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How The War On Drugs Hurts The War On Terror
Jacob Sullum writes in Reason about the effect of the crackdown on opium poppy growth in Afghanistan:

The Taliban-opium connection goes back at least a decade. After they took control of Afghanistan in 1996, they encouraged opium poppy cultivation and took a cut from the trade, using the money to buy weapons and put up their buddies in Al Qaeda. In 1999, per the UNODC, Afghanistan had a record opium harvest of 4,565 tons.

The following year, the Taliban suddenly announced that growing poppies was contrary to Islam. The UNODC says the ban, enforced by the threat of summary execution, nearly eliminated cultivation, resulting in a 2001 opium harvest of less than 200 tons.

But the Taliban's reading of Islamic law conveniently did not require the destruction of opium stockpiles, much of which they controlled. The opium ban therefore looked like an attempt to profit from price increases while getting credit from the West for a firm anti-drug stance.

In any case, since losing power after the U.S. invasion in 2001, the Taliban seem to have forgotten their religious objections to opium, production of which hit an all-time high of more than 6,000 tons this year, up about 50 percent from 2005.

...It's no mystery why barely subsisting Afghanis choose to grow opium poppies instead of legal crops, contrary to the wishes of foreign governments. According to the UNODC, a hectare of poppies earned farmers some $5,400 last year, about 10 times what they could get by growing wheat.

Western governments, the U.S. foremost among them, created this incentive by banning opium to begin with, thereby enabling criminals (including terrorists) to earn a risk premium. Having artificially boosted the price of opium, the U.S. now asks desperately poor Afghan peasants to resist this financial attraction for the sake of Westerners who fail to resist the pharmacological attraction of heroin.

Even if drug warriors were successful in curbing Afghan opium production, an effort Costa says could take 20 years, there are plenty of other places to grow poppies. As with coca, the most that has been achieved by attempts to eradicate opium has been to move production from one country to another, with no lasting effect on drug use.

Meanwhile, a NATO-backed crackdown on opium would drive farmers further into the Taliban's arms and jeopardize Afghanistan's future. "Counter-insurgency and counter-narcotics efforts must reinforce each other," says Costa, "so as to stop the vicious circle of drugs funding terrorists and terrorists protecting drug traffickers." Prohibition started this vicious circle, and more vigorous enforcement will only strengthen it.

Posted by aalkon at September 15, 2006 10:46 AM

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> Western governments, the U.S. foremost
> among them, created this incentive by
> banning opium to begin with, thereby
> enabling criminals (including terrorists) to
> earn a risk premium.

That's the fastest-moving sentence I've ever seen. It's streamlined, wheeled, polished and greased, with a helmet and goggles and a Gatorade sponsorship. It races past a whole bunch of things that oughta be considered.

Just for instance: Maybe the creation of risk incentive has been a worthwhile cost for reducing misery by banning opium generally. Substances fuck people up. If force can prevent that, we should think it over.

Dalyrmple: "And in China, millions of Chinese addicts gave up with only minimal help: Mao Tse-Tung's credible offer to shoot them if they did not. There is thus no question that Mao was the greatest drug-addiction therapist in history."

Posted by: Crid at September 15, 2006 12:17 PM

I always find it amusing that consrvitives who claim to abohor government interference in any aspect of life are the first to start telling people what they can and can not do with their lives and their bodies.

Posted by: lujlp at September 15, 2006 1:56 PM

Substances fuck people up. If force can prevent that, we should think it over.

Uhhh, no. Not unless you want to get into banning by force everything that can possibly fuck people up.

Posted by: LYT at September 15, 2006 3:15 PM

as for those chinese, they did a bang-up job building our railroads while loaded on the stuff.

I also wonder, worldwide, what percent of opium is consumed as opium and what percent as H. We have already seen how the difference between the alkaline and hydrocloric forms of cocaine can mean the difference between holding down a job and holding up liquor stores.

And Luj, conservatives also have their kids to worry about.


Posted by: smurfy at September 15, 2006 3:15 PM

> Uhhh, no. Not unless you want to get
> into banning by force everything that
> can possibly fuck people up

Shit... Time to backtrack. Maybe if I moonwalk, you'll be given an illusion of forward motion and steadfast resolve. Please imagine the Billie Jean bassline for the rest of this blog comment.

