Roadmaps to Regulation: Coca, Cocaine, and Derivatives

A Report commissioned by the Beckley Foundation’s Global Initiative for Drug Policy Reform

Produced by Amanda Feilding (Convener and Editor)
and Paul Gootenberg, Ricardo Vargas, and Hugo Cabieses (Section Coordinators)
with support from the Open Society Foundations.

First six chapters are available to download below. To receive announcements about upcoming release date and other report news, please sign up here.


About the Report

The illicit cocaine trade is a major destabilising force in many parts of the world, particularly Latin America, the Caribbean, and West Africa. The cocaine trade and efforts to suppress it under the current prohibitionist regime are responsible for deaths, violence and corruption, economic damage, and environmental destruction, among many other harms to individuals and society. It is difficult, if not impossible, to envisage an end to these problems without addressing the issues surrounding both the illicit cocaine market and the prohibitionist approach to controlling it. However, since the discussion of alternatives to prohibition is taboo, remarkably little work exists that opens up a space for genuine, detailed debate on the issue.

Amanda proposed the idea for a report on regulating coca, cocaine, and its derivatives at a meeting with the Guatemalan President and his cabinet, who welcomed it with enthusiasm. Following this endorsement, Amanda approached leading experts on the topic, inviting them to participate in the project. She succeeded in bringing together the most prominent thinkers in the field, and formed an interdisciplinary team of global specialists to contribute to this comprehensive report.

The aim of the report, commissioned under the Global Initiative for Drug Policy Reform, is to open up and advance the discourse on alternatives to prohibition of coca/cocaine, in the same way the BF Global Cannabis Commission’s 2008 report Cannabis Policy: Moving Beyond Stalemate did for cannabis.

Research Question & Aims

The overarching question is: What might be the most appropriate regulatory models for policy experimentation that would reduce the harms related to coca, cocaine, and its derivatives at each stage of the chain, from cultivation, through transit, to use?

The aim is to legitimise debate and policy experimentation, with a view to reducing the devastating violence, corruption, and suffering in producer and transit countries. This includes:

  • Reducing harms to both consumers and non-consumers;
  • Minimising the drug-related income of illegal actors;
  • Increasing drug-related income of the state and other legal actors, and reducing enforcement cost;
  • Removing subsistence farmers and their families from the illicit economy and providing livelihoods within the mainstream economy.

Research Methods

  • A review of the literature on cocaine-related harms, examining evidence from diverse fields including health, economics, politics, law, security, and sociology;
  • Field research with a focus on areas such as cultivation, production, traffic, end users, US/Latin American relations, arms dealing, security, development, human rights, and money-laundering;
  • A review of evidence from alternative approaches to drug control that have been tried around the world (although little or no evidence exists for cocaine regulation itself);
  • Development of ideas for new regulatory models, and evaluation of impacts such new models might have on health-related, economic, judicial, and socio-political outcomes.

Summary of the Report

Part I: Context & History

Section Coordinator: Paul Gootenberg

Part I gives a historical overview describing the development of the use of coca leaf, cocaine, and crack cocaine. For each substance, the authors describe the ethnography and use patterns, the harms and benefits associated with use, and the shifting societal and governmental attitudes towards the substance and those who use it. The section goes on to describe the history and effects of control mechanisms under the UN Drug Conventions, as well as their inflexibility and the consequent lack of experimentation with alternative policies. Finally, it explains the growing disenchantment with prohibition and the rising role of Latin America in the movement against this regime, along with the philosophical, human rights, and economic impacts of the current policies and envisioned changes with the adoption of new policy options.

Part II: Stages in the Chain

Section Coordinator: Ricardo Vargas Meza

Part II gives an overview of the global illicit coca/cocaine market, highlighting socio-political issues (including the harms engendered, in large part, by prohibition) at every stage of the process: cultivation, processing, trafficking, supply, and consumption. Each chapter summarises and analyses the issues of a specific region, and describes options to reduce harms.

Cultivation and producer countries. These chapters contextualise the dilemmas faced by the three main countries where coca / cocaine are produced: Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru. The authors open the discussion on social inequality, conflict, and governance issues, and describe how prohibitionist measures deployed in the Andean countries have magnified pre-existing challenges and compounded them with additional difficulties. The chapters draw a vivid and comprehensive picture of the costs of prohibition in producing countries, and open discussion on the need and potential for change.

Trafficking and transit countries. The constellation of ‘transit countries’ evolves as a response to changes in the cocaine market, responding swiftly to factors such as governance issues, presence of insurgency groups, state of the economy, increased repression/interdiction in other regions, changes in demand, and cultural links. These chapters explore the current trafficking routes, including Central America, Mexico, Venezuela, West Africa, and the Caribbean, and explain how networks of corruption and criminality in transit countries impact governments, economies, social cohesion, and security.

User and consumer countries. These chapters introduce the multifaceted challenges for countries with high cocaine use, reiterating the problems introduced by prohibition and drawing a comprehensive picture of the harms of problematic use patterns. As efforts to curb the harms of crack / cocaine seem to have stagnated, the chapters also explore options for regulation that could be used to manage problem use and its potential harms.

Part III: Proposal of a Regulatory Model

Section Coordinator: Hugo Cabieses

Section III deals directly with the overarching research question, providing a summary of potential regulatory models to reduce harms at every level. The chapters identify some of the principal strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats associated with different regulatory models, and they draw on the experiences of countries that have experimented with depenalisation or decriminalisation. The authors develop proposals for regulatory best practices and estimate the potential impacts of implementing them, while pointing out the challenges which may arise during the development of novel regulatory methods for coca, cocaine, and derivatives.


Part I: Context & History

Part II: Stages in the Chain

Part III: Possibilities for Regulation