Tokers Are Terrorists Now
This is the age of bureaucratic free-association. The president stretches on a couch, his minions say "terrorism," prompting him to conjure from the recesses of his mind various loose connections to regions of the economy and to life in general, while suggesting a legislative "remedy." "Terrorism," blurts one Dr. Freud, "bailouts and handouts to business," groans Mr. Bush. "Come on, get creative or must I get out the Rorschach test," warns another excavator … "You know how you hate the scary inkblots." "OK, OK … how about we go after low-tax jurisdictions? Or, I'll unleash DEA agents on infirm medicinal marijuana users." "I know," shouts the president, "anyone, but anyone who takes drugs is complicit in supporting terrorism."
While free associating, the president should come clean and tell Americans how, with prohibition, government subsidizes terrorism and assorted organized crime the world over. The truth is that terrorists owe a debt of gratitude to governments for the solid financial base they enjoy.
The drug trade is indeed firmly linked to terrorism – the avails from the trade finance roughly 25 percent of the world's terrorist activity. But here's the rub: Prohibition of drugs, which is the doing of governments, is directly responsible for the excessive profits the drug trade yields. Had governments not outlawed these substances, profits would not be excessive and terrorists and organized crime would be forced to look elsewhere for a quick fix. The avails from drugs, moreover, would be much less likely to be funneled to unsavory causes if the trade were in the hands of legitimate, law-abiding businesses.
Ask any poverty-stricken Afghan farmer, and he will tell you that the production costs of common drugs are low. These chemicals are derived from hardy plants. A poppy is not an orchid. Neither is cannabis a particularly fragile plant. As with other illegal commodities, the price is pushed up by the high costs of circumventing government law, as well as by the reduced supply brought on by prohibition. The price of pure heroin for medicinal purposes is a fraction of its street price. The difference amounts to a state-subsidy for organized crime, al-Qaida included.
Since American prohibition piety is incorporated into practically every U.S. international treaty, and since the U.S.'s jurisdiction now comfortably extends into Afghanistan – we can expect the crops of pretty Afghan poppies to be savaged by drug warriors. That intractable 1988 U.N. Drug Convention will be invoked and, like transcontinental locusts, the drug warlords from the International Narcotics Control Board will be visited on Afghanistan.
Now that the poppy fields have been wrested from Taliban control, will the new Afghan government, prodded by U.S. and U.N. prohibition policies, alight on Afghan citizens and punish these long-suffering people for the substances they ought to be able to – at their own peril – ingest, inhale, inject or trade? An Americanization of the drug dilemma in the region will mean that an already brutalized people will endure more suffering.
Allah's will notwithstanding, the Mad Mullahs had refrained from tampering with the flower that fed them, issuing no more than token bans on poppy cultivation, even allowing narcotics refining to continue unabated. The Taliban's hands-off approach flowed from the importance of the drug trade to the financing of their despotic exploits. In their precincts, the Northern Alliance also took no strident action against cultivation and trafficking.
Curbing demand is a much-touted but ineffective strategy in the prohibitionist's arsenal. Afghanistan's area under poppy cultivation has more than quadrupled since 1990. Someone is buying. Demand reducing initiatives in the West have met with a dismal failure, creating nothing but a giant forbidden-fruit syndrome. The urge to experiment with psychoactive drugs has and will always be with us. It is this enduring demand, coupled with exorbitant profits – brought about courtesy of outlawry – that has ensured the poppy's displacement of wheat production in Afghanistan. A free market in drugs will bring prices down drastically, and soon farmers will turn to other crops, thus ameliorating the severe food shortages.
Afghanistan is the narcotics artery of the world – it cultivates 72 percent of the opium now circulating the illegal market and a good share of cannabis. Any attempts here to drastically reduce supply will reverberate the world over, resulting in rising opium prices. Not only will supply reduction be a boon for traffickers sitting on large stockpiles, but it will ensure that the scarcity-induced potential profit brings a renewed influx of dealers into the trade. In the war on drugs, success is failure. Legalization will make prices plummet, inclining fewer pushers to enter the trade. It needn't result in rampant addiction. There is no indication that, prior to prohibition, people flocked to the opium dens in proportionally greater numbers than contemporary addicts flock to the crack houses. Despite the addiction industry's self-serving, hysterical chemical McCarthyism, all indications are that addiction levels reach a plateau in the population.
People are not entirely determined by their environments or by their biological hardwiring. Being a vice – not a disease like cancer or diabetes – there are no biological markers that distinguish the addict from the moderate user or the non-user. Any science that claims this for itself is shabby, if not plain fraudulent. Addiction, moreover, cannot be understood as a mere byproduct of environmental exigencies. Drugs are readily available in schools, colleges – practically everywhere – yet most people do not descend into the addiction abyss.
Try as the egalitarians do to whittle down the differences between people to simple schedules of environmental reinforcement, or to biology, they invariably fail. Not being laboratory rats, human behavior is mediated by – and cannot be explained without reference to – values, conscious choices, and probity of character or lack thereof. Drug taking – like most things – involves elements of choice. Exercising choice is what the people of Afghanistan need.
Freedom and choice – not prohibition, incarcerations and coerced treatment – are the best salve for a people that has been infantalized and brutalized for too long. In a country with a poor infrastructure, the "relatively stable value of opium and its nonperishability means that it can also serve as an important source of savings and investment among traders and cultivators."
Contrary to an October report from the U.S. State Department, it is not strictly true that drug production in, and trafficking from, Afghanistan is responsible for "increased levels of terrorism and drug-related violence in neighboring countries," and for corrupting local authorities – prohibition is.
Here's the correct sequence: First comes government which declares arbitrarily that heroin consumption is potentially worse for individual and society than compulsive eating, bungee jumping, gambling, alcohol consumption, fatty foods or tobacco. It then proceeds to terrorize peaceable people for their choice of consumption, leaving it up to gangsters, whose market share is captured with guns, to satisfy demand.
Prohibition is the chicken; crime, violence and terrorism are the eggs.
Bring the rule of law to Afghanistan, but let the people grow poppies.
©2001 By Ilana Mercer
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