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Drug War Chronicle
(formerly The Week Online with DRCNet)

Issue #406 -- 10/7/05

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"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"

Phillip S. Smith, Editor
David Borden, Executive Director

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Check out Phil Smith's "On the Scene" Afghanistan Blog online, plus four more special reports this issue!

Perry Fund reception in Los Angeles November 8th, 6:00-8:00pm -- info to be posted shortly -- check here or e-mail [email protected] for updates!

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Table of Contents

    Stopping extremism may require ending drug prohibition.
    Among the forces working to sustain extremist organizations like Al Qaeda is one that policymakers don't like to talk about in direct terms -- drug prohibition.
    With opium the unquestioned mainstay of Afghanistan's economy but the government eradicating, rural Afghans are getting caught in the squeeze. Elders in a village north of Jalalabad told the story in an interview given to DRCNet this week.
    With the government of President Hamid Karzai attempting to solidify nascent national government institutions, Afghans inside the government and out ponder how to address the problem of members of the government and other powers who are involved in the illicit opium trade.
    Curiosity and intrigue mingled with worry, skepticism and even hostility last week as a European think tank's proposal to license Afghan opium growing for medical uses got discussed in Kabul.
    With Phil's Afghanistan adventure soon to come to a close, we reprint this October 2001 editorial by David Borden that closely relates to some of the topics Phil discusses in the four special Afghanistan reports published in this issue.
    Drug War Chronicle may have taken a week off in covering the corrupt cops beat, but that doesn't mean the corrupt cops did. This week we have yet another prison guard gone bad and another crack-slinging policeman.
    With coca grower leader Evo Morales favored to win Bolivia's presidency, legislators in the European Parliament have stepped up to ensure that he is not robbed of victory by pre-election legal shenanigans.
    Leftist rebels in northeast Colombia shot a drug fumigation plane owned by the US State Dept. out of the sky September 30, killing the pilot, according to wire service reports.
    New CJPF Newsletter, Meth Conference Audio & Powerpoint Online, Meth Commentary from Cascade
    Events and quotes of note from this week's drug policy events of years past.
    DRCNet is interested in dialoguing with individuals who have strong academic skills and relevant backgrounds about the possibility of seeking funding together for work that will advance the issue.
    DRCNet is currently soliciting designs for new t-shirts to be made available on our web site and worn by people nationwide who want an end to prohibition and the war on drugs.
    Showing up at an event can be the best way to get involved! Check out this week's listings for events from today through next year, across the US and around the world!

(Chronicle archives)

1. Feature: Prohibition and Terror -- The Afghan Connection

Two tapestries adorning a doorway on Kabul's famous "Chicken Street" carry messages that will seem paradoxical -- one disturbing -- to most western observers. The first commemorates the overthrow of the Taliban, a regime change accomplished through US intervention after Al Qaeda attacks on US soil that destroyed the World Trade Center and killed thousands. The second commemorates those attacks.

Among the forces working to sustain extremist organizations like Al Qaeda is one that policymakers don't like to talk about in direct terms -- drug prohibition. The United Nations and leading development economists put the proceeds from Afghanistan's black market opium economy at $2.8 billion, with about $600 million going to farmers and more than $2 billion going to regional drug trafficking organizations, warlords linked to the Afghan government, and other political figures. These prohibition-derived profits are fueling corruption and distorting the political process in Afghanistan and financing Islamist radicals and nationalist insurgencies from Central Asia to the Middle East, according to a variety of sources.

After an August trip to the region coordinated with the US Central Command, Clinton-era drug czar Gen. Barry McCaffrey, now a professor at West Point, told the Washington Times last week that black market opium profits are energizing Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and the ungovernable tribal territories across the border in Pakistan, and widening the drug trade into the Persian Gulf and Iraq, where its illicit profits may be helping to finance the insurgency there.

US officials are reluctant to link black market drug profits to the insurgencies in either Afghanistan or Iraq. The US Embassy in Kabul, for example, Wednesday told DRCNet that it had "no press guidance" on the link between drug profits and an apparently revitalized Taliban/Al Qaeda insurgency in Afghanistan. The Washington Times reported last month that US officials are loathe to make the connection because they fear US forces there would then be forced to take an active role in combating the trade, a task the US and UN have largely dumped on the British, even though the US has budgeted hundreds of millions of dollars to combat the trade this year.

