Pubdate: Thu, 20 Sep 2007
Source: Georgia Straight, The (CN BC)
Copyright: 2007 The Georgia Straight
Author: Travis Lupick
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: (Heroin)


Edward McCormick was meeting with an associate in Kandahar when a
suicide bomber blew himself up just blocks away. The explosion was
deafening and sent a strong wave of heat over the surrounding area.

As the crowded Afghan street was engulfed in panic, McCormick said his
initial reaction was not fear but grief. "I was not concerned and
wasn't thinking about myself," he told the Georgia Straight . "It was
a feeling of sadness and emptiness at that sudden loss of life."

McCormick once worked as a paramedic in Vancouver. He now spends much
of his time abroad as the Afghanistan country director for the Senlis
Council, a Canada-based think tank that focuses on drug policy.
McCormick's brush with terrorism came in the summer of 2007. "We had
suicide bombings there every day, and sometimes more than one," he
said. "It's a very violent, sudden loss of life. It's truly sickening."

According to an August 2007 United Nations report, opium cultivation
for heroin is funding the insurgency in Afghanistan and has "soared to
frightening record levels" this year. The report stated that the total
opium harvest for Afghanistan has grown by a third since 2006 and that
overall cultivation levels are at an all-time high for the second year
in a row.

A poppy-for-medicine program would pay village collectives for
morphine tablets made from cultivated opium poppies, McCormick
explained. The Afghan government would license villages, where
factories could then be built to produce morphine of an international
pharmaceutical grade. "Eighty-two percent of the world's countries who
can't afford morphine could start to buy it," he added.

The U.S. State Department's recently revised "Counternarcotics
Strategy for Afghanistan" characterized the legal purchase of Afghan
opium crops as an "impossibility". It argued that a buyout strategy
would encourage more Afghans to grow opium poppies while failing to
provide the infrastructure required to manufacture and distribute
legal opium products.

Michael Byers, academic director for UBC's Liu Institute for Global
Issues, argued that the first challenge a poppy-for-medicine program
would encounter would be the "hard-line eradication approach" favoured
by the U.S., which focuses on crop eradication.

"The current U.S. government would be very opposed to any NATO country
participating in what would essentially be the legalized production of
poppies in Afghanistan," Byers told the Straight .

Alex Morrison, president for the Canadian Institute for Strategic
Studies, questioned the feasibility of a poppy-for-medicine program.
He argued that security would be the biggest challenge for those who
chose to sever ties with Afghan's warlords. "Do you know what is going
to happen to the farmer the next day?" he asked. "The farmer is going
to be dead, because the warlords will not accept being frozen out."

In Morrison's opinion, security would have to come before any
incentive for farmers to leave the drug trade. "It's not as easy as
poppies for medicine," he said. "As long as you've got the
organized-crime syndicates or loose organizations of warlords
controlling the drug trade, it's not going to get any better."

McCormick was confident that the political will could be mustered and
the security challenges could be met. "There is another planting
season going to happen in October," he said. "It is an ideal time to
send an important, very clear message to the people of Afghanistan:
that the international community is here to help."
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