How a McDonald’s Stirring Spoon Became a Target in the War on Drugs

The McDonald’s stirring spoon was a fixture of the popular fast food chain in the 1970s — a long, plastic utensil with a small scoop on one end and the signature golden arches on the other. It was a simple tool, designed to stir cream and sugar into coffee and nothing more. But that wasn’t all it was used for.

Indeed, the innocent stirring spoon, colloquially called the McSpoon, soon became an unlikely scapegoat in the War on Drugs.

In 1971, Richard Nixon declared the drug epidemic public enemy number one, kicking off the “war on drugs” that’s still being waged today. Despite the creation of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and efforts to shut down the Colombian drug trade, drug use only spiked in subsequent years. Cocaine use, in particular, was at its peak in those years, with a whopping 11 percent of the adult population using it.

To help curb the problem, anti-drug folks created a big push against the sale and use of drug paraphernalia — pipes, rolling papers, coke spoons and the like — leading to the DEA’s Model Drug Paraphernalia Act in 1979.

The law, adopted by almost every state government, contained a vague definition of paraphernalia that could include just about everything. A silly straw and a plastic sandwich bag could be paraphernalia under the right circumstances.

Angry about the proposed law, one member of the Paraphernalia Trade Association (PTA, representing smoke shop vendors) mocked the law’s vague wording with, that’s right, a McDonald’s stirring spoon.

“This,” he said, “is the best cocaine spoon in town and it’s free with every cup of coffee at McDonalds.”

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Indeed, the McSpoon was popular among crafty cocaine dealers — it was light, cheap, easily concealed, and held exactly 100 milligrams of cocaine.

Joyce Nalepka, president of the National Federation of Parents for Drug-Free Youth, took this bit of mockery the exact wrong way. With some goading, she got through to McDonald’s president Ed Schmidt and asked him to remove the spoons from their stores — more than 4,500 restaurants carrying who-knows-how-many McSpoons — on behalf of the nation’s children.

He agreed, and the McSpoon was taken out of all McDonald’s stores in December of 1979; it was the end of an era. A new, flatter spoon with a paddle instead of a scoop was introduced, but it was a poor substitute.

However, the saga of the McSpoon was far from over. Nalepka’s group was often mocked during appearances, hecklers calling out “What’s next? Are you going to ban swizzle sticks and shot glasses?”

Oddly enough, the McSpoon was so popular that it became a standard slang term for 100 mg of cocaine, and was still used by dealers even a decade later, according to one DEA agent.

To this day, the spoons, long since replaced by tiny straws that accomplish next to nothing, are still popular in underground circles, and leftovers of the plastic utensil sell on auction sites for $5 a piece.

Two San Francisco-based artists, Ken Courtney and Tobias Wong, even created a gold-plated replica of the McDonald’s spoon for an art project dubbed the “Cokespoon No. 2” and featured it in high-profile art galleries. It was even sold as a novelty item for $295 — until, that is, McDonald’s learned of the joke and ordered the artists to cease and desist.

No matter how they try, this is a piece of history, both for McDonald’s and the drug world, that won’t quite disappear.