A small chemical processing plant hidden in a quiet neighborhood of New Jersey has an exclusive license to import coca leaves into the US on behalf of The Coca-Cola Company and manufactures as much as $2 billion of pure cocaine every year.
The leaves are used to produce a ‘decocainized’ ingredient for the iconic soda and the cocaine byproduct is sold to the nation’s largest opioid manufacturer, which markets the powder as a numbing agent and topical anesthetic for dentists.
The unassuming facility in Maywood has been processing coca leaves for Coca-Cola for over 100 years and is now run by a chemical manufacturer called Stepan Company.
It operates under special licenses issued to it by the DEA and is the only company in the US permitted to import coca leaves and manufacture cocaine.
And just this year, on January 30, Stepan successfully renewed its petition for permission to continue importing the controlled substance into the US.
The DEA did not respond to a request from DailyMail.com for details as to how much coca the company imports, but in the 1980s it was was reported that more than 500 metric tons of leaves could enter the plant in a single year.
Five hundred tons of leaves might produce something in the region of two million grams of cocaine – which, according to pharmaceutical company listings online, could be worth around $2 billion.
Most of what is known about the secretive agreement was released in the late 1980s when government officials and Coca-Cola eventually spoke of it on the record.
The New York Times reported at the time that Stepan was importing between 56 and 588 metric tons of coca each year from mainly Peru, but also Bolivia.
Ricardo Cortés is an illustrator and author of the book A Secret History of Coffee, Coca and Cola, which chronicles the drink’s history and how the company behind it earned exclusive rights to process the coca plant in the US.
Records acquired by Cortés and published by the National Company of the Coca, a Peruvian state-owned company, declared that between 45 and 104 tons of leaves were exported to Maywood each year between 2007 and 2010.
‘They’re the most American red, white and blue brand, but they don’t want to be associated with the drug wars,’ Cortés told DailyMail.com.
‘They’re doing a refined version of what’s going on in the jungle of Bolivia.’
The coca leaf is the plant source of cocaine and is used to illegally manufacture the drug in parts of south America, including Peru, Bolivia and Colombia. It has been illegal to import the leaves to the US since 1921.
Nonetheless, The Coca-Cola Company, now worth around $265 billion, has imported the ‘controlled substance’ freely for the last century. In that time, as governments have strived to crack down on the notorious coca plant, the company miraculously avoided restriction.
Article 27 of the United Nations’ 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which imposed strict controls on the cultivation of the coca bush, made suspiciously precise exceptions.
‘The Parties may permit the use of coca leaves for the preparation of a flavouring agent, which shall not contain any alkaloids, and, to the extent necessary for such use, may permit the production, import, export, trade in and possession of such leaves,’ reads the provision.
Maywood residents told Dailymail.com the chemical facility puts out plumes of smoke early in the morning, and sometimes late at night.
One resident, who has lived directly opposite the site since 2003 and wants to remain anonymous, said: ‘In the beginning I didn’t realize what was going on but I heard rumors. Early in the morning, that’s when they release smoke and sometimes when I’m walking it can smell like burning, very strong.’
They also described how there is often a police car stationed outside the plant and that trucks are seen going in and out throughout the day.
Stepan runs the New Jersey operation using two licenses, which it renews each year – one allows the company to import the coca leaves and the other gives it permission to manufacture ‘other controlled substances’.
The chemical company is headquartered in Illinois, but operates 20 sites around the world – in South and North America, Africa, Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
According to its website, the Maywood location is used for the production of ‘esters, lubricants, food ingredients and specialty products’.
The facility, located on the neighborhood’s Hunter Avenue, makes a variety of chemicals and houses more than 30 types of hazardous materials.
Although little is known about those materials, the company’s production of ‘vegetable extract’ is likely a reference to the coca leaf syrup, sometimes mysteriously referred to as ‘Formula No. 5’.
In 1988, the Associated Press reported that St. Louis pharmaceutical giant Mallinckrodt was the only entity in the US permitted to receive the cocaine from Stepan.
Mallinckrodt lists ‘cocaine hydrochloride’, the technical term for powdered cocaine, as available for purchase on its website.
‘Cocaine Hydrochloride USP CII’ can be purchased in 5 or 25 gram quantities, but is ‘intended for US healthcare professionals only,’ the site reads.
If it’s legal, what’s the problem?
I don’t agree with coke’s politics but everyone is outraged that we import prescription drugs from foreign countries and now people are outraged the US is able to supply cocaine for drug manufacturing? I don’t get it. And yes cocaine is used in the medical profession as a topical anesthetic and has been for decades.