But for McCaffrey the link was obvious. "Is there a relationship between $2 billion in this impoverished 14th-century desperate land, and the appearance of brand-new guns and shiny camping gear? Of course there is," he said. It's not just Afghanistan, said McCaffrey. "We are seeing bunches of opium and heroin appear in the Persian Gulf, headed into Iraq," he added.

Nearly four years after the US invaded and drove the Taliban and its Al Qaeda guests from power in Kabul, Taliban resistance to the US occupation is stronger than ever. While the Taliban may be a spent force politically, its ability to bring the pain to American and Afghan soldiers is on the increase. At least 1,300 people have been killed in the fighting this year, including 86 American troops, up from 52 all of last year, 47 in 2003, 43 in 2002, and 12 in 2001. Just last week, a suicide bomber struck an Afghan National Army base in Kabul, killing 12 and wounding more than 20 others. The capital city is currently awash with rumors that up to 45 additional suicide bombers have made their way into the city. Similarly, Canadian troops working security in the volatile southeast of the country have suffered two attempted suicide bombings in the past 10 days. In those incidents, the suicide bombers and an Afghan child died but none of the intended targets

plaque memorializing journalists murdered by
Taliban, at hotel where they stayed in Jalalabad
It is not just observers like Gen. McCaffrey who are sounding the alarm. In a meeting with UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) director Antonio Maria Costa last month, Russian Federal Drug Control Service Director Victor Cherkessov raised similar concerns. "The influence of Afghan opiates extends beyond the drug trafficking and drug abuse ramifications, but has far-reaching impact since it is linked to corruption and financing of terrorist activities," he said. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov echoed that warning earlier this week. In remarks reported by RIA Novosti, he said Afghanistan is now the main threat to Russian security because profits from the drug trade are financing terrorism. Ivanov called on NATO to cooperate with the antiterrorist Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) members Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Krygyzstan, and Tajikistan in fighting the traffic.

But while NATO forces are responsible for security in Afghanistan through the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), ISAF members, speaking on condition of anonymity, told DRCNet they were not interested in getting involved in a drug war. "This is not our mandate," a Swedish ISAF member said. "Of course, this is ultimately a political decision, and if we are ordered to fight the opium, we will do so. But no, we are not really interested in getting caught up in that."

"Drugs are not the source of conflict in Afghanistan, but they fuel it," said British international law expert Hugo Warner during a "drugs and conflict" workshop at the Senlis Council's Kabul symposium last week. "The Taliban is clearly involved in trafficking into Pakistan, and the ability of Afghan warlords to maintain and arm their militias is clearly connected to the drug trade."

It's not just the Taliban and rogue warlords getting rich off the trade. "A high proportion of Afghan elites are involved in the trade," Afghan expert Barnett Rubin told reporters during a break in the symposium.

The United States remains firmly committed to drug war-style policies in Afghanistan. US Embassy press attaché Lou Fintor told DRCNet the US government was "encouraged" by the slight progress made in reducing opium cultivation this year. "The government of Afghanistan has engaged in a broad strategy to combat poppy cultivation, which the US fully supports," Fintor said. "The US is working closely and cooperatively with the United Kingdom, the United Nations, and other donor countries to assist Afghan officials in eliminating the poppy trade. We are determined to increase our efforts to support the Afghan government in reducing the cultivation of and trafficking in illegal poppies."

But such policies are counterproductive and probably doomed to failure, said experts. "The hope that attacking the illicit economy will weaken terrorism and guerrillas is just a hope," said British international law expert Hugo Warner during last week's Senlis Council symposium. "It has never worked out."

