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Would You Pay More for ‘Ethical’ Cocaine?

The 2019 Global Drug Survey found that almost 85 percent of participants were in favour of a fair trade cocaine market.
Gavin Butler
Melbourne, AU
A hand holding a bag of cocaine

There’s not a lot of incentive for Australians to start paying more for their cocaine. According to the 2019 Global Drug Survey, the so-called “lucky country” has some of the worst rack in the world when it comes to value for money. While the average price for a gram is about 80 euros globally (about $130 AUD), in Australia it’s closer to 205 (about $330). And it looks like these extortionate prices could be repelling rather than encouraging people from indulging in the devil’s dandruff—with nearly 70 percent of participants reporting that they used the stuff on just 10 or less occasions in the previous 12 months.


What if it you could buy a more “ethical” product, though? Would you be willing to pay a premium on your powder if it meant supporting a regulated, fair trade, ethically-sourced cocaine market, rather than bankrolling the current illegal enterprise that comes with all the moral baggage of organised crime, human trafficking, and hundreds of thousands of deaths each year? Would that be enough motivation for you to take out a little bit of extra cash when calling in the bags?

For almost 60 percent of coke consumers who participated in GDS 2019: yes, it would be. Almost 20,000 people who took part in the annual drug survey answered questions about whether they would support a regulated, fair-trade cocaine market. Only 16.7 percent were opposed to the idea, while 85 percent of those in favour would be willing to pay more for their drugs—about 25 percent more, on average.

So what would this fair-trade market look like, exactly? And what would make it so much more ethical than buying your drugs out of the glovebox of your cousin’s Corolla? Well, for starters, it would mean you get to sidestep all the aforementioned moral trappings of supporting one of the world’s most prolific criminal industries. It would also probably mean that more of your money goes to the humble farmers at the cocaine’s primary country of origin, Colombia.

The production of coca leaves in Colombia has reached record levels, with organised trafficking routes resulting in widespread availability and producing a booming cocaine trade that’s worth well over $100 billion a year—but most of those funds don’t ever make it back to Colombia itself. The general idea of fair trade is that it helps producers—especially producers in developing countries—achieve better trading conditions, as well as improved social and environmental standards, and ultimately promotes sustainable development in the product’s country of origin.


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As GDS puts it: “the current mean global price of €80 per gram still leaves lots of money that could be more fairly distributed to producers and local healthcare, education, and social programs within producer and consumer countries.” On this model, Australians who are being forced to cough up more than $300 for a bag could take some comfort in the fact that at least some of their money’s going towards the local community of farmers who plucked the leaves from the branch in the first place. Indeed, if it was regulated in a way that cut the criminal element out of the equation, cocaine could be used as an invaluable trade resource to help elevate developing countries around the world—and recreational users could play some part in unlocking that better, brighter future.

“Our study suggests that users would rather pay more to help reduce the collateral damage from the war on drugs and support farmers and economies in producer countries,” the GDS concludes. “Twenty-five percent of global cocaine revenue could build schools, hospitals, and educational opportunities to support the growth of democracy and equality in cultivating and consumer countries.

“Consumers of drugs could offer the solution to many of the problems related to psychoactive substances, if only governments would give them a chance.”

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