Pubdate: Tue, 01 May 2007
Source: Foreign Policy (US)
Section: May/Jun 2007 Issue
Copyright: 2007 Foreign Policy
Author: Christopher Hitchens
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


Want to defeat the pushers and drug kingpins? Then let's buy what 
they're selling.

The largest single change for the better in U.S. foreign policy, and 
one that could be accomplished simply by an act of political will, 
would be the abandonment of the so-called War on Drugs. This last 
relic of the Nixon era has long been a laughingstock within the 
borders of the United States itself (where narcotics are freely 
available to anybody who wants them and where the only guarantee is 
that all the money goes straight into criminal hands). But the same 
diminishing returns are now having a deplorable effect on America's 
international efforts.

Consider the case of Afghanistan. Thirty years ago, it was a 
vine-growing country, renowned for its raisins. It is now so 
deforested that a farmer planting a vine would be an optimist, while 
a farmer growing poppies is assured of at least some income. We burn 
and destroy what is in effect the Afghans' only crop, while suffering 
from a shortage of analgesics in the United States. The beneficiaries 
of this policy are the Taliban. Why not instead buy the Afghan crop, 
use it to manufacture painkillers, and burn or throw away the rest 
(if you insist) while simultaneously offering incentives and aid to 
vine growers? We already pay the Turks to grow medical opium; they 
don't need the money. The revenue that now goes to drug lords and 
terrorists could be applied straight to Afghanistan's reconstruction, 
while weakening those who benefit from an artificially created 
monopoly. This might be termed "win-win." And this is to speak only 
of opiates. The usefulness of marijuana in combating glaucoma and in 
helping to ease the pain of chemotherapy is now well attested.

Decriminalization of drugs could also mean fewer lethal impurities 
(the result of gangsters "cutting" the stuff) and a decline in the 
glamour associated with prohibition. The opportunities for the 
corruption of officialdom, both overseas and in the United States, 
would decline also, as would the deadly turf wars that inflate the 
crime rate. One does not have to be an apostle of Milton Friedman's 
to realize that any attempt to prohibit a commodity with such huge 
demand and ease of supply is doomed. It has no place in the policy of 
a great nation.