The push and pull of the cannabis legalization issue can be seen all over the globe, with a recent UN vote officially legalizing cannabis for medical use. But what about cocaine? Is the medical value of cocaine coming back into play? A current bill is making its way through the Colombian government that says Colombia will legalize cocaine.
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Colombia and cocaine have gone together like peanut butter and jelly since Pablo Escobar started using old cannabis trafficking routes to move the white powder out of Colombia, and to the rest of the world. Now, with a new bill moving its way through Colombian government, its looking like there’s a good chance Colombia will legalize cocaine.
A look at the history of cocaine
When it comes to cocaine, the main story that we all know starts in the middle of the 70’s with Pablo Escobar and the Medellin Cartel, however cocaine has been used for much longer than that. In fact, in South American countries like Colombia, Bolivia, and Peru, locals have been chewing on coca leaves for thousands of years to get their mildly stimulating effect. This allowed workers to suppress their appetites and work longer hours.
When the Spanish came to South America, they wanted to send their spoils back home, and employed the locals to work long hours digging up gold and silver, for which they enforced the use of coca leaves. At this time, the leaves themselves were not being taken anywhere as they couldn’t maintain through the journey back to Europe. For this reason, use stayed local for quite some time.
It wasn’t until the 1800’s that German chemist Albert Niemann was able to isolate the active compound of the plant which he renamed ‘cocaine’ in his 1860 published finding. Niemann didn’t get to do much more work with the drug as he died the following year from damage to his lungs caused by experimenting with mustard gas as a weapon for war.
A few years later, in 1863, Corsican chemist Angela Mariani created a mixture of cocaine and wine which was sold as a medicine for the treatment of anemia, pain, as an appetite suppressant, and stomach stimulant. He called it Vin Mariani. This concoction gained notoriety all over the world, and led to the creation of many different – yet similar – products containing cocaine.
One of the many copycats was US pharmacist John Pemberton who made his own wine and cocaine mixture. When the Ku Klux Klan demanded that alcohol be banned in Atlanta in the mid-1860’s, Pemberton came up with a new idea, and replaced the alcohol in the drink with soda water, a mixture he called Coca-Cola. Yes, for anyone not in the know, Coca-Cola did, in fact, once contain cocaine. Before it had to be taken out of the beverage upon growing health concerns in the early 1900’s, Pemberton had reformulated the drink to have 7.2mg of cocaine per ounce. In 1914, the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act put forth regulation for the cocaine industry, which essentially ended it for many decades, apart from people using it like rich Hollywood stars.