Has anyone actually read anything about opium addiction in China? Me neither. But it's hard to believe life wasn't improved for the twenty million people (Dalrymple's number) who kicked at Mao's insistence... Not that it turned midcentury China into paradise, but maybe it trimmed the wretchedness a little. Lord knows there are dictators who've gone the other way, flooding markets with inebriants to maintain control.

If opium (or weed or scotch or whatever) fucked up your life in a private way people would be more patient. But we're all kinda interconnected, and we want each other to make something useful of ourselves. It's the same as the libertarians and their motorcycle helmet laws. Brash young men who collide with curbs and lose all muscle control below the nostrils tend to become longtime wards of the state. We have a reasonable interest in responsible conduct by bike riders.

I don't really believe in shooting people, but the fact that there are tradeoffs in any choice you make doesn't mean you shouldn't make choices. Republicans are often accused of having irrational faith in markets. Seeing a libertarian argue that we've "artificially boosted the price of opium" by making it illegal twists this faith to a psychedelic extreme.

Posted by: Crid at September 15, 2006 7:15 PM

The U.S. is concerned about "Westerners who fail to resist the pharmacological attraction of heroin"? News to me!

Posted by: Lena at September 15, 2006 10:13 PM

Smurphy, if the cons stopped at worring about their kids that would be one thing.

But they dont, their also worried about what I, you and everyone else do - in fact they are so worried about everyones conduct that they pass laws based on their faith so that anyone who ever does anything they might possibly disagree with if punished by the law.

Unless it interferse with a business making money.

Posted by: lujlp at September 16, 2006 12:39 AM

lujlp -- I'm a lot less worried about children doing heroin than I am about your mangling of the English language. Get thee into rehab, dude. --- Weener

Posted by: Lena at September 16, 2006 1:10 AM

Dont always take the time to proofread when I'm on a rant.

Blow me

Posted by: lujlp at September 16, 2006 3:15 AM

You need to place a period after "me."

Posted by: Lena at September 16, 2006 8:32 AM

Very well.
Blow me.

And make it good.

Posted by: lujlp at September 16, 2006 1:55 PM

Keep using that spell check, and you may just have your way with me.

Posted by: Lena at September 16, 2006 8:35 PM

One thing about keeping all of the trade in commodities such as opium, cocaine, and the like in the black market: it ensures a signifcant and reliable revenue stream for bad guys like FARC and the Taliban abroad, and for organized crime and street gangs here in the U.S. It doesn't seem like the drug war is very effective in keeping people from using drugs here, but it clearly serves to support all sorts of people we'd rather see defunded.

Posted by: justin case at September 17, 2006 1:35 AM

"It doesn't seem like the drug war is very effective in keeping people from using drugs here,"

That's why many people say we need to intervene on the demand side of the problem with prevention and treatment, rather than trying to block the supply. Available treatments aren't effective for everyone, but hopefully we'll continue seeing progress from researchers.

Drug policy is so difficult to discuss objectively. Information and evidence are poor, politics and emotions are high. After a while, it all makes me want to throw back a handful of Percodan, washed down with Chardonnay, as a way to escape.

Posted by: Lena at September 17, 2006 8:32 AM

> but it clearly serves to support
> all sorts of people we'd rather
> see defunded.

The Taliban are going to work with the most effective revenue stream they can find. If it was poisoned spinach that grew best in Afghanistan instead of poppies, that's the business they'd use for revenue. Legalizing drugs to manipulate their markets is like putting your little sister on the street to earn money for her softball team.

Prevention is almost impossible for anyone but loving parents in secure homes, and even they often fall short. Treatment is dicey for everyone everywhere all the time. Seeing drugs and terror cluster like that is sad, but it means we fight terrorism by staying clean, and are involved in the fight in a deeply personal way.

(PS- I'm jonseing for ReadyPac)

Posted by: Crid at September 17, 2006 10:30 AM

Seeing drugs and terror cluster like that is sad, but it means we fight terrorism by staying clean, and are involved in the fight in a deeply personal way.

You have a point here, but it seems that demand for drugs is pretty inelastic; I doubt that anyone is going to think, "I'd better not score some smack today, that funds terrorism!" People have a fundamental need to get out of their heads sometimes, and the ways they do this are often risky (booze, motorcycles, sky diving). With the exception of drugs, our society has generally opted to take a harm-reduction approach to these things. Why are drugs treated differently?

