I am in favor of legalizing drugs. This is my opinion, not the IWF’s. Holding it, I sincerely wish the U.S. would stop trying to get poor farmers in Afghanistan to cease growing one of their few good sources of revenue: opium poppies.
I don’t know what Post columnist Anne Applebaum thinks about drug legalization, but she makes the point that harassing the poor Afghanis about their most important cash crop is likely to have disastrous consequences — and that it’s also quite unnecessary:
“[B]y far the most depressing aspect of the Afghan poppy crisis is that it exists at all — because it doesn’t have to. To see what I mean, look at the history of Turkey, where once upon a time the drug trade also threatened the country’s political and economic stability. Just like Afghanistan, Turkey had a long tradition of poppy cultivation. Just like Afghanistan, Turkey worried that poppy eradication could ‘bring down the government.’ Just like Afghanistan, Turkey — this was the era of ‘Midnight Express’– was identified as the main source of the heroin sold in the West. Just like in Afghanistan, a ban was tried, and it failed.
“As a result, in 1974 the Turks, with American and U.N. support, tried a different tactic. They began licensing poppy cultivation for the purpose of producing morphine, codeine and other legal opiates. Legal factories were built to replace the illegal ones. Farmers registered to grow poppies, and they paid taxes. You wouldn’t necessarily know this from the latest White House drug strategy report which devotes several pages to Afghanistan but doesn’t mention Turkey — but the U.S. government still supports the Turkish program, even requiring U.S. drug companies to purchase 80 percent of what the legal documents euphemistically refer to as ‘narcotic raw materials’ from the two traditional producers, Turkey and India.
“Why not add Afghanistan to this list? The only good arguments against doing so — as opposed to the silly, politically correct ‘just say no’ arguments — are technical: that the same weak or nonexistent bureaucracy will be no better at licensing poppy fields than it has been at destroying them, or that some of the raw material will still fall into the hands of the drug cartels. Yet some of these issues can be resolved, by building processing factories at the local level and working within local power structures. And even if the program succeeds in stopping only half of the drug trade, a huge chunk of Afghanistan’s economy will still emerge from the gray market; the power of the drug barons will be reduced; and, most important, Western money will have been visibly spent helping Afghan farmers survive, instead of destroying their livelihoods. The director of the Senlis Council, a group that studies the drug problem in Afghanistan, told me he reckons that the best way to “ensure more Western soldiers get killed” is to expand poppy eradication.
“Besides, things really could get worse. It isn’t so hard to imagine, two or three years down the line, yet another emergency presidential speech, calling for a ‘surge’ of troops to southern Afghanistan — where impoverished villagers, having turned against the West, are joining the Taliban in droves. Before we get there, maybe it’s worth letting some legal poppies bloom.”