Is crack cheaper than (powder) cocaine?



    Corresponding author
    1. RAND, Drug Policy Research Center, Santa Monica & Carnegie Mellon University, H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management, Pittsburgh, USA
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Jonathan P, Caulkins, Carnegie Mellon University, Heinz School, 5000 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15213-3890, USA. Tel: 412 268 5064; e-mail:


Aims. To compare the prices of cocaine powder and crack cocaine in the United Stales, Design. Retail prices for crack and powder cocaine are compared for 14 US cities between 1986 and 1991 using regression analysis and t-tests. Measurements. Prices are estimated from the United States Drug Enforcement Administration's System to Retrieve Information from Drug Evidence (STRIDE) database. Findings. On average, crack is neither more nor less expensive per pure unit than powder cocaine. Prices are not equal in every city in every year, but crack is equally likely to be more or less expensive, and the differences are not large relative to -variation in prices of both forms of cocaine between cities and over time. Conclusions. Crack has been widely believed to be cheaper than powder cocaine, and this “fact” has been used to help explain why US drug problems worsened in the 1980s. However, crack is not, in fact, cheaper per pure unit than powder cocaine. Other explanations must be sought for why crack spread so rapidly relative to powder cocaine.