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Monday, September 26, 2005

Good Drug, Bad Drug

It was at a party where an angry anti-war type confronted me about the drug trade in Afghanistan that I discovered a really great idea: make the Afghan drug trade into something legal and positive for the country. Instead of funding a drug war that would be, probably, about as successful as our other drug wars, instead of throwing money at a fight that would target the only reliable economic driver in a country that desperately needed money and industry, we should legitimize that industry and use it to help re-build the country.

My version had tax credits as incentives for pharma companies to source their opiates through some as yet unnamed and uncreated Afghani bureau of Good Drug Development. I won’t pretend to be the first to have the idea, but it was new to me at the time. All this to say: I’m glad that someone else is working on toward the same goal.

The council, a Paris-based body of politicians, experts and academics, said the current policy of trying to eradicate the fields of poppies that yield opium, which makes up about half of Afghanistan’s income, was a costly failure.

The policy had little impact while demonising Afghan farmers and destroying “a valuable natural resource rather than turning it into a powerful driver for economic development,” the study said.

“The illegal heroin trade is the largest and fastest growing business sector in Afghanistan, accounting for a 2.7 billion US dollars’ profit a year,” it said.

But while it provided jobs for thousands of Afghans, it was only enriching a few while possibly feeding militant and terror networks that could be involved in the drugs industry, it said.

And as the illegal opium exports were untaxed, the public sector was deprived of income that could be used to build much-needed infrastructure.

However a “system of licenced opium production can form the basis for an open-minded and above all realistic debate on how to remove Afghanistan from its immediate development crisis and its imminent descent into a narco-state,” it said.

The council recommended the government fast-track the establishment of a national authority to licence opium producers and research an amnesty that would “integrate illegal actors into the opium licencing system”.

Aside from the economic benefit, it might also pull more people (and more powerful people) into the legitimate political system, reducing the violence and helping speed Afghanistan’s recovery.

Sounds like a damned fine idea to me.

Read the story.

Update: Kindly linked by John Hays.

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