Anyone with a nickel, black or white, could now drink the cocaine-infused beverage. Middle-class whites worried that soft drinks were contributing to what they saw as exploding cocaine use among African-Americans. Southern newspapers reported that “negro cocaine fiends” were raping white women, the police powerless to stop them. By 1903, [then-manager of Coca-Cola Asa Griggs] Candler had bowed to white fears (and a wave of anti-narcotics legislation), removing the cocaine and adding more sugar and caffeine.
Hale’s account of the role of racism and social injustice in Coca-Cola’s removal of coca is corroborated by the attitudes that the shaped subsequent U.S. cocaine regulation movement. Cocaine wasn’t even illegal until 1914 — 11 years after Coca-Cola’s change — but a massive surge in cocaine use was at its peak at the turn of the century. Recreational use increased five-fold in a period of less than two decades. During that time, racially oriented arguments about rape and other violence, and social effects more so than physical health concerns, came to shape the discussion. The same hypersexuality that was touted as a selling point during the short-lived glory days of Vin Mariani was now a crux of cocaine’s bigoted indictment. U.S. State Department official Dr. Hamilton Wright said in 1910, “The use of cocaine by the negroes of the South is one of the most elusive and troublesome questions which confront the enforcement of the law … often the direct incentive to the crime of rape by the negroes.” Dr. Edward Williams described in the Medical Standard in 1914, “The negro who has become a cocaine-doper is a constant menace to his community. His whole nature is changed for the worse … timid negroes develop a degree of ‘Dutch courage’ which is sometimes almost incredible.”
Gosh darned negroes and their Coca-Cola binges.