Penalities for drug possession in the U.S. are already pretty draconian, and yet there are still plenty of people who use them. This means that pretty much regardless of what policies are (short of the Maoist approach, and certainly I can't imagine Ol' Crid actually advocating that we follow in Mao's steps), there's going to be a lucrative trade in these drugs. Do we want that money to flow to legitimate or illegitimate actors?

I think that there is a cost-benefit analysis to be made here: what would the relative costs of decriminalization of these drugs be versus the current cost of enforcement, increased crime (how many guns has the cocaine trade put in the hands of street criminals?), lives of law enforcement officers and innocent bystanders lost, etc. It certainly would not be the case that decriminalizing drugs would turn us into a nation of toothless, crack-smoking, needle-tracked derelicts. All of these things would still be stigmatized highly and would not be OK in the vast majority of society. Based upon the data from Prohbition, it seems unlikely that society would be in a worse place if some drugs were decriminalized. Cato has good treatment of the effects of alcohol in society before, during and after prohibition here.

Lena is right: Drug policy is so difficult to discuss objectively. Information and evidence are poor, politics and emotions are high.

A good, information-based discussion is what's needed. Currently, discussion of these issues is basically divided into two camps who have decided in advance what should be done except at the margins (e.g., how much money do we give to eradicate crops vs. legalize it!). This doesn't strike me as a very serious approach to important and complicated issues.

Posted by: justin case at September 17, 2006 11:31 AM

> I doubt that anyone is
> going to think, "I'd
> better not score some
> smack today, that
> funds terrorism!"

Maybe we could insist! "Inelastic" does not mean "immobile." Boozers didn't think about drunk driving until Candy Lightner told them to, and made law enforcement get with the program as well.

http://www.madd.org/stats/4180

> to legitimate or
> illegitimate actors?

Look, there's more to being an honest businessman than paying your taxes, and there's more to running a decent society than maximizing revenue.

> Information and evidence
> are poor

No they're not, they just point to something mysterious. To say something is mysterious doesn't mean you can't respond to it. We have centuries of evidence. Some of the clearest thinkers in history have given their lives to this. What nugget of data are you waiting on to clear things up? Sobriety happens in individual hearts: They're not directly accessible by policy, but can still be influenced by society.

> information-based discussion
> is what's needed.

It's worrisome when people threaten to talk about things until the End of Enternity. We gotta situation here!

Posted by: Crid at September 17, 2006 2:29 PM

Crid-
I'm not sure that you addressed the fundamental question here. Which to me seems to be this: some percentage of people will do drugs, essentially no matter what. Most of those people will not become addicts and problems for society (some of course will). Right now, the money that is spent on those drugs is used primarily for negative ends, like funding terrorism, the civil war in Columbia, the Eme and other gangs in the U.S. Given all of this, then, the question is what makes it so unreasonable to consider decriminalizing some drugs? There's a revenue stream, an opportunity to focus some of the law enforcement attention currently applied to drug interdiction onto other pressing matters, and we make the gangs and some terrorist groups poorer. With all of that in mind, the argument for maintaining the current policy had better be quite strong, and I don't see it. Feel free to convince me otherwise.

Posted by: justin case at September 17, 2006 6:22 PM

> some percentage of people
> will do drugs, essentially
> no matter what

That's two variables (one called 'some percentage' and the other called 'essentially'). The "fundamental" point is that they respond to social pressure. Not perfectly, but they respond. I'm not here to defend the status quo, only to argue that most decriminalization talk is flip and inane. Listen, the LA Public Library system could cover most of its own costs if it ran a crack whore concession next to the signup sheets for the internet. I have this theory that a lot of the drug offenses for which people do time are the charges that would stick. ("Allright, your Honor, we'll let him walk on pistol-whipping the Korean liquor-store owner, since his wife was too scared to come into the courtroom and make ID. But dammit, he's going down for the weed!")

I'm not sure what to do for Afghanistan, but poppy farming is probably not the way to go. Wouldn't it be great for Colombia if their biggest drug market dried up?

