British Prime Minister Tony Blair is considering a move to legalise the poppy plant and take a bite out of Afghanistan’s growing export. According to The Independent the move is seen largely as a U-turn, where current policy with the US has the two countries trying to eradicate the poppy fields in Afghanistan, which have grown from 8,000 to 165,000 hectacres since the Taliban’s demise.
The Prime Minister has ordered a review of his counter-narcotics strategy – including the possibility of legalising some poppy production – after an extraordinary meeting with a Tory MP on Wednesday, The Independent on Sunday has learnt. Tobias Ellwood, a backbencher elected less than two years ago, has apparently succeeded where ministers and officials have failed in leading Mr Blair to consider a hugely significant switch in policy.
Supporters of the measure say it would not only curb an illegal drugs trade which supplies 80 per cent of the heroin on Britain’s streets, but would hit the Taliban insurgency and help save the lives of British troops. Much of the legally produced drug could be used to alleviate a shortage of opiates for medicinal use in Britain and beyond, they say.
A Downing Street spokesman confirmed last night that Mr Blair is now considering whether to back a pilot project that would allow some farmers to produce and sell their crops legally to drugs companies. His change of heart has surprised the Foreign Office, which recently denied that licit poppy production was being considered. A freedom of information request has revealed that the Government looked carefully at proposals to buy up Afghanistan’s poppy crop as early as 2000, under the Taliban. The removal of that regime – justified to both US and British voters partly in terms of a victory in the “war on drugs” – has made it politically difficult to financially reward poppy farmers.
But the links between drug warlords, terrorism and the Taliban are clear. Traffickers hold poor farmers in a form of bondage through the supply of credit, paid back in opium. Many of those fighting British troops during the winter months will return to their villages to harvest poppy crops in the spring and summer. The traffickers’ huge profits help to fund the fight against Nato troops.
Opponents of the proposal to buy up crops or license growers claim that it could simply drive up the price of opium, making it yet more attractive to farmers. The US State Department doubts that the Afghan government can be trusted to keep legally produced narcotics separate from the illegal product. While Turkey diverted production successfully from the black market to legitimate medicinal supplies, Afghanistan, it says, has neither the infrastructure nor the security to make legal poppy production economically viable or safe.
It’s an interesting policy shift. Clearly the “War on Drugs” has been a bust. Just billions and billions of dollars down the drain. Which is to say that governments shouldn’t give up that fight they just need to try different strategies. I’ve always thought that governments should profit off of drugs and just go into the business, use some of the profits for clinics and some of the profits for education and some of the profits for public schools. There’s lots of money to be made.
Though I’m guessing the street gangs and criminal organizations would see it as going to war with them, since that’s their business. I hope Blair has the balls to see this policy through and I hope that it works or at least leads to fresher ideas when it comes to dealing with drugs.