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NY Post
New York Post
1 Apr 2023

NextImg:New Jersey factory imports cocaine plant that flavors Coca-Cola thanks to DEA arrangement

Guess you really can’t beat the real thing.

Coca-Cola gets its iconic taste thanks in part to a chemical processing factory in a sleepy New Jersey neighborhood that has the country’s only license to import the plant used to make cocaine.

The Maywood-based facility, now managed by the Stepan Company, has been processing coca leaves for the soft-drink giant for more than a century and had its license to import them renewed by the Drug Enforcement Agency earlier this year.

The coca leaves are used to create a “decocainized” ingredient for the soda and the leftover byproduct is sold to the opioid manufacturing company Mallinckrodt, which uses the powder to make a numbing agent for dentists, DailyMail reported.

It is unclear how much coca leaves the Stepan Company imports annually, although the New York Times reported in 1988 that it brought in between 56 and 588 metric tons of coca leaves from Peru and Bolivia each year, citing DEA figures.

The Stepan Company in Maywood, New Jersey, has the country’s only license to import bulk shipments of coca leaves, which are used to make cocaine.
Getty Images/iStockphoto

One ton of coca leaf costs over $5,500 in Peru, so the Stepan Company would be paying between $308,000 and $3.2 million for the shipment of the illicit leaves if the amount it imports has remained constant over the decades, according to data from agricultural company Selina Wamucii.

Ricardo Cortés, author of 2012’s “A Secret History of Coffee, Coca and Cola,” wrote that he obtained records from the National Company of the Coca, a Peruvian state-owned company, which showed that up to 104 tons of coca leaves were exported to Maywood each year between 2007 and 2010.

Importing coca leaves was banned in 1921, but the legislation left an exemption for Maywood Chemical Works, which ran the factory before Stepan Company bought the site in 1959.

Coca-Cola on a shelf
The plant in Maywood has been processing coca leaves for Coca-Cola for more than a century.
Jeffrey Greenberg/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Meanwhile, the legal exemption the factory has received helped the Coca-Cola brand to become the massive globally recognized company it now is, with is worth around $265 billion.

“Coca-Cola’s success as the mega-company it is today is due, at least in part, to special privileges granted by government during World War II, and the suppression of potential competitors in the early years of Harry Anslinger’s anti-drug policies,” Australian economics think tank Mises Institute wrote in a 2016 article.

Anslinger was the former head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics between 1930 and 1962 and is widely recognized as an early proponent of the war on drugs who had a major role in the federal criminalization of marijuana.

Stepan Company
The Stepan Company processes the coca leaves to flavor Coca-Cola.
Google Earth

Cortés wrote in a 2016 blog post that he visited the National Archives and saw letters between Anslinger and Maywood Chemical Works joining forces to deflect a Life Magazine reporter’s story about the coca leaf importation.

“We do not desire the publicity which such an article might bring us,” Maywood Chemical’s President M.J. Hartung wrote to Anslinger in 1949.

The next year, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics filed an internal memo regarding the matter.

“Less publicity of articles about coca leaves and narcotic drugs will be better for the public,” the memo from July 1950 reads, going on to call past coverage of the issue unsatisfactory.

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