Opium Production

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Colombia "good model" for Afghan drug war, US says

Location: 
Afghanistan
Publication/Source: 
Reuters
URL: 
http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/N19329346.htm

The West Should Buy Afghanistan's Opium Crop

Location: 
Afghanistan
Publication/Source: 
The Sunday Herald (UK)
URL: 
http://www.theherald.co.uk/features/features/display.var.1122177.0.0.php

Debate Over Afghan Opium Medicalization Coming to Washington

The pressure to medicalize poppy cultivation in Afghanistan won't go away. The idea continues to find new proponents because it sounds considerably less absurd than asking Afghan families to give up on feeding themselves.

From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

After a year of escalating Afghan heroin production, calls are mounting for a shift in U.S. policy aimed at turning Afghanistan's poppy into an economic asset by using it to produce medicinal painkillers.

Backers of the proposal include several leading scientists and economists, as well as some in Congress.


"You can't just cut off the poppies because that's the livelihood of the people who live there," [Rep. Russ] Carnahan said Thursday. "But providing them with alternative legal markets for pain-relief medication is a way to help cut back on that heroin supply."

Congratulations, Russ Carnahan! You solved the riddle. Extra points if you can dumb this down enough to explain it to the drug policy experts at the State Department.

Tom Schweich, a senior State Department official who is spearheading U.S. efforts to curb Afghan narcotics, said he welcomed "creative ideas" but found this one to be unrealistic.

He said Afghan farmers wouldn't have enough economic incentive to turn away from illegal poppy cultivation. He added that Afghanistan lacks the required business infrastructure for processing, manufacturing and distribution, and that the oversight needed to prevent illicit drug trafficking would be near impossible.

Ok, we're listening. Yes, it's complicated situation. So what do you propose?

"You really need to keep it illegal and eradicate it," Schweich said.

Darn, he blew it. For a second there I thought he understood something.

Schweich rattles off a list of reasons why eradication won't work and then, like some sort of involuntary reflex, spontaneously proposes eradication. He sees all the reasons eradication won't work, but he cites them as arguments against Carnahan's plan rather than his own. Such rank incompetence might be funny if the fate of a nation weren't hanging in the balance.

Location: 
United States

Feature: Afghan Opium Dilemma Sparks New Calls for Alternative Development, "Normalizing" the Poppy Crop

With Afghanistan's opium crop reaching record levels last year and seemingly destined for a repeat performance this year, lawmakers and officials on both sides of the Atlantic are looking for innovative solutions. Or at least some of them are. Seemingly bereft of new ideas, the US government's official line is that the solution is eradicating as much of the crop as possible with herbicides, as drug czar John Walters announced in Kabul two weeks ago.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/poppy2.jpg
incised papaver specimens (opium poppies)
While the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai has endorsed the notion -- though not yet put it into effect -- it has done so reluctantly, knowing that eradication will infuriate the hundreds of thousands of poor farmers who depend on the poppy harvest to feed their families. As the Karzai government knows full well, angry poppy farmers mean bad times for the government and good times for the resurgent Taliban, which awaits the aggrieved growers with open arms.

But while the US government and a grudging Afghan government are embracing standard drug war tactics, the situation in Afghanistan has created the political space for the consideration of other solutions. Some, such as alternative development proposals, are almost as shop-worn a response as eradication, while others, including various schemes to legitimize the poppy crop, represent a break with the global prohibitionist consensus.

Alternative development -- the substitution of other cash crops for opium poppies and the creation of new economic activities -- is the preferred solution of a number of scholars and non-governmental organizations, as well as the international community as represented by the United Nations and the World Bank. In a highly detailed report on the Afghan opium economy released at the end of November, the World Bank called for a "smart" counter-narcotics strategy featuring both alternative development and law enforcement action against the trade, but even as it did so, it underscored that alternative development would be a long-term -- not a short-term -- solution.

