What if Afghanistan Legalized Opium?

Reza Azlan, writing at The Daily Beast, posits that legalizing opium could save Afghanistan:

America's drug war in Afghanistan has been a miserable failure. So why not legalize opium production and let Afghanistan become the Saudi Arabia of morphine?

He makes some good points. Among them:

It is time to admit that the struggle to end poppy cultivation in Afghanistan is a losing battle. The fact is that opium has long been Afghanistan’s sole successful export. Poppy seeds cost little to buy, can grow pretty much anywhere, and offer a huge return on a farmer’s investment. Only the Taliban has ever managed to significantly reduce opium production in the country (as it did during its late-1990s rule)—a feat managed by executing anyone caught growing poppies. It is no exaggeration to say that we have a better chance of defeating the Taliban than putting a dent in Afghanistan’s opium trade. So then, as the saying goes: if you can’t beat them, join them.

It won't happen, of course. Instead, Congress will redouble its efforts to pass "narco-terror" laws which will end up being used here at home against people who wouldn't know a terrorist if they found one in their soup. (Another example of a failed bill that could make a comeback here.)

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    in my job, we always say, (5.00 / 1) (#17)
    by cpinva on Sat Dec 20, 2008 at 12:45:46 PM EST
    follow the money

    "who benefited from this act?"

    the idea of just buying the whole crop makes perfectly good sense; cheaper than the cost of attempting to eradicate it. of course, you could also agree to pay the farmers the going rate for poppies, regardless of what crop they were growing, asparagus maybe. damn, i love asparagus!

    of course, there is still the problem of the "warlords" (or, as i like to call them, organized crime leaders), who would still be taking (by selling "protection") the bulk of the revenue.

    the bottom line, the warlords need to be purged first.

    Too sensible and it would work. (none / 0) (#1)
    by oldpro on Sat Dec 20, 2008 at 01:59:19 AM EST
    That's why it won't happen.

    Last time I checked (none / 0) (#2)
    by Fabian on Sat Dec 20, 2008 at 04:53:35 AM EST
    There were no farmer owned cooperatives that collected, transported and sold the poppy product.  That's what the local warlords do.  Who profits the most?  The warlords.  Legalizing the poppy will probably do little if anything to change that system.  

    It's essentially an export agriculture which exploits the many for the benefit of the few.  There are many examples of export agriculture which do the same thing.  Unless all the local warlords start building roads and schools, it's unlikely legalizing poppy growing will change much.

    If this is true, then why (none / 0) (#9)
    by befuddledvoter on Sat Dec 20, 2008 at 08:57:00 AM EST
    can't we just introduce a crop, easy to grow, and agree to buy directly from the farmers, bypassing the warlords completely?  There has to be something we could use and they could grow.  

    I find this topic so depressing that this country would think all they are good for is growing poppy for opium trade.  


    What crop.... (none / 0) (#11)
    by kdog on Sat Dec 20, 2008 at 10:11:29 AM EST
    could possibly fetch as much cash on the market as poppy?

    Besides, they've tried similar things in Colombia to get farmers to switch to coffee from coca...a farmer would have to be nuts to take that deal...whats a pound of coffee go for as opposed to a pound of cocaine?  It's simple economics...a farmer is gonna grow whatever fetches the most cash.  

    Heroin/Opium addiction isn't a big problem in Afghanistan, as far as I know, its a problem in the West, and should be dealt with in the West.  Let them make their living the best way they know how...its not right to disrupt their poppy-based economy just because Westerners like to get high and get hooked.  That's the tyrannical Taliban way.

    If you wanna see a decrease in poppy production, and achieve it humanely and justly, I think there is only one way...reduce the demand for opium and heroin in the West.  Good luck, cuz thats a tall order.  


