JSTOR Daily asks 'who took the cocaine out of Coca-Cola?'

It’s common knowledge that the original Coca-Cola recipe had cocaine in it. And while it might seem obvious to us now to remove a hard drug from a soft drink, what was the actual reason? JSTOR Daily consulted a journal article by Michael M. Cohen where he claimed it was about authorities’ perceptions of drugs, affected by race and class of its users.

In the Jim Crow South, the dynamics of race, gender, and the growth of a mass consumer culture combined with the reformist impulses of the Progressive era to wage war on the “Negro cocaine fiend.” The changes in Coca-Cola in this time period illustrate this point. Marketed exclusively to middle class and professional whites, Coca-Cola contained a small quantity of coca extracts until 1903. When Coca-Cola was introduced, cocaine was championed by doctors and psychologists, including Sigmund Freud, as a medical marvel. In the 1890s, however, the medical opinion of cocaine began to sour as its savage addictive potential revealed itself, leaving manufacturers and medical reformers to call for new regulations and controls on the drug’s distribution. Cocaine users themselves did not become criminals until urban police and civic leaders in the New South generated a moral panic over the casual use of cocaine among urban blacks, blaming everything from rape to urban riots on the drug’s influence. By the dawn of the twentieth century, the South’s fears of “Negro cocaine fiends” running amok trumped the drug’s commercial profits and medical benefits. Southern cocaine prohibition eventually merged into a federal drive to regulate a range of narcotics and cocaine, representing a rare instance of southern leadership in Progressive reform and a spectacular example of how Jim Crow politics influenced the entire nation in a way that can still be felt in the “war on drugs.”

Michael M. Cohen — Jim Crow’s Drug War

The thing is, Coca-Cola wasn’t the first drink laced with cocaine. Dr. John Stith Pemberton, the “brainchild” of Coke put it in wine:

In 1884, [Dr. John Stith] Pemberton began selling cocaine-laced wine. After Atlanta passed a temperance law the next year, he switched gears and started producing a soft drink named for its two key medicinal ingredients—coca leaf and the caffeine-containing African kola nut. Coca-Cola was an immediate hit at soda fountains, a space catering to middle-class white customers. After Pemberton’s death in 1888, the brand continued to grow under the leadership of his business partner, Asa Grigs Candler.

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