"A 'smart' counter-narcotics strategy will be essential for the effectiveness and sustainability of the fight against drugs," the report noted. "The diversity, flexibility, and dynamic character of the drug industry have been amply demonstrated in recent years. It must be recognized that counter-narcotics efforts -- whether enforcement actions or development of alternative livelihoods -- inevitably cannot be anywhere nearly as nimble or quick as the activities they are targeted against, and they inevitably take time, measured in decades rather than years in the case of alternative livelihoods programs."

But evidence of a "smart" counter-narcotics strategy being implemented is severely lacking. As Afghanistan scholar Barnett Rubin noted in a recent article in Foreign Affairs, the US government failed to consolidate gains it made with a small reduction in the area cultivated in 2005. "Although the decrease was due almost entirely to the political persuasion of farmers by the government, the United States failed to deliver the alternative livelihoods the farmers expected and continued to pressure the Afghan government to engage in counterproductive crop eradication," Rubin wrote. "The Taliban exploited the eradication policy to gain the support of poppy growers."

The problem of support for alternative development is not limited to isolated opium growing communities, as Barnett noted. "As numerous studies have documented over the years, Afghanistan has not received the resources needed to stabilize it. International military commanders, who confront the results of this poverty every day, estimate that Washington must double the resources it devotes to Afghanistan. Major needs include accelerated road building, the purchase of diesel for immediate power production, the expansion of cross-border electricity purchases, investment in water projects to improve the productivity of agriculture, the development of infrastructure for mineral exploitation, and a massive program of skill building for the public and private sectors."

And that is the Catch-22 of eliminating the poppy crop through alternative development. While the lack of roads, electric power, and other infrastructure for development make it difficult to get off the ground, let alone sustain alternative development, the opium economy, with its hostility toward interference from the central government and the West and its de facto alliance with insurgents and freelance gun men, makes the creation of such crucial developmental infrastructure almost impossible. In fact, in the face of a revitalized Taliban, some of the non-governmental organizations working on alternative development have fled the opium growing regions.

Rubin is harshly critical of US counter-narcotics policy in Afghanistan, noting that the US at first ignored trafficking by warlords it wanted as allies, then, as the uproar over increasing opium production grew louder, called for crop eradication. "To Afghans," he wrote, "this policy has looked like a way of rewarding rich drug dealers while punishing poor farmers."

After noting that the current global prohibition regime does not reduce drug use, but does produce huge profits for criminals, armed insurrectionists, and corrupt government officials, Rubin recommends treating the opium problem as a security and development issue. But then we are back to Catch-22. Still, he makes certain concrete recommendations: "[R]ural development in both poppy-growing and non-poppy-growing areas, including the construction of roads and cold-storage facilities to make other products marketable; employment creation through the development of new rural industries; and reform of the Ministry of the Interior and other government bodies to root out major figures involved with narcotics, regardless of political or family connections."

But the continuing expansion of the Afghan opium economy, combined with the reemergence of the Taliban and its Al Qaeda allies and the need for US and NATO soldiers to fight and die to try to stop them, has led to increasing calls for an approach that transcends both repression and alternative development. Most recently, in the past few days, a US congressman and British Member of Parliament (MP) have called separately for diverting the poppy crop into the legitimate medicinal market for opioid pain relievers.

The European defense and drug policy think tank Senlis Council was first out of the gate with that notion, unveiling a comprehensive proposal to do just that. But that proposal has so far gained little traction, garnering the support of only a handful of Western politicians. Still, rising fears in the West that attempts to eradicate the crop will lead to increased political instability and violence by driving Afghan farmers into the waiting arms of the Taliban appear to be leading to a new receptivity to the notion -- or something similar.

Here in the US, Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-MO) said last week that he would use his newly acquired seat on the House International Relations Committee to raise the issue this month. "You can't just cut off the poppies because that's the livelihood of the people who live there," Carnahan said. "But providing them with alternative legal markets for pain-relief medication is a way to help cut back on that heroin supply."