    Pomegranates (5.00 / 1) (#18)
    by Alien Abductee on Sat Dec 20, 2008 at 02:42:12 PM EST
    are actually more lucrative per acre when exported than poppy and are a traditional Afghan crop. The problem has been developing them as an export crop that can compete with the existing distribution network for opium. See here and here.

    no-reduce the price (none / 0) (#19)
    by diogenes on Sat Dec 20, 2008 at 04:08:25 PM EST
    All you have to do is legalize drugs in the West and prices would come tumbling down.  Next, the narcodemocracies and narcodictators would tumble down.

    fabian is correct. (none / 0) (#3)
    by cpinva on Sat Dec 20, 2008 at 06:30:22 AM EST
    opium poppies are afghanistan's "blood diamonds", which is one big reason the warlords were so happy to join with us in kicking the taliban out, they were bad for business.

    it's also why they now want us gone, we're bad for business too, and we don't summarily execute anyone.

    conceivably (but i'm doubtful), were opium poppies to be made legal, the farmers might rise up in opposition to the warlords, so that they (the farmers) would be the ones to actually benefit from their labors in the fields. as i said up front, i doubt it.

    Ain't gonna happen.. (none / 0) (#4)
    by lentinel on Sat Dec 20, 2008 at 06:38:32 AM EST
    As you said, the U.S. is already gearing up for a whopping surge of American troops in Afghanistan. They will be lookin' for terrists, but Obama has also talked about going after poppy growers.

    Poppies in Afghanistan.
    Marijuana in the U.S of A.

    The war on plants and flowers.
    Time well spent.

    What do you suppose is the real agenda for the U.S. in continuing this Bush crusade into the indefinite future?

    Cannabis was also a major industry (none / 0) (#5)
    by Ben Masel on Sat Dec 20, 2008 at 07:38:47 AM EST
    under the monarchy. I don't know why it hasn't made a revival along with poppy.

    Since most of the opium (none / 0) (#6)
    by Wile ECoyote on Sat Dec 20, 2008 at 07:49:02 AM EST
    goes to Europe, Maybe Reza Azlan should run it by them first.

    Then where does our opium come from? (none / 0) (#7)
    by Militarytracy on Sat Dec 20, 2008 at 07:52:32 AM EST
    Read (none / 0) (#13)
    by Wile ECoyote on Sat Dec 20, 2008 at 10:47:54 AM EST
    They'd also build up their... (none / 0) (#8)
    by EL seattle on Sat Dec 20, 2008 at 07:53:26 AM EST
    ... tourist trade if they legalized opium production, I'd think.  

    But why stop there?

    And if they legalized child prostitution and blood sports like dogfighting, the tourism would skyrocket!  Not to mention satellite and internet broadcast revenues.

    (I wonder how the word "Videodrome" would translate into Pashto?)

    Child prostitution and blood sports... (none / 0) (#12)
    by kdog on Sat Dec 20, 2008 at 10:14:46 AM EST
    have victims, a far cry from people making the choice to poison themselves for a buzz.

    I believe in the inalienable right to hurt yourself, but not others.


    and if you let those gays marry... (2.00 / 1) (#15)
    by Dadler on Sat Dec 20, 2008 at 11:44:39 AM EST
    ...the next thing you know some imprisoned heroin dealer is gonna be able to marry his dog and have conjugal visits on the taxpayer's dime.

    never has a country been so blessed and so dumb.


    Link to crops grown in Afghanistan by region (none / 0) (#10)
    by befuddledvoter on Sat Dec 20, 2008 at 09:03:51 AM EST
    with a link in bottom of page to charts:


    I have also read an article from 2004 that next to poppy, the most lucrative trade is in human organs and children.  Good Lord!

    Id drugs were (none / 0) (#16)
    by JamesTX on Sat Dec 20, 2008 at 11:57:26 AM EST
    legal, a "dime bag" wouldn't be worth a dime! Who would lose if this were the case? Like all good detectives say, the most useful question to ask when trying to solve a crime is, "who benefited from this act?"

    Look upthread at #13 (none / 0) (#20)
    by MoveThatBus on Sat Dec 20, 2008 at 10:46:21 PM EST
    for a list of the countries that grow the MOST.  Your plan would be only a first step, but the idea of legalizing and dramatically reducing the price seems logical enough.