While the original Coke formula had a significant amount of cocaine in it, it was quickly limited and, by 1903 or thereabouts, eliminated from the recipe. This was done in part because the desired flavor can be extracted from the coca leaves, removing the cocaine and leaving the drug aside as a byproduct. To this day, Coca-Cola needs coca leaves to make its drinks; as a Coke exec told the New York Times, "[i]ngredients from the coca leaf are used, but there is no cocaine in it and it is all tightly overseen by regulatory authorities."
In fact, the United States (and most other nations) expressly prohibits the sale and trade of coca leaves. In order for Coca-Cola to continue to exist in its current form, the company has a special arrangement with the Drug Enforcement Administration, allowing it to import dried coca leaves from Peru (and to a lesser degree, from Bolivia) in huge quantities. The dried coca leaves make their way to a processing plant in Maywood, New Jersey, operated by the Stepan Corporation, a publicly traded chemicals company. The Stepan factory imports roughly 100 metric tons of the leaves each year, stripping the active ingredient—the cocaine—from them. The cocaine-free leaves are then shipped off to Coke to turn into syrup, and, ultimately, soda.
What does Stepan do with the cocaine? It goes to the Mallinckrodt Corporation, which creates a legal, topical anesthesia called cocaine hydrochloride. Cocaine hydrochloride is used to numb the lining of the mouth, nose, or throat, and requires a DEA order form to obtain.
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