"What we need is the rule of law, not the rule of force, and the rule of law must be consensual," said International Antiprohibitionist League head Marco Perduca during the symposium workshop. "If we impose a system that prohibits growing a plant, that is not going to work." Instead, said Perduca, the UNODC "should engage donor countries and Afghan authorities in a brain-storming exercise to assist Afghanistan in reconstructing itself in harmony rather than in destroying the supposed evil that is produced by drugs. The current framework of counter-narcotics policies is not only ineffective and costly but will not be able to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan population that will continue to live in an 'informal' society where more than 50% of its GDP is illegal because it is opium-based."

"These prohibitionist policies always have unintended consequences," said former UN drug control program supply reduction and law enforcement chief Tony Snow. "The institutions that make up the international drug policy framework still stubbornly refuse to learn from their mistakes."

While the experts are calling for a new path, the US, UN and Western powers appear committed to more of the same old prohibitionist policies, with all the evils they engender. With a tougher fight against the opium traffic the only option the West is considering, it appears to be guaranteeing a war without end in Central Asia and the Middle East, paid for by the profits made possible by prohibition.

Meanwhile, the Saudi government is reporting a similar dynamic at work in Iraq -- only this time with cannabis as the illicit commodity. Sunni insurgents infiltrating the kingdom from Iraq are smuggling Iraqi weed in and carrying dollars for the insurgency out, Saudi security sources told the London-based A-Sharq Al Awsat newspaper last week. "In the space of one year, border police intercepted 10 tons of cannabis coming from Iraq," a Saudi source said. "In the past, the [smuggled] merchandise used to consist of alcoholic beverages and prohibited drugs," he told the newspaper.

"We have reason to believe that profits from drug smuggling have been financing militants who are fighting Iraqi and coalition forces and facilitating the illegal entry of people into the country," the source said. "It also supports Al Qaeda's terrorist activities inside the kingdom."

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2. Feature: Afghan Opium Farmers Caught in the Squeeze

With opium responsible for somewhere between 40-60% (depending on whom you ask; the United Nations figure is 52%) of Afghanistan's Gross Domestic Product, the poppy and its derivatives, particularly heroin, are indisputably the backbone of the national economy. But with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, backed by the United Nations and the Western powers, calling for a holy war against opium planting and trafficking, the country's estimated 350,000 poppy farmers are finding themselves caught in a squeeze. On one hand, growing the poppy provides farmers, as well as an estimated 500,000 landless laborers, with the means of feeding their families. On the other hand, farmers risk losing their crops and the year's harvest profits as the national government's eradication efforts swing into gear.

Phil with village elders and children
That's precisely what happened in a rural district north of Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan's Nangahar province near the Pakistani border. In an interview with DRCNet this week, village elders Hija Mohammed Isef, 70, and Amasha Kaul, 65, said the district across the Kabul River from Jalalabad was opium country up until last year, when farmers saw their year's harvest cut down before their eyes by government workers. This year, villagers are growing rice and vegetables, but where they could earn about $350 for two thousand square meters worth of poppies, that same amount of land will generate only about $50 worth of food crops.

"The government said don't grow the poppy," Isef told DRCNet, "but they didn't give us anything; they just came to destroy. When they destroyed our poppies, they took away the benefits we got from them, so we don't grow them anymore."

At first, the elders said they weren't growing opium because they wanted to do what the government asked, but upon further questioning it became clear that it was not civic-mindedness but the cruel fact of crop eradication that drove the village out of the opium economy. "When they eradicated, we lost our money," said Kaul. "The government promised they would pay, but they didn't pay us, they just came and destroyed. They are big liars."

Neither has the district received any assistance from the international community, said the elders. "We have no school here, no clinic, no hospital," complained Isef. Asked if their children play sports, the elders sneered and said no, the only sport they have is chasing animals. "We don't have enough water," Isef continued. We tried building dikes of clay, but they are washed away in one day. We don't have water pumps. The government does not help us and neither do the foreigners," he said.

Growing opium poppies has benefits for farmers and for the Afghan state, said William Boyd, a senior economic advisor on Afghanistan for the World Bank, as he addressed the Senlis Council symposium on licensing the opium crop last week. "The poppy provides incomes and livelihoods for farmers and laborers," he said. "It is a coping mechanism for the rural poor. On the national level, the poppy crop supports the balance of payments and stimulates aggregate demand. The reason economic growth is so buoyant in Afghanistan is the funds from opium."