Carnahan cited the successful experiences of Turkey and India in the early 1970s, when US officials were worried about a rising tide of heroin from poppy crops in those two countries. Officials in the Nixon administration drafted a treaty that blunted the threat by allowing Turkey and India to sell their crops to make pain medications as part of their legitimate economies. Carnahan is also exploring the idea of using altered, morphine-free poppies containing thebaine, which can be turned into a number of therapeutic compounds, including oxycodone, oxymorphon, naltrexone, and buprenorphine. The altered poppies that produce thebaine are the strain that is used in Australia, where they are grown under license for the medicinal market.

"The idea of creating a trade for morphine-free opium is very worthwhile and needs to be thought through carefully," said Toni Kutchan, a biochemist at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis. "It should not be pushed off the table by a knee-jerk reaction against it."

"I'd certainly like to see a study on how feasible that is," said James Dobbins, director at the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the RAND Corp. "I do think that the current US and international effort is at best a kind of a band aid that can't have more than a marginal impact."

"I think the government should give serious consideration to attempting to implement that type of program," said Dr. Charles Schuster, former head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Current US policies alone "are never going to be the solution for this," he added.

But the senior State Department official heading US efforts to fight the Afghan drug trade scoffed. Tom Schweich said the idea was "not realistic." Instead, he counseled more of the same. "You really need to keep it illegal and eradicate it," Schweich said.

Meanwhile, a British MP last week was calling on the British government to just buy up the Afghan opium crop and use it around the world for pain relief. South West Beds MP Andrew Selous asked the House of Commons why not? "Why, given that heroin can have legitimate medical uses, cannot we buy up the Afghan heroin crop and use it around the world for pain relief? That would stop it flooding into this country illegally. We need much serious thought on that issue."

Selous cited the murders of five addicted prostitutes in Ipswich last month. "I read the biographies of the women who were so brutally and horrifically murdered and I cannot have been the only one to be struck by the fact that they were all heroin addicts," he said. "It is a problem that affects all our constituencies -- there will not be a single Member of Parliament who does not have a heroin problem in their constituency. Given that we know that 90% of the heroin on UK streets comes from Afghanistan and that we have a major military presence there, it is extraordinary that we cannot do more to stop the poppy crop ending up here."

While the Bush administration is pushing for tougher measures and chemical eradication of the crops, and the UN, World Bank, and some academics are advocating intensified development and state-building strategies as an adjunct or alternative, the chorus of critics looking for a better way is growing, and they are implicitly -- if not explicitly -- challenging the global prohibition regime itself.

Rebels Boosting Poppy Business in Myanmar

Location: 
United States
Publication/Source: 
Indo-Asian News Service
URL: 
http://www.hindustantimes.com/news/7454_1882064,000800050001.htm

Afghan Heroin's Surge Poses Danger in US; the World's Purest Form Can Kill More Addicts, As Seen in LA County

Location: 
CA
United States
Publication/Source: 
Los Angeles Times
URL: 
http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-heroin26dec26,0,7339972.story?coll=la-home-headlines

It Was the Worst of Times: Drug Reform Defeats, Downers, and Disappointments in 2006

As Drug War Chronicle publishes its last issue of the year -- we will be on vacation next week -- it is time to look back at 2006. In a companion piece, we looked at the highlights for drug reform this year; here, we look at the lowlights, from failures at the polls to bad court rulings to negative trends. Below -- in no particular order -- is our necessarily somewhat arbitrary list of the ten most significant defeats and disappointments for the cause of drug law reform. (We also publish a "best of 2006" list in this issue, above.)

The drug war continues unabated on the streets of America. Despite two decades of drug reform efforts, the war on drugs continues to make America a country that eats its young. In May, we reported that the US prisoner count topped 2.1 million -- a new high -- and included more than 500,000 drug war prisoners. In September, the FBI released its annual Uniform Crime Report, showing nearly 800,000 marijuana arrests and 1.8 million drug arrests in 2005 -- another new high. And just two weeks ago, we reported that more than seven million people are in jail or prison or on probation or parole -- yet another new high.

