Wednesday, January 17, 2007

previous entry | main | next entry | TrackBack (1)

Anne Applebaum kind of agrees with me

Back in November I argued for outright drug legalization, in part because of the benefits to U.S. foreign policy:

Because of current policies regarding narcotics, the United States is stymied in promoting the rule of law in Afghanistan and several Latin American countries because farmers in those countries keep harvesting products that American cunsumers demand. Because this activity is crminalized, the bulk of the revenues from this activity enriches criminal syndicates and terrorist networks. All for a supply-side policy that does nothing but act as a price support for producers.
In Slate, Anne Applebaum makes a more moderate argument with respect to Afghanistan:
[B]y far the most depressing aspect of the Afghan poppy crisis is the fact 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 U.S. 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 weak or nonexistent bureaucracy will be no better at licensing poppy fields than at destroying them, or that some of the raw material will still fall into the hands of the drug cartels. Yet some of these problems can be solved by building processing factories at the local level and working within local power structures. And even if the program only succeeds in stopping half the drug trade, then 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 of all, 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 further.

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 yet another "surge" of troops—but this time 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.

I still like my idea better -- but Applebaum does have the advantage of proposing something that seems politically possible in the current universe.

UPDATE: Ilya Somin weighs in.

posted by Dan on 01.17.07 at 10:57 AM


For more details, here is a report from last May on this subject.

A quick take -- the Turkish reform was undertaken as a result of US pressure, Turkish domestic pushback, and involvement of the UN in developing standards. It's actually a pretty good illustration of how a good policy can emerge from he stew of US demands, arab state nationalism, and international bureaucracies.

posted by: Appalled Moderate on 01.17.07 at 10:57 AM [permalink]

Have you ever been in a Turkish prison ?

posted by: Mitchell Young on 01.17.07 at 10:57 AM [permalink]

Interesting reference, but "Arab state nationalism"

What Arab state?

posted by: The Lounsbury on 01.17.07 at 10:57 AM [permalink]


Should have known somebody was going to catch me up on that. "Nationalism" would have sufficed. But it's hardly the most f'd up thing I have ever done.

posted by: Appalled Moderate on 01.17.07 at 10:57 AM [permalink]

I assume your title was a joke?

You argue for legalizing heroin. She argues for legalizing poppy growth for medicine. Therefore she kind of agrees with you?

Either a joke or absurd, I suppose.


posted by: Sk on 01.17.07 at 10:57 AM [permalink]

Once again it comes back to the anti-drug zealots believing their own bull-s##t. Theyve argued for so long that drug use is war-worthy its kinda hard to back down from the ledge and admit some poor sap shooting up heroin in an alley is less of a threat to Western Civilization than seeing the US chased out of Afghanistan and the nation sliding back under Taliban control.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 01.17.07 at 10:57 AM [permalink]

Demand reduction might be worth a shot - seize loads, poison them and then put them back into the supply stream. Then let market forces do the rest. It would sure queer the brand for those (for the time being) in a position to choose.

posted by: Jim on 01.17.07 at 10:57 AM [permalink]

Politically possible? How?

The Turkish opium eradication was a matter of bringing their 6-tonne 1971 heroin yield down to an illegal yield of 0, largely by cornering the legal heroin market for themselves. At the time Turkey only produced 7 per cent of the world's opium. Last year's Afghan yield was 610 tonnes, and this at a time when it's estimated only 450 tonnes are actually consumed worldwide annually. (It's amazing the market hasn't bottomed out, actually: Afghanistan is now producing more opium resin per year than the entire world put together could in 1999.) We're talking two orders of magnitude here.

There is no way more than 1% of current Afghan yields could find non-illegal applications. At most all you'd do if it did is hike the street price by about 1% and the system would equilibrate again.

posted by: BruceR on 01.17.07 at 10:57 AM [permalink]

A while ago I read an article which argued that an international program designed to make painkillers available to all people who need them would increase the demand for opium enough that all of Afghanistan's production could be devoted to legal uses, but I didn't check the numbers myself, and Afghan production may have increased considerably since then.

posted by: Kenneth Almquist on 01.17.07 at 10:57 AM [permalink]

Post a Comment:


Email Address:



Remember your info?