But while farmers and the national economy benefit from the illicit poppy crop, it also has deleterious consequences, Boyd said. "Because the opium economy is so important and attractive, it tends to raise wages and other costs, thus making it more difficult for the economy to expand in other areas. The opium economy distorts the rural economy and society, and you can see its effects in everything from land prices to bride prices," he explained.

The negative effects of the prohibited opium trade are also felt at the level of national institutions, said Boyd. "You have the corruption and poor governance associated with a large-scale illegal activity, and you have a nexus with insecurity, warlordism, and a weak state," he said.

But while the illicit trade has negative consequences, so do efforts to eradicate the crop, the economist argued. "If you look at Nangahar province, you see that production is down dramatically, but it has had a harmful impact on the local economy," he said. "People are leaving for Pakistan."

the trader's opium
Boyd would get no argument from village elders Isef and Kaul. "When we grew opium, the farmers were strong," said Kaul. "Now we have little money. When the government destroyed our crop, they said they would compensate us, but they never did."

Under pressure from eradicators, the poppy crop has moved to more remote areas, said Isef. "There are farmers who still grow around here, but they are in the high mountains. It is good for them because they don't have any money and it is the only way for them to buy food."

The pattern described by Isef and Kaul is also being played out at the national level. While the UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported that the Afghan acreage devoted to the poppy crop had decreased by 22% this year, production remains not only substantial but fluid and responsive to outside pressures and local support. According to the UNODC, opium cultivation has shifted from traditional centers, such as Nangahar, Badakshan, and Helmand provinces, toward more fertile areas in the north and west of the country where warlords allied with the government reign.

"How do you explain the collapse of cultivation in the province of Nangahar and the enormous increases in key provinces such as Balkh and Farah?" where production more than tripled over last year, asked UNODC director Antonio Maria Costa in a statement late last month. Much depends on the commitment of local governors, some of whom remain linked to the drug trade, he said. "Corruption is the wild card, and we have got to remove it from the deck."

But for farmers like Isef and Kaul, it's not corruption that is the problem, but lack of assistance. "If we had some help, we could improve productivity," said Isef. "We need help with new breeds of rice, with seeds, with fertilizers. If the government wants to provide help for us, good, but we don't expect it. We made good money growing opium, but now we don't grow it anymore because the government will destroy it."

Isef and Kaul and the villagers they represent may have been driven out of the business, but the local industry continues to thrive, said an opium trader in nearby Jalalabad. "Business is good," he said, as he showed off pound-sized balls of opium. "There is always someone who wants to sell and someone who wants to buy," he told DRCNet. That means that neither eradication nor help for the farmers will stem the opium trade.

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3. Feature: Afghan Opium Conundrum -- What to do with Warlords, Politicians Involved in the Drug Trade?

Last week, Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali resigned his post, with senior government officials saying he quit over the appointment to provincial office of warlords linked to the drug trade and over the government's lack of action to combat the illicit drug economy. While Jalali's resignation is a blow to Western governments who supported his hard line on the drug issue, it is also a revealing example of a crucial dilemma faced by Afghanistan's fledgling democracy: What is to be done about members of the government or its allies who are involved with the illicit trade?

supermarket catering only to westerners, under armed guard
With the government of President Hamid Karzai attempting to solidify nascent national government institutions, Afghans inside the government and out are grappling with two diametrically opposed approaches to the problem. On the one hand, there is strong pressure to expose, isolate, and punish higher-ups in the drug trade. On the other hand, there is a pragmatic recognition that efforts to crack down on powerful people involved in the trade could increase instability and perhaps even lead to renewed civil war.

At last week's Senlis Council symposium and elsewhere in Afghanistan two models are under consideration, the criminal justice model and the reconciliation model. Just as countries that have suffered under criminal regimes, such as South Africa or Argentina, have had to choose between prosecuting former leaders and reintegrating them into society, Afghanistan faces a similar dilemma with its high-level opium and heroin traffickers and their political benefactors.