Methamphetamine hysteria continues unabated and becomes an excuse for old-school, repressive drug laws and bad, newfangled ones, too. The drug war always needs a demon drug du jour to scare the public, and this year, like the past few years, meth is it. Never mind that the stuff has been around for decades and that there is less to the "meth epidemic" than meets the eye. The "dangers of meth" have been cited as a reason for everything from targeting South Asian convenience store clerks to restricting access to cold medications containing pseudoephedrine to harsh new penalties for meth offenses to more than 20 states defining meth use or production as child abuse. Michigan even went so far as to pass legislation banning meth recipes on the Internet, while Arizona voters felt impelled to roll back a decade-old sentencing reform. Under that reform, first- and second-time drug possession offenders couldn't be sentenced to jail or prison, but now Arizona has created an exception for meth offenders. The drug warriors like to say meth is the new crack, and in the way meth is used as an excuse for "tough" approaches to drug policy, that is certainly true.

The US Supreme Court upholds unannounced police searches. In a June decision, the court upheld a Michigan drug raid where police called out their presence at the door, but then immediately rushed in before the homeowner could respond. Previously, the courts had allowed such surprise entries only in the case of "no-knock" warrants, but this ruling, which goes against hundreds of years of common law and precedent, effectively eviscerates that distinction. "No-knock" raids are dangerous, as we reported that same month, and as Atlanta senior citizen Kathryn Johnston would tell you if she could. But she can't -- Johnston was killed in a "no-knock" raid last month.

Marijuana legalization initiatives lose in Colorado and Nevada. After four years of effort, the Marijuana Policy Project still couldn't get over the top with its "tax and regulate" initiative in Nevada, although it increased its share of the vote from 39% to 44%. In Colorado, SAFER Colorado took its "marijuana is safer than alcohol" message statewide after successes at state universities and in Denver last year, but failed to convince voters, winning only 41% of the vote.

South Dakota becomes the first state where voters defeat an initiative to legalize medical marijuana. In every state where it had gone to the voters as a ballot measure, medical marijuana had emerged victorious. But voters in the socially conservative, lightly populated Upper Midwest state narrowly rejected it in November. The measure lost 48% to 52%.

California's medical marijuana movement is under sustained attack by the feds and recalcitrant state and local officials and law enforcement. This year, it seems like barely a week goes by without a new raid by the DEA or unreconstructed drug warriors in one county or another. San Diego has been particularly hard-hit, but we also reported on a spate of raids in October, and there have been more since. The feds have also started their first medical marijuana prosecution since the 2003 Ed Rosenthal fiasco, with Merced County medical marijuana patient and provider Dustin Costa going on trial last month.

Hundreds die from overdoses of heroin cut with fentanyl, but the official response is almost nonexistent -- except for increased law enforcement pressure. With injection drug users falling over dead from Boston to Baltimore, Philadelphia to Detroit and Chicago, an estimated 700 people have been killed by the deadly cocktail. We reported on it in June, but the wave of deaths continues to the present. Just last week, more than 120 medical experts, public health departments, and drug user advocates sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt urging him to take aggressive action. Ho-hum, who cares about dead junkies? Not the federal government, at least so far.

Plan Colombia continues to roll along, adding fuel to the flames of Colombia's civil war while achieving little in the realm of actually reducing the supply of cocaine. The US Congress continues to fund Plan Colombia to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars a year, even though despite six years of military assistance and widespread aerial eradication using herbicides, it now appears that production is higher than anyone ever thought. Perhaps a Democratic Congress will put an end to this fiasco next year, but Democrats certainly can count influential Plan Colombia supporters among their ranks -- incoming Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman and presidential hopeful Joe Biden (DE), to name just one.

