Afghanistan is variously reported to be responsible for between 80% and 90% of the global opium production – leading to heroin supplies.

The usual method for dealing with this is draconian laws and a small fortune spent on enforcing those laws.

Let us look at an alternative:

Why not just buy up the opium supply before it reaches the dealers and drug traffickers?

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I did a bit of Googling, and find that according to the United Nations; the cash crop value of opium production in Afghanistan was worth US$600 million in 2004. The export value after the dealers add their mark-up was US$2.4 billion.

Now, $2.4 billion is frankly a tiny amount of money in the big picture, and almost certainly far less than is spent by law enforcement on trying to stop heroin distribution once it leaves Afghanistan.

Apparently, production was higher during 2006 – but let us presume a cash crop value of US$1 billion.

The various bodies in Afghanistan go to the farmers and say quite simply, if you stop growing opium, and start growing non-narcotic crops (foods, cottons etc.) then when the harvest is due – we will pay you the equivalent in cash that you would have earnt from growing opium AND you get to keep all the income/profits from selling your food crops as well.

The result is simple – in most areas of Afghanistan, the farmers will switch from opium to food crops as they will actually make more money from food than from opium.

This also deprives the opium dealers of their income, and most of their profits are funding terrorist activities in Afghanistan (and abroad) – so we collapse the opium supply and wipe out a significant revenue source for the Taliban.

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Hmmm, so far I cannot see a downside – lets see if there is one.

Well, yes there is:

Firstly, opium production will switch to other countries – but it is unlikely to ever match the output from Afghanistan, so the supply will be seriously cut.

Secondly, drug addicts may switch to different drugs, cocaine etc., so the benefit is limited – but still should be significant enough to justify the tiny cost involved.

Thirdly a downside – but short term and actually, almost a positive. If you wipe out almost the entire opium production, then there are going to be a lot of heroin addicts going “cold turkey” and in need of medical care.

But once they are out of that, they would no longer be addicts, and hence the demand for heroin would also decline, making it a less viable crop to grow anyway.

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So, the current method of spending billions on law enforcement, criminalizing vast swathes of society and funding terrorists is not working.

To give you some idea of how much it would “save”, the US government estimates that the cost of drug enforcement in 2004 was $11.7 billion – and the cost to the US economy in 2000 estimated at a staggering $160 billion.

So, why not try the other method – simply pay the farmers to stop growing opium.

The cost (US$1 billion) is miniscule – not even a rounding error in government spending and would solve so many problems, and just think what $160 billion spent on “legal” items would do for the US economy.

I focus on US figures as they are the easiest to acquire – the same would apply to all countries of course.

Politicians, please take note.

Sources:

http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/publications/factsht/drugdata/index.html

http://www.unodc.org/pdf/afg/afghanistan_opium_survey_factsheet_04.pdf

http://www.economist.com/world/international/displaystory.cfm?story_id=8499655

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15 Comments

  1. You miss an important point: drugs trade gives a money stream to the biggest bubble economy in the world. It needs the money stream to keep floating.

    Now you know why politicians won’t do anything with your suggestion.

  2. IanVisits

    I’m not sure I understand.

    The drugs trade takes money from the consumer and deposits it with the drug dealers, the bulk of whom are outside the USA.

    That cannot benefit the USA at all – can it?

  3. Rob Morgan

    That’s only if you’re under the mistaken impression that Americans, & American institutions aren’t the ones making atleast the lion’s share of profit off of Heroin. It’s been well known since Vietnam that the CIA makes alot of money on the drug trade to fund their black budget, and as reported by Mike Ruppert, Wall Street is the place where all the money gets laundered.

    In the U.S, and transaction of over 10K is flagged and viewed by an FBI officer, unless of course, if it’s money being spent on the NYSE, in which case there are no rules and no oversight (well..other than the CIA watching everything in real time via PROMUS, but I doubt they have much of a problem with it)

    Cheers

  4. IanVisits

    Even if what you say is true (and I take it with a gallon sized pinch of salt, served in tin foil) then there is no reason why the EU (or even a rich philathropist) couldn’t do the same thing.

    Even for a country such as the UK, the impact of heroin on the people and economy is greater than the small cost of wiping out the trade at its source.

  5. Chad

    Ian… watch this video.

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=8797525979024486145

    It’ll give you a better understanding of how the “real” world works.

    Cheers!

  6. IanVisits

    I have often heard allegations of CIA drug trafficing.

    But if we can get away from the conspiracy theories etc – and return to the substance of the posting – does it not make sense to kill the heroin trade at its source?

  7. On slave among others

    Governments will never do that. In France, the former Homeland Secretary (don’t know how we said that in US legislation) was a big dealer of heroin, among others things. This helps to fund political parties or black projects. And this is no conspiracy theories.
    By the way, drugs help people to support their living conditions. Cut the drug and you get a massive riot sooner or later. I think our beloved leaders prefers to see some of us screwed up rather than having political opinions strengthening under the current twisted shit.