It is not an easy choice, said William Boyd, an advisor to the World Bank on Afghan economic issues. "There are political costs and risks for the government no matter which way it goes," he said. "The government has a strong anti-drug strategy, but with the penetration of opium-related economic interests throughout the economy and even parts of the government, the government is in a situation of damned if you do, damned if you don't. It's a real dilemma," he said.

Not for the United Nations, the United States, and other Western powers who are strongly urging the Afghan government to crack down on well-connected miscreants. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has for several years urged an all-out attack on political figures and warlords linked to the trade. "It takes more than counter-narcotic efforts to fight drugs," said UNODC head Antonio Maria Costa late last month. "Fighting corruption, violence, crime and money-laundering; creating a stronger judiciary, a clean parliament, and an honest police force are all parts of the process. Without all these measures, democracy, peace and stability in Afghanistan remain threatened."

The UNODC continues to press the Karzai government to go after traffickers and their supporters within the government. Its recommendations this year to the Afghan government call for the removal of corrupt governors, the arrest of corrupt officials, and the forced resignation of any member of the newly-elected Afghan parliament who has been indicted on drug charges.

But international experts present at the Senlis symposium said the UNODC approach may be too simplistic, especially given conditions in Afghanistan, where the opium economy is the mainstay of the national economy and high-ranking members of the national government are implicated in the trade. "Punitive policies against drug trafficking and the drug industry are insufficient and unlikely to produce results in the long term," said Francisco Thoumi, director of the Research and Monitoring Center on Drugs and Crime at Rosario University in Colombia. "This approach reminds me of the carpenter who has only one tool, a hammer. For him, every problem looks like a nail."

"In Afghanistan, with its context of great instability and with many sources of military power threatening the state, there is no quick solution," said Vanda Felbab-Brown, a fellow at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. "Eradication is the quickest fix, but it can be very destabilizing. Pressure for a quick fix will only make things worse. In Afghanistan, there is a great need for innovative thinking because standard anti-drug policies are so problematic and socially disruptive."

cargo truck on "highway" between Kabul and Jalalabad --
known as "jingle truck" by US soldiers because of chains adorning front
One innovative solution is the granting of amnesty to high-level traffickers, warlords, and politicians involved in the trade. "The warlords are part of the problem, but they can also be part of the solution," suggested the Senlis Council's Fabrice Potier. "Look at what has happened with de-Baathification in Iraq. We need to be thinking about reintegrating these people into society. Is an amnesty system part of the solution?"

"Offering amnesties to traffickers is a sensitive matter, but a licensing program and an amnesty are the only pragmatic solution," said Hugo Warner, a research fellow at the British Institute of International and Comparative Law. "Traffickers could be granted amnesty on the condition they put their profits into reconstruction of the country," he suggested. "That could be part of the incentive to switch to licensed cultivation, and it could address the need for justice and stability while allowing those higher-ups in the trade to re-engage with the state. On the other hand, compulsory prosecutions or an eradication program could destabilize the country, thus undermining the effort to build the state. The conditions in Afghanistan are conducive to an amnesty approach, and it should be considered favorably."

But that notion didn't sit too well with some Afghan legal experts. Amnesty should be seen as "appeasement," said Dr. Ali Wardak, an Aghan legal scholar and professor of criminology at the University of Glamorgan in the United Kingdom, who worried such a move could lead to the creation of a narco-state. "Appeasing them would only weaken the legitimacy of the state," he said. "An amnesty would help them consolidate, and we don't want to be ruled by drug traffickers."

Wardak's position was shared by a number of Afghans in attendance at the symposium, many of whom called for strict punishment of traffickers in the government. But it was not shared by Dil Aka Massoum, the former president of law enforcement affairs for the State High Commission on Drug Control, who is set to move to the Ministry of Internal Affairs as deputy for counter-narcotics matters. "We have been fighting the opium trade for 15 years, and I have to tell you I have seen no improvement; in fact, things have gotten worse," Massoum told DRCNet. "This is largely because of the war, but now the problem is the local governors who are involved in the trade, and the fact that everyone has weapons," he told DRCNet. Massoum expressed doubt that a crackdown on the drug lords was feasible. "We know that warlords and politicians are deeply involved in the traffic, and we are working on this, but nothing is ever done. If we do go after them, I am certain it will have to be a very gradual process."

