The New Coca

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On the Drug Policy Alliance's blog, Baylen Linnekin points to a report in the Scotsman that cocaine traffickers in Colombia, through a combination of breeding and genetic engineering, have developed a new variety of coca that's more like a tree than a shrub (growing to more than 12 feet), yields almost four times as much cocaine per leaf, and resists aerial spraying. (No word on whether it is also scent-free, and therefore undetectable by drug-sniffing dogs, as in the Starsky and Hutch movie.) "This may be too bold a statement," Linnekin writes, "but I believe this effectively signals the end of coca eradication in Colombia. (And, as soon as these plants show up in Bolivia and Peru, the end of the line there, too.)"

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  1. So will the greens now team up with the DEA to fight genetically-modified crops?

    Way to go farmers!

    /Never done coke…

  2. Two words: selection pressure.

  3. sooner or later had to happen

  4. This sounds too much like the recurrent “marijuana today is much more powerful and dangerous” trope that is often trotted out to shore up the War on Drugs. I have little doubt that this alleged super-coke plant (genetic engineering? please) will be used to justify some new extension of the war.

  5. I’ve genetically engineered a pot plant that looks like a bald eagle.

  6. What is going to happen soon is some bright boy is going to move the genes for cocaine (and any other biological source recreational drug) into something like yeast.

    People will be able to make a functionally infinite supply of instant pleasure in a homebrew beer rig stashed under their sink.

    At that point the war on drugs will officially be over.

  7. From your keyboard to God’s ears!

  8. These vile frankendrugs must be stopped before spread like weed (I mean…like milk weed).

    I wonder if this signals the beginning of a market for organic hard drugs.

  9. Hey now, the drug war ain’t over until they develope nuke-resistant coca hedges!

  10. Damn, did I type develope? I meant to say develop.

  11. Won’t this drive the price down?

  12. How would you snort bread?

  13. Was the genetic research funded by the John D. and Catherine T. McArthur Foundation?
    Curious.

  14. Time to break out the big guns…:)

  15. Maybe they could make it minty.

  16. This will drive the price down, but it might not significantly affect the dealer’s portion of the price. If we look at it in terms of value added, the smugglers add value by moving something from point A to point B without the cops finding it, and the dealers add value by acting as middle-men who move products from smugglers to junkies without the cops noticing. (I’m sure the actual supply chain is more complicated, but it gets to the basic premise.)

    If one farmer can grow cocaine more efficiently that doesn’t obviate the need for the smugglers’ and dealers’ service and the value that they add, but it does mean that each farmer will be able to produce more cocaine. The farmers will be in tougher competition with each other, so the people most hurt by this are farmers.

    Seen from another perspective, if it really is herbicide-resistant it will also mean that farmers will face less risk from eradication efforts and so their risk premium will go down.

    In the end, it means that coca cultivation will become less labor-intensive as each farmer becomes more productive, just like other aspects of agriculture. I wonder if Andean governments will have to offer farm subsidies to coca growers some day.

    Also, I can’t wait for legislation making the penalties harsher for dealers who fail to properly label their genetically modified product.

  17. btw, it’s too bad that physicists can’t contribute as much to the drug trade the way that chemists and geneticists can. I wouldn’t work for drug dealers myself, but if drug cartels had work for physicists then legitimate businesses would have to offer higher salaries to compete with the black market.

  18. joe-

    I do agree that higher agricultural productivity (probably) means lower pay for farmers, but I don’t see that as a valid argument against GM food. Lower prices on food also means lower prices for the many people around the world without enough to eat. And in this country we’ve seen that efforts to “save the family farm” seem to involve awfully large subsidies to corporate agribusiness.

    SR-

    I had the exact same thought. Maybe we’ll start dropping napalm in the Andes.

    If we do drop the napalm, maybe we should go all the way with the nostalgia and invade the Andes region. At first we’ll just invade Colombia, but then we can start doing covert raids into Bolivia despite the President’s assurance that there are no such raids. And in 35 years we can argue over whether some lieutenant really was in Bolivia on Christmas.

