be willing to register in a database to access a legal regulated supply,” wrote Adam Winstock, Zara Snapp and Julian Quintero of GDS, “given cocaine is still rather stigmatized.”

The Trump administration is clearly a huge obstacle to US reform. “Getting widespread support for relaxing laws concerning the use of stimulants will be difficult, especially under the current administration in DC,” Khary Rigg, a researcher at the College of Behavioral and Community Sciences at University of South Florida, told Filter.

But GDS—by demonstrating that “users would rather pay more to help reduce the collateral damage from the War on Drugs and support farmers and economies in producer countries”—still represents good news.

As GDS states, “Consumers of drugs could offer the solution to many of the problems related to psychoactive substances, if only governments would give them a chance.”


Photograph: Coco leaf. Agência Brasil via Wikimedia Commons.

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