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4. Feature: Questions and Answers, Give and Take -- Afghans Take on the Senlis Council and Its Licensing Proposal

The Senlis Council's proposal to license some portion of the Afghan opium crop and divert it from the black market to the legitimate medicinal market naturally excited great interest among Afghans, who flooded into the Hotel Intercontinental's ballroom in large numbers last week. But for the Afghans, curiosity and intrigue with the Senlis Council proposal came mixed with a healthy dose of worry and skepticism, and even some expressions of hostility toward meddling foreigners.

While Afghanistan has barely begun its experiment with Western-style parliamentary democracy, it was clear from the tough questioning around the Senlis Council's proposal that the spirit of skeptical democratic inquiry is alive and well in the war-weary Central Asian country. The role of Afghan women in the give and take was worth noting. They may still wear burqas and veils, but if their participation at the Senlis symposium is any indication, that doesn't mean they consider themselves second-class citizens.

Herewith some excerpts from the give and take:

Question: Why wouldn't every farmer want to grow opium under your proposal? Wouldn't this turn our country into a giant opium plantation?

Senlis symposium
Senlis Council head Emmanuel Reinert: It is not our intention to turn Afghanistan into a monocrop economy. Instead, a licensing system will allow Afghanistan to diversify the economy and build a sustainable farming system.

Question: Won't this proposal just result in more opium going to the black market?

Honorary head of INTERPOL Raymond Kendall: No one should think you can realistically prevent leakage, but on the other hand, right now 100% of the crop goes into the illicit market. Anything we can do to reduce that 100% will be an improvement.

Question: Why do you want to do this instead of helping Afghanistan by eradicating this bad plant?

Reinert: The licensing system would complement other responses to the drug crisis in Afghanistan, not replace them. In Turkey, France, and India, where there are licensed poppy fields, they understand that opium can be used for good.

Kendall: What we need is a much more flexible approach. Eradication and cultivation can be done at the same time. Let us be realistic. Right now, all of the cultivation is going to organized crime. Does any one realistically believe that in this moment in these conditions, that eradication is possible? It is not possible; maybe in 10 years it will be possible. We need to give the feasibility study a chance, and we also need to ask: What are the real needs for opioid pain medications? People in Afghanistan don't have access to these drugs.

Colombian drug policy expert Francisco Thoumi: The fact is, you can have legal cultivation that is not in contradiction to anti-drug policies. In Peru and Colombia, while there is illegal coca destined for the drug traffic, there is also a significant amount of coca grown legally for traditional uses.

Question: Why are you doing this? Our government said in the newspapers this morning that they will reject this idea.

Reinert: As a matter of fact, we just released the feasibility study today, and I have to wonder how they got through 700 pages and to the conclusions about what we found. Also, I don't think you want to say it was rejected, but that the government said it was too early.

Question: Senlis is making this effort to legalize opium. What is the guarantee that our youth will not use the drugs?

Dr. Mohammed Zafar, head of demand reduction for the Ministry of
Counter-Narcotics: The Afghan government has its own policies and strategies to reduce drug use, but we have not been able to make guarantees. The government has to decide what to do, and each decision reached will have to reflect the benefits to the people.

Question: What is the government doing about drugs? We had more treatment beds under the Taliban than now.

Zafar: We are doing the best we can. We hope to expand the treatment capability.

Question: Drug treatment doesn't work. Please don't work on legalizing the poppy. Tell Senlis not to work on this.

Zafar: We think we can help some people with treatment.

Question (from Minister of Women's Affairs Habiba Sorabi): We don't want this licensed opium. It has never been accepted by the people of Afghanistan, and thanks to God, God does not allow this; it is forbidden in Islam. We should clean our lands and ask God almighty to forgive us for what we have done. His excellency President Karzai is emphasizing poppy eradication and it should be eradicated at any cost. A licensing system would be misused, and we thank the US for explaining this matter and working on eliminating the poppy. We got rid of terrorists and the Taliban, and now we face another challenge -- getting rid of the poppy. We want the international community to help us with this. We caution Karzai to be careful about this, and we agree with his narcotics fight.

Reinert: That wasn't a question. Thank you for your frank comments.

Question: How would this licensing work?

Reinert: Licensing already exists in a number of countries, each of which has its own system. There are some international requirements. For example, you would have to set up a national opium agency that would issue licenses to certain entities, whether it is individual farmers, groups of farmers, state farms, or whatever. It is up to each country to decide. In India, for instance, the government issues licenses to individual farmers, but it would be up to the Afghan government to decide how it would be done here. This will require local community involvement and control, but in order for a licensing plan to be successful, you have to have the central government in Kabul involved.

Question: Won't this just confuse farmers? We are telling them that it is bad to grow opium, but now you want to tell them they can grow it with a license?

Kendall: Human nature being what it is, the conditions to persuade farmers not to grow opium do not exist here. We hear a lot of talk about eradication, but that is eradication, not persuasion.

Reinert: You also have to understand that there is a clear difference between illegal opium and licensed opium.

Question: A large number of farmers are benefiting from illicit cultivation. How many would benefit from licensed cultivation?

Reinert: It is too early to say how many farmers would benefit, but we believe that shifting even a small part of the production to licensed production, we will begin to break the vicious cycle of the illegal economy and disrupt the illegal trade in Afghanistan. We don't necessarily intend that all farmers in the trade will be licensed.

Kendall: You have to remember that it is not the farmers who reap the big benefits. It is traffickers and people like that who really benefit from illegal opium.

Question: What is the benefit from licensed opium production?

Kendall: It would move farmers from an illegal activity to a legal activity, and that's a big benefit.

Reinert: Any licensing system will have to have farmers at the center and the licenses must be organized around the needs of Afghan farmers and contribute to the development of the country. This proposal would give the Afghan people the opportunity to reorganize this illegal production and to divert it from the traffickers and the mafia. Also, if you compare illegal production and a licensed system, you can see that while the price for illegal opium averages about $113 per kilogram, the farmers have to pay bribes and other costs, so the net gain for them is much lower. While licensed prices might be lower than the illicit price, the farmers could also benefit from the profits made in transforming opium into morphine. And there are not only financial incentives, but also the chance for farmers to work in a legal environment and be part of the reconstruction of their country.

Question: In Europe, they are trying to outlaw cigarettes. Why do you want us Afghans to legalize opium?

Reinert: This is not about legalizing opium. We are talking about licensed production for the medicinal market, not about legalizing opium.

As the excerpts above make abundantly clear, the spirit of skeptical inquiry is alive and well in Afghanistan. They also make clear that the Senlis Council and local proponents of the licensing plan still have a major selling job ahead of them.

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5. Editorial: The Consequences of Prohibition (was "What is It About Opium?")

David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected], original publication date 10/5/01

David Borden
With Phil's Afghanistan adventure soon to come to a close, we reprint this October 2001 editorial by David Borden that closely relates to some of the topics Phil discusses in the four special Afghanistan reports published in this issue, above.

What is it about opium? To listen to drug warriors these days, it is the lifeblood of terrorist organizations around the globe. Ohio Rep. Rob Portman lamented that Americans who spend money on heroin (made from Afghani opium) are financing the Taliban, who in turn protect terrorists like Osama bin Laden. Therefore, say Portman and his ilk, reducing drug demand and disrupting drug trafficking organizations is part of the war against terrorism.

Translation: Anti-drug agencies and their supporters are afraid of seeing their budgets cut in favor of other law enforcement priorities. And, they're anxious to get themselves back in the headlines. So it's business as usual for the drug warriors -- stretch the facts as much as necessary, ignore the key issues, and hope no one notices -- or if some people do notice, hope that no one else notices them.

In reality, the resources being poured into the drug war can only come at the expense, not the benefit, of all other budget priorities, law enforcement or otherwise. Certainly, some drug traffickers will turn out to have ties to terrorist groups; but that doesn't mean that indiscriminately targeting all users and sellers of all drugs, is even a remotely efficient way of tracking down or dismantling or disempowering perpetrators of terrorism.

Not to mention that most heroin reaching the US now comes from Latin America, not Asia or the Middle East -- another fatal flaw in Portman's logic. And would an attack on opium cultivation and distribution do anything other than move the supply and supply lines from place to place? That's all such operations have ever done before. Such displacement might take some cash out of the hands of one set of enemies, but could just as easily put it in the hands of another. And eradicating the opium trade from the war-shattered land of Afghanistan, where it is one of the primary sources of income, is an even less realistic than usual drug war strategy.

But there's a larger issue at stake, which drug warriors hate to talk about, at least in a context like this. Why is that opium destined to be processed into heroin is a funding source for crime and terrorism, but opium intended for pain medicines or anesthesia isn't?

Are they two different types of opium? No. Are the drugs highly different? No, heroin and morphine, for example, are essentially similar. Not that any of that would make any difference anyway.

The only difference between opium for heroin and opium for pain meds is that pain meds are manufactured, distributed and taken legally. Heroin, on the other hand, is illegal.

In other words, the reason that opium grown to ultimately be processed into heroin provides easy money for terrorists, is heroin is illegal. And the converse is also obvious: Legalization of drugs would eliminate hundreds of billions of dollars a year of illicit profits, some of which accrues to perpetrators of terror and other violence. While the connection between drug prohibition and terrorism can be overstated, it is clear that ending prohibition is one of the steps that must be taken to make the world a safer place. It is equally clear why drug warriors don't like to talk about this.

Ignoring these undeniable facts is hard to excuse under ordinary circumstances. To still do so now, when Americans are filled with pain and fear and are seeking real answers, and to do so for political and budgetary gain, is a profound failure to lead. What is it about opium, and other such drugs, that our leaders refuse to think or speak rationally about them, at the most important times?

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6. Weekly: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Drug War Chronicle may have taken a week off in covering the corrupt cops beat, but that doesn't mean the corrupt cops did. This week we have yet another prison guard gone bad and another crack-slinging policeman. Let's get to it:

In Boston, the US Attorneys Office announced Wednesday that former Suffolk County House of Correction officer Paul Davis, 38, was sentenced to 2 ½ years in prison after pleading guilty to three counts of conspiracy to distribute drugs and possession with the intent to distribute drugs. As part of plea agreement, Davis admitted to having conspired with three different groups of inmates and their outside associates to carry small amounts of drugs into the jail. Those drugs included heroin, cocaine, marijuana, and Oxycontin. In return for his agreement to plead guilty, the feds dropped charges of making a false statement and possession of marijuana against Williams.

In Florence, South Carolina, former Lake City Police Lt. William Webb, 40, pleaded guilty Monday to one count of conspiracy to distribute cocaine. Webb was arrested in February by agents from the FBI, the State Law Enforcement Division, and sheriff's deputies as part of an investigation into corruption and drug activity in the Lake City area. According to Webb's arrest warrant, he routinely took payoffs from drug dealers beginning in 1994 and sold cocaine from his patrol car. The warrant also accused him of confiscating drugs from dealers, then giving the drugs to other dealers for resale.

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7. Latin America: Bolivian Coca Leader and Presidential Contender Evo Morales Visits European Parliament as Elections Thrown Into Doubt

With Bolivian presidential elections set for December and coca grower leader Evo Morales and his Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party well-placed to achieve an historic victory, legislators in the European Parliament have stepped up to ensure that it does not evaporate like a mirage from pre-election legal shenanigans. Members of the parliament's Unitary European Left bloc hosted Morales in Strasbourg, the seat of the parliament, September 29, and called for the elections to take place as scheduled.

The December elections are in doubt because the country's Constitutional Court has ruled that the congress must redistribute the number of seats allocated for each of the country's regions based on 2001 census data. Congress has yet to act, but must do so by October 15. The redistribution of seats is also likely to have an impact on the presidential elections. Under Bolivian law, if no candidate receives a majority of the votes, Congress will select the president. Under the redistricting plan, more seats are likely to be allocated to areas of the county not favorable to Morales.

Bolivia's caretaker President Eduardo Rodriguez threatened Monday