    Anyway, I look forward to seeing the drug legalization movement divided between those who want to legalize all of it vs. those who only want to legalize organic cocaine. Seeing as how the drug lords oppose legalization, maybe divide and conquer was their strategy all along 🙂

  19. You will have to excuse my pessimistic side as I support SR’s thoughts. A herbicide resistant coca plant will simply lead to a more destructive campaign to eradicate. Don’t underestimate the zeal of the DEA to make war on the supply side. They will come with guns ablazin’ and destroy all that resist. Sometimes I think the DEA prefers to wipe out a few little brown people to “save a little white child” in the US.

    The level of madness is that bad, IMHO.

  20. thoreau,

    “Lower prices on food also means lower prices for the many people around the world without enough to eat.” There is no food shortage in the world, or on any continent, and there has not been for a decade or two. 100% of hunger in the world can be blamed on politics and localized economic conditions (with an insignificant amount blamed on blogging rather than eating lunch). The argument that, in these times, resisting gmos = encouraging food shortages has a great deal of emotive appeal, but no basis in reality.

  21. “the end of the line”?

    Har har har!

  22. “The farmers will be in tougher competition with each other, so the people most hurt by this are farmers.” This is the argument put forward against GMOs by the environmentalists.

    “Seen from another perspective, if it really is herbicide-resistant it will also mean that farmers will face less risk from eradication efforts and so their risk premium will go down.” In a normal market, their risk premium will make up for the losses they sustain from spraying, but in a black market like this, who knows?

  23. Why do I foresee crop eradication via fuel air explosives (e.g., MOAB)?

  24. dammit, thoreau!

    are you always thinking of your pay? what about our children? and their children … 🙂

  25. Gary-

    Maybe, but it’s about to become even less labor-intensive than before if coca growers can produce more coca per square acre.

  26. thoreau,

    I don’t know if you know much about coca production, but the actual growing of coca plants isn’t particularly labor intensive – indeed, it requires no irrigation, little weeding, and little maintenance to grow a good coca crop.

  27. Now I guess we can expect the Drug Nazis in the US to crack down on agricultural research because some of its findings can be used by people in the drug trade. It’s only a matter of time before Ashcroft et al lock up drug kingpins like Norman ‘Bling-Bling’ Borlaug.

  28. joe,

    Point well taken, resistance to gmo appeals to emotion on both sides, not just one. There’s always been some irrational reverence for farmers, as if they are engaged in some sort of sacred ritual beyond the food growing business. Subsidies to American agribusiness have always been sold with the “wrath of God” consequences, which is now also used by the anti-gm crowd.

  29. Of course a tree – sized coca plant would increase harvesting costs and would also take longer to reach full production – thus increasing the loss felt by the farmer if his crop is eradicated before he can recoup his investment.

    In Bolivia, where I served as a Peace Corps volunteer most coca eradication was carried out by soldiers with machetes – I don’t see a plant resistant to that being developed soon.

    Herbicide resistance in plants is always resistance to one class of herbicides. THere are many classes of herbicide with many modes of action. We’ll just use another.

  30. There is no food shortage in the world, or on any continent, and there has not been for a decade or two. 100% of hunger in the world can be blamed on politics and localized economic conditions

    Thoreau didn’t claim there was a food shortage, he claimed that many people don’t have enough to eat. The reason that they don’t have enough to eat is that they can’t afford to buy food. You can call that a “localized economic condition” if you like, but it doesn’t change the simple fact that thoreau was correct — cheaper food means fewer starving people. It also means more disposable income for people at every economic level. An American “poor person” might not be starving, but they would obviously still reap major benefits from having their family’s food bill lowered by $500 a year.

    The argument that, in these times, resisting gmos = encouraging food shortages has a great deal of emotive appeal, but no basis in reality

    It has a solid basis in reality, since the world is not a social collectivist nation-state. The fact that food exists doesn’t mean that the people who need it magically receive it for free. One way or another, that food has to be paid for. Cheaper food means richer people.

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