Afghanistan is well on its way to becoming a true narco-state. The US war on terror and the US war on drugs are on a collision course in Afghanistan, which now, five years after the US invaded, produces more than 90% of the world's illicit opium. This year, Afghanistan's opium crop hit a new record high of 6,100 metric tons, and now, US drug czar John Walters is pressuring the Afghans to embrace eradication with herbicides. But each move the US and the Afghans make to suppress the opium trade just drives more Afghans into the waiting arms of the Taliban, which is also making enough money off the trade to finance its reborn insurgency. Meanwhile, the Afghan government is also full of people getting rich off opium. Everyone is ignoring the sensible proposals that have put on the table for dealing with the problem, which range from an economic development and anti-corruption approach put forward by the UN and World Bank as an alternative to eradication, and the Senlis Council proposal to license production and divert it to the legitimate medicinal market.

Australia is in the grips of Reefer Madness. While some Australian states enacted reforms to soften their marijuana laws in years past, the government of Prime Minister John Howard would like to roll back those reforms. The Australians seem particularly susceptible to hysterical pronouncements about the links between marijuana and mental illness, and they also hold the unfathomable notion that marijuana grown hydroponically is somehow more dangerous than marijuana grown in soil. Over the weekend, the national health secretary announced he wants to ban bongs. That's not so surprising coming from a man who in May announced that marijuana is more dangerous than heroin. Hopefully, saner heads will prevail Down Under, but it isn't happening just yet.

Government to Open Opium Processing to Private Firms

Location: 
New Delhi
India
Publication/Source: 
Times of India
URL: 
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/NEWS/India/Govt_to_open_opium_processing_to_private_firms/articleshow/843197.cms

Afghanistan: Government Warns of Possible Poppy Crop Spraying

Location: 
Kabul
Afghanistan
Publication/Source: 
United Nations Integretated Regional Information Networks (IRIN News)
URL: 
http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/IRIN/52be6f726b83c13d72b098c292febb74.htm

Southwest Asia: US Drug Czar Announces Afghanistan Will Spray Opium Poppies

Office of National Drug Control Policy head John Walters announced Saturday at a Kabul press conference that Afghanistan's poppy crops will be sprayed with herbicides in an effort to put a crimp in the country's booming opium and heroin trade. But the Afghan government, which is not enthusiastic about spraying, has yet to confirm Walters' pronouncement.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/poppy2-small.jpg
opium poppies
This year, Afghan opium production increased 49% over last year, and the country produced 6,100 metric tons of opium, or 670 tons of heroin. That's 90% of the illicit opium supply, and more than the world's junkies can shoot, smoke, or snort in a year. This as the US spent $600 million on anti-drug efforts in Afghanistan this year.

Afghanistan will become a narco-state unless "giant steps" are taken to rein in production, Walters said. "We cannot fail in this mission. Proceeds from opium production feed the insurgency and burden Afghanistan's nascent political institutions with the scourge of corruption."

The problem for Walters and the US is that embarking on widespread eradication is also likely to feed the insurgency as farmers and traders turn to the Taliban for protection from the central government and the "infidels." The Taliban is already doing just that, and it is using opium profits to fund its resurgence. So far this year, 189 NATO and US troops and some 4,000 insurgents have been killed in fighting, by far the largest toll since the US overthrew the Taliban in late 2001.

On top of that, after decades of war, Afghans are very leery of chemicals being dropped from planes. President Karzai himself earlier rejected spraying, saying herbicides proved too great a risk and could contaminate water and kill crops growing beside the poppies.

But Walters said Karzai has agreed to spraying, which will use glyphosate, the herbicide in Roundup. "I think the president has said yes, and I think some of the ministers have repeated yes," Walters said without specifying when spraying would start. "The particulars of the application have not been decided yet, but yes, the goal is to carry out ground spraying."

The Associated Press reported that Gen. Khodaidad, Afghanistan's deputy minister for counter-narcotics, said the government hadn't yet made any decisions. But the AP also quoted an unnamed Afghan official who said the government was studying the issue.

"We are thinking about it, we are looking into it. We're just trying to see how the procedure will go," said the official.

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