Before cocaine became illegal in the first decade of the 20th century, its raw material came from countries over 10,000 miles away. Yet, since the 1970s, getting cocaine to the U.S. has been as short as a 1,400-mile flight from Medellin to Miami.
Surely, the proximity to the world’s burgeoning cocaine market played a role in making Colombia the world’s main supplier, but it is worth noting that when cocaine was legal, Colombia had nothing to do in exporting or processing it, nor even providing the raw ingredient of coca leaves. Rather, it seems that the predisposition of certain segments of society in some Latin American countries like Colombia and Mexico to leverage their cultures of a weak rule of law for the benefit of illicit activities facilitated Colombian and Mexican organized crime’s entrance into the cocaine trade. It’s probably not a coincidence that in addition to cocaine, Colombia is one of the world’s main producers of counterfeit U.S. dollars, Euros and passports, as well as one of the main exporters of prostitutes to Europe.
By the late 1970s, cocaine culture was firmly planted within the U.S. Over 18.6% of young adults admitted to trying the drug and 8.9% described themselves occasional users. As with heroin, many addicts would spend substantial amounts of their disposable income on cocaine, destroying their careers and ending up in and out of rehab. The U.S. government’s spending to grapple with cocaine consumption, especially on the supply side by fighting the Colombian cartels grew from $2.5 million in 1978 to $289 million by 1999. From the inception of Plan Colombia in 2000 until 2012, the U.S. government spent $8 billion on that program alone. Cocaine consumption eventually peaked in 1985, and steadily declined until 1993, where it would remain relatively stable until it declined again from 2007 to 2012, however, recently it is showing signs of picking up.