Afghanistan is variously reported to be responsible for between 80% and 90% of the global opium production â€“ 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?
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 â€“ 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 â€“ 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 â€“ 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) â€“ so we collapse the opium supply and wipe out a significant revenue source for the Taliban.
Hmmm, so far I cannot see a downside â€“ lets see if there is one.
Well, yes there is:
Firstly, opium production will switch to other countries â€“ 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 â€“ but still should be significant enough to justify the tiny cost involved.
Thirdly a downside â€“ 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 â€œcold turkeyâ€ 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.
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 â€œsaveâ€, the US government estimates that the cost of drug enforcement in 2004 was $11.7 billion â€“ and the cost to the US economy in 2000 estimated at a staggering $160 billion.
So, why not try the other method â€“ simply pay the farmers to stop growing opium.
The cost (US$1 billion) is miniscule â€“ not even a rounding error in government spending and would solve so many problems, and just think what $160 billion spent on â€œlegalâ€ items would do for the US economy.
I focus on US figures as they are the easiest to acquire â€“ the same would apply to all countries of course.
Politicians, please take note.