Posted by: Crid at September 17, 2006 8:10 PM

Hi, Crid. A lot of exciting things are happening in substance abuse research right now, especially on new medications to help prevent relapse to cocaine or stimulant abuse. Imaging techniques are also making it a lot easier to see how drugs effect brain metabolism, receptor density, etc. I know that we "gotta situation," and that you want answers and solutions, but be patient. More knowledge is on the way. Our solutions will be better. Promise. Lena

Posted by: Lena at September 17, 2006 9:33 PM

Crid,
You are begging the question. What is it that makes talk of decriminalization "inane"? You write as though it is self evident, but you haven't made an argument as to why drugs differ in some fundamental way from any number of potentially dangerous things that people are legally able to do.

Posted by: justin case at September 17, 2006 9:52 PM

> begging the question.

Not at all. Do you want poppy farming to be the way that Afghanistan pays for its schools and sewer system? Do you think that would bring them into the 21st century and cast off their oppressive warlords? Would the resulting armies of junkies scattered across the globe, including our poorest nations, be an acceptable burden?

> why drugs differ in some
> fundamental way from any
> number of potentially dangerous
> things

You can't put helmets on horse addicts. Even if we could, we're not morally compelled to watch out for each other that way. If every motorcycle rider broke a leg each time he took his bike out, there'd be people who still wanted to do it. We wouldn't let 'em.

> Our solutions will be better.

I have no faith! This is not a policy problem. "The Man" is not the cause of addiction suffering, nor will he be responsible for the alleviation. Most of us avoid abject addiction through some strength of character. (As a Scots-Irish type who likes to drink, I'd be foolish to brag about this, but there it is.) So we're always going to wonder why society has to make allowances for junkies.

PS- The Man has a great responsibility for Afghanistan generally

Posted by: Crid at September 18, 2006 6:37 AM

We have armies of junkies scattered across our nation; they're called alcoholics. Banning alcohol didn't work.

As Stanton Peele says, addiction is not a disease, but a choice -- for short-term pleasure over longterm responsibility and gains. Personal responsibility is the key here.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at September 18, 2006 7:01 AM

I know I'm going to sound like a liberal floozy here, but blustery terms like "strength of character" and "personal responsibility" are my cues to exit the drug policy debate.

Don't forget to check your blood pressure periodically.

Posted by: Lena at September 18, 2006 9:04 AM

> blustery terms like "strength
> of character"

In Lenaland, is anyone ever encouraged to resist any temptation, or ignore any impulse?

> Banning alcohol didn't
> work.

True... But it's not like what we have now is the opposite of a ban.

> Personal responsibility
> is the key here.

Exactly. Exactly. Exactly.

Posted by: Crid at September 18, 2006 7:40 PM

"In Lenaland, is anyone ever encouraged to resist any temptation, or ignore any impulse?"

Look, I become as glazed over with self-righteousness as you or anyone else I know by terms like "strength of character" and "personal responsibility," but I would encourage you to resist indulging in those sensations. Especially over cocktails.

Posted by: Lena at September 18, 2006 7:57 PM

Well, it ain't luck that lets some people resist drugs as others succumb. What name can we call it, if not Amy's?

Posted by: Crid at September 18, 2006 9:06 PM

I do believe some people have a chemical predisposition that makes them more susceptible to addiction. But susceptibility is not inevitability. I know people for whom drug use is not abuse, and I know others who can't drink or drug at all lest they not only fall off the wagon, but get flattened under the wheels. They might be susceptible, but they're exercising great discipline and personal responsibility -- it's the longterm gain vs. shortterm pleasure equation I mentioned before.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at September 18, 2006 9:14 PM

Although discipline and willpower are part of almost any substance abuse recovery plan, we really need to give serotonin, dopamine, and other neurotransmitters their due. I've been booze- and drug-free for several years now, but I'd probably be off the wagon in no time at all if I didn't take anti-depressant medication. I am one sick cookie. Period.

I have a lot of respect for the human brain. It's the human mind that's totally fucked.

Posted by: Lena at September 18, 2006 9:55 PM

I'm all for better living through chemistry; specifically, Methylphenidate.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at September 18, 2006 10:20 PM

madd.org is big scam

Posted by: hohn at June 10, 2007 8:38 PM

madd.org is biggest scam

Posted by: jim at June 13, 2007 9:37 PM

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