Both a legal and an illegal commodity, the COCA PLANT is mainly grown in Andean South America—in Peru, Bolivia, and Colombia; it belongs to the genus Erythroxylon within the family Ery-throxylaceae. Most cocaine comes from the leaves of 2 of the 250 identified species: E. coca Lam and E. novograntense. Each of these species, in turn, has two varieties. Agriculturally speaking, coca is a hardy, relatively labor-free, subtropical perennial plant that thrives at high to somewhat lower elevations and in dry to slightly humid climates, depending on variety. Coca plants are shallow-rooted, broad-leaved woody shrubs that grow to heights of
3 to 10 feet (1 to 3 m) and live about 30 years (White, 1989; LaBattAnderson, 1990). It takes 30 to 36 months before the coca bush is mature enough to produce leaves that can be used in the production of cocaine. Once the plant is mature, three to four crops of coca leaves may be harvested per year for an estimated yield of 1 to 3 tons per acre (0.8 to 2.7 metric tons [MT] per hectare) of dry coca leaf cultivated per year. Actual yield depends on microclimate, plant maturity, and species. After harvesting and drying, the leaves are soaked in a mixture of solvents, and the resulting COCA Paste is precipitated, further refined to coca base, and finally refined to cocaine hydrochloride (HCl), the salt or white powder form of cocaine. Leaves weighing 1.1 tons (1MT) produce approximately 6.6 pounds (3 kg) of paste. These 6.6 pounds (3 kg) of paste, called pasta, are then converted to about 3.3 pounds (1.5 kg) of coca base, which is equivalent to 3.3 pounds (1.5 kg) of cocaine HCl. The U.S. government estimates that the Andean countries produced approximately 900 tons (816 MT) of cocaine for world consumption in 1991 (INCSR, 1992).
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