The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has reported that the Afghan poppy crop this year will be the largest on record. Afghanistan produces roughly 90 percent of the worlds’ opium.
Some Science Content, so hang on: Opiates are the chemical things that give pain killers their ability to kill pain, to behave as an analgesic. Morphine is a highly refined opiate. Codeine is another one. They are naturally occurring chemical compounds that have been used in medicines for a zillion years. For that matter, street heroin is also an opiate and comes from exactly the same source: Papaver Somniferum, which the ancient Sumerian civilization called Hul Gil, the "Flower of Joy"
By cutting tiny slits in the seed bud, the plant oozes raw opium-laced plant milk to heal the cuts. This is scraped off a few days later and wadded up in a ball of goo that eventually becomes opium, or black tar, or smack, or the components of legitimate pharmaceutical medicine.
Afghanistan, Turkey, India, Pakistan, Thailand, Laos, Viet Nam and a few other countries in the area produce almost all the World’s source material for Morphine.
Medical opiates, like Morphine are very important chemicals. Ask anyone who has had their wisdom teeth out, or knee surgery, or been injured in wars, calamities, or simple bad luck. There is nothing that kills pain faster, better and with less problems than Morphine. It is a wonder drug of the first order, naturally occurring and with known, studied, documented side effects.
Afghanistan is the biggest producer of opiates for heroin. The entire agricultural economy and most of the urban economy is set up to produce, refine, distribute and export heroin. Totally illegal, yes and the source of the vast majority of the revenue of the whole country.
The SENLIS Council, an international think-tank, has a very simple concept on their plate right now. Rather than trying to eradicate the poppy crop and all the economic and security structures in Afghanistan that are opiate-based, why not redirect the money and power into producing opiates for medicine.
This makes sense. Afghani politics are utterly tied to opiate production. Poppies are the only way peasants can earn enough money to keep from starving to death. Poppies are the only way peasants can get some semblance of security, as the buyers offer armed, skilled and thorough protection for the growers, as part of their agreeing to buy the output of the poppy fields.
International politics do not have any relevance to a farmer up the hills of various provinces of Afghanistan. For that matter having running water and electricity are considered wild extravagances that only Kings and Queens can ever aspire to having. Conventional jobs, like you and I have, are only available in the cities, which are so far away as to be on another planet. Poppy production, they understand.
Now lay a fine mist of International Military Intervention over the top of it all. The United States wants to defoliate the poppy crop for a couple of reasons. The first is "Drugs Are Bad" No debate there, that those who abuse heroin have serious problems beyond being addicts. Like stealing anything nailed down to support their habit, crime, smuggling, international money laundering, gang violence and the rest of the social impact of illegal drugs. "Drugs Bad" I can buy into.
However, the "War on Drugs" begun back in Ronnie Regan’s day has never worked. Despite spending millions of dollars and exercising all kinds of moral and political pressure on various governments, the "War on Drugs" has been an abject failure.
The second reason to defoliate is more basic: Someone has to make the defoliant and hire the planes to spray it, then hire the consultants to verify that it has been done. Naturally, one must never trust local wisdom, so the US Government would have to hire private contractors to do it at exorbitant rates on a cost-plus open-ended contract basis. Blackwater comes to mind. Haliburton, KBR, or any other of the crony companies associated with the Republicans and President JoJo The Idiot Boy are more than willing to attach themselves to that kind of money tit and suck until their cheeks collapse.
There are a couple of other reasons the US wants to defoliate most of Afghanistan that are more political. The Taliban (who were the Good Guys when they fought the Soviets, but are now the Bad Guys because they want a piece of oil revenues) are known to be funded by narcotics revenue. The Taliban are not renown for playing nice with the US, or going after various "War on Terror" folks like Osama Bin Laden.
The Bought And Paid For Unocal and US Friendly Afghani Federal Government fronted by Hamid Karzi is having hassles galore with the Taliban. The thought is to cut off the Taliban funding via opium by obliterating the vegetation on most of the country.
There is no consideration that the next five generations of Afghan infants will be born with three heads and seventeen legs from being exposed to defoliants. Or that most of the country, without vegetation will actually blow away and a couple of million subsistence farmers and their families will starve to death. That’s just the price you pay for winning the War on Terror and defeating the Evildoers of the Axis of Evil Axis of Evildoers.
Besides, nobody who is a friend of JoJo The Idiot Boy is making any money off the Afghan Poppy crop.
Here’s the nub of the radical idea. Buy as much opium as you can afford from Afghani farmers. Pay the going price and rather than have it smuggled into New York City for addicts to shoot into their arms, ship it to pharmaceutical companies for use as feedstock for medical uses. We need the opiates, and Afghanistan grows it. Afghanistan has the infrastructure and expertise to grow, process and distribute the goods. Pharmaceutical companies need it.
What it comes down to is circumventing the illegal supply chain with a legal supply chain. Farmers back up in the hills of Kabul can still make a living doing what they know how to do. The various middlemen can make their cut of the action doing the basic refining and packaging. The smugglers would be out of business, but that’s ok. Junkies in NYC would be faced with a shortage of heroin, as the program makes it more lucrative for the supply chain to stay legal, supplying for pharmaceutical uses.
By the way, the cynic in me says that if we’re going to have wars, we’re going to have wounded and maimed people on either side of the ocean who will need morphine to recover from the horrendous wounds of war. We might even actually need the expanded supplies of morphine for legitimate medical uses.
Which brings us back to the SENLILS council recommendations. Their idea is Poppies for Medicine. There is a precedent for this. US Pharmaceutical companies are required, by law, to source 80% of their opiates from Turkey and India. This regulation was put in place 35 years ago to help eradicate the illegal opium industry in Turkey and India and it has worked fine. (I bet you didn’t know that the source of the codeine in your painkillers or cough syrup was Turkey or India. I didn’t either.)
About all the SENLIS council wants to do is to add one word to the existing law. Add the word "Afghanistan" to the paragraph that identifies Turkey and India as the source of legal opiates for pharmaceutical uses. The rest of the infrastrucutre, except for the smuggling, would be used intact and eventually weaned off the gun-wielding nacortics warlords. Just like they did in Turkey and India.
This makes so much common sense that it is immediately suspect.
Notice too, that nowhere have I said legalize heroin, or make smack the next drug of choice among the next crop of Congresspersons. I think that’s a bad idea all around.
There will always be a market for heroin, just as there will always be a market for booze, cigarettes, sex, gambling and Linux, regardless of how legal or illegal we make it. The trick, the really clever trick, is to make it financially worthwile for Afghanistan to convert over to legal opium production.
This would merely require the application of money, to keep an entire population out of the clutches of radicalized groups. Folks who are making a reasonable living and who have enough to eat tend not to get involved in suicide bombing, protesting everything and blowing up the foreign invaders with improvised explosive devices. This is good for Afghanistan and is good for soldiers, like the Canadians who are over there. It’s even good for those injured in various ways as they would have access to modestly priced effective opiate based medicines to ease the pain of their injuries.
You could even argue it would be good for oil companies, as a vaguely content population, not engaged in active warfare, would not get involved in the politics of oil companies cutting deals with the government.
The only folks not impressed with the concept of Poppies for Medicine are the ones who look at defoliation on a country wide scale as financially important for their wellbeing. Big Pharma is a little jittery about it too, as Poppies for Medicine touches their supply chain in a small way: They’ll have to get by with only making 2,000% markups, instead of 3,000% markups.