Vice Squad
Monday, January 26, 2004
Poppies in Afghanistan

An article today from the International Herald Tribune on-line talks about the issue of opium production in Afghanistan. The article states that, "Afghanistan is now the world's largest producer of opium. It accounts for about 40 percent of the Afghan economy, generating some $2 billion annually". This is equal to all of the money the Afghans have for reconstruction, according to Haneef Atmar, minister for rural reconstruction and development.

The U.S. military in the region doesn't really want to get involved in the issue, and risk alienating the countryside, until it can get on top of the security issue there. Everyone agrees that the farmers need a crop that is as lucrative as poppies, in order to encourage farmers to stop producing them. The Brits are in charge of antinarcotics programs in Afghanistan, but so far, they have yet to come up with any good ideas for curbing poppy production. In fact, at one point, the British tried buying up some of the poppy crop, but this backfired. Farmers growing non-illicit crops switched to growing opium when they heard of the buy out plan.

Afghanistan has traditionally been a poppy wholesaler, with production of heroin occurring in neighboring countries and then exported to the West. This is changing, and now about 85% of Afghan heroin stays in the region. This brings with it a growing number of addicts, and thus heroin addiction's nasty companion, AIDS. Hamid Karzai fears that disaster is near. Interestingly, Karzai notes that, "We have an excellent chance to have a legitimate economy, but we will never have stability here if the economy is criminalized".

Legalization of the drug would certainly lower domestic prices, thus making poppy production less attractive for farmers. Further, legalization of poppy production would normalize the drug and could revive the region's custom of smoking opium - a practice with very few of the horrible side effects seen with heroin injection, including addiction and AIDS. This solution violates U.N. policy on illicit drugs, but does that policy make any sense when an entire nation's economy is built upon that illicit substance?

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