  8. I have no considered the purchase of opium from Afghanistan a viable option – a century ago britain would have been jumping at the chance. Nor should it all go to waste – the are plenty of uses for opium (not as heroin) as a natural ingredient in pharmaceutical products and it may even be safer that many current costly synthetics. Also relating to drugs, it is often forgotten that marijuana, in the form of non-psychoactive hemp, has extensives uses as an alternative to eco-unfriendly wood-sourced paper, an industrail-stength building material and as a healthy organic foodstuff. Given that this crop is almost as pervasive as that of opium itself in Afghanistan, surely it is yet another candidate for purchase.

    Were there a framework established for this trade, a subsequent legitimised economy would probably create an environment receptive to the introduction of more conventional crops too. A change in culture and a shift in emphasis would be slow – but lasting progress usually is. Current strategy is threatening the survival of local culture and forcing the black economy further underground. The profits to be made are thus literally being handed on a plate to illegal operators who in turn finance the military forces opposing our own troops.

    It is astonishing that we continue to fall into such an obvious trap. By not first embracing local culture and tradition, it is unlikely we will ever win those much-talked-of “hearts and minds”. A compromise on the so-called “drugs issue” could well turn the emphasis in our favour.

  9. Jake

    Boy, talk about naive. What you propose would cut out all the warlords of their income as middlemen. We need these warlords as “allies” in the region. They would no longer be our “allies.” Also, you’d be cutting out all the drug lords that also do our bidding all over the world. It’s not like we couldn’t do what you propose, or even something cheaper, namely spraying all the poppy crops, or at least the vast majority of them. The US permits the opium crop to boom. It was almost stamped out under the Taliban. After we toppled them, we’ve let it flourish to record levels. Well, just keep thinking that the US government actually WANTS to stop opium and heroin production in the world.

  10. IanVisits

    It seems that you have a choice, have a few warlords supporting your forces, or have millions of farmers supporting you.

    Spraying does only one thing – annoys the farmers.

    The proposal to pay the farmers for their theoretical opium income AND let them grow other cash crops results in a population which supports your actions.

    This puts the taliban warlords out of business – and, isn’t that actually a good thing?

  11. TIM

    Ian, it is pointless to discuss the substance of the posting without factoring in the Intelligence Agency/Mafia/Money Market nexus that profits hugely from the illegal drug business. You might as well talk about how to make it safe for children to swim in the Limpopo River without taking the crocodiles into consideration.

  12. Fred Detroit

    Ian you are obvioulsy a very nice person but very naieve as well. This whole war on terror war on drugs, name that war never solves anything, but as far as i have seen seems to perpetrate the very thing it purports to stem. The US could lock down its borders decriminalize drug use and use the money we spend on the military to research better energy sources and alternatives to petroleum. I predict pigs will fly before any of this ever happens. Have you ever in your life seen the US government actually do something wise and beneficial to the average common person living here? I cant remember who said this, but it makes more sense than anything I have ever heard “Nothing in politics ever happens by accident”. With that in mind do you really for one minute think that the current explsion of cheap heroin was accidental? Think about this, outside of the rare elements at the bottom of the periodic table, heroin is the most expensive commodity in the world, far outpricing gold and platinum and it is easily grown in a never ending renewable supply. And the only reason for its value is that it is illegal. Once again “Nothing in politics ever happens by accident”. Be well.

  13. IanVisits

    Is there any reason (apart from tin foil hats) that prevents the EU doing this – or a rich philathropist?

    Why is everyone telling me why the US wont do this – and not telling me why the EU, Japan, ASEAN etc. couln’t do it.

    Try being positive for a while and seek solutions, not problems.

  14. Fred Detroit

    Ian i am positive but i am also a realist. There is a huge drug trade because it is allowed and perpetrated as well. Look here. Google cia cocaine mena. Bill Clinton was guv of Arkansas when the CIA was flying tons of cocaine into the US. G Bush the first was the VP of the US. Look into Gary Webb’s book dark alliance and strangely enough he committed sucide shooting himself twice in the head, and was viciously attacked by the rest of the US press after he broke his story. After it was proven to be true did one media journalist ever admit they were wrong? No it was once again just left out there. I read the book the under ground empire over 20 years ago, it is worth reading. Afghan heroin money is a huge amount of cash that washes through wall street and many other finacial markets as well. If the govts truly wanted to erradicate the flow of heroin it would have already been done. Be well.

  15. H Wright

    Whilst I admire your attempt to look at the heroin ‘problem’ from a unconventional angle, I am afraid it is an idea which lacks foresight and shows a lack of understanding of the problem. Heroin users will not automatically lose their problems if heroin production is stopped.

    What will happen is you will have a great deal of ex heroin users who need to self medicate in some other way or cause different problems in society. They will switch to other drugs or alcohol(which in fact may be more dangerous if they have switched from smoking heroin). They will also be extremely resentful towards society: have you ever heard that an addict needs to stop for themself?

    In addition the drug cartels will think of another way to make their money. They will no doubt look into making new drugs in factories etc and production of drugs such as ecstacy etc will rocket. I am afraid most of the problems of heroin use are down to one thing. Societies moral panic and the problems would be made a great deal better if heroin was prescribed to current users.

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