Sunday, December 02, 2007

The whack-a-mole war on some drugs

By Libby

Our US career prohibitionists have touted the success of their poppy eradication schemes in Afghanistan and in certain provinces, poppy production has indeed been all but eliminated. Afghanistan's dependence on the drug industry -- not so much. The impoverished farmers simply replaced poppies with pot.
Cannabis cultivation rose 40 percent in Afghanistan this year, to 173,000 acres from 123,550 in 2006, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime estimated in its 2007 opium survey. The crop is being grown in at least 18 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces, according to the survey released last month. [...]

The U.N. said cannabis yields around twice the quantity of drug per acre as opium poppies and requires less investment. The U.N. drug report estimated farmers growing cannabis could earn the same amount per acre as opium farmers.
An earlier report on this story notes Balkh province "now has one of the most bounteous cannabis crops in the country."
The plant is certainly not hard to find. It lines the main highways leading into Mazar-i-Sharif, the provincial capital, and is visible to passing drivers. The crop's chief byproduct, hashish, is sold openly at many roadside fruit and grocery stands, particularly around Balkh, the ancient citadel town about 24 kilometers, or 15 miles, west of Mazar-i-Sharif.
Afghani authorities concede they don't have a strategy to displace the crop and one assumes it won't be easy to form one considering the historical place the plant has in the local society.
Farmers in this region have cultivated cannabis for more than 70 years and, by the estimates of several Balkh residents, at least half the adult male population smokes hashish. Resinous, pungent and black, the hashish is sold in thin, palm-size sheets that resemble large tire patches and sell for about a dollar each. Hashish from this area - called Shirak-i-Mazar, or Milk of Mazar - was once prized by smokers around the world, though its primacy has since been supplanted by varieties from other countries.
I remember that hash well myself. There was a time in the 60s where it was easier to get than Mexican marijuana. Loved the stuff... But I digress. Unlike the slash and burn mentality of US prohibs, the Aghani officials are taking a more humane position on eradication.
Farmers have begun to harvest their current crop, and officials say they do not want to destroy the farmers' livelihood without giving them time to plant an alternative.
The leadership in Kabul recognizes that people have to eat and their poor farmers are left with no viable alternatives since neither the US, nor the greater international community, has stepped forward to offer assistance in developing markets for licit agricultural products or other legal sources of income.

Steven Taylor sums up the folly perfectly.
This one of those utterly classic stories that makes you wonder if one should laugh because it demonstrates the foibles of our drug war policies as well as the clear economic forces that we are trying to combat, or cry because if one knows that no effective lessons are likely to be learned by the drug warriors from the case.
I'm reduced to what my friend Jules calls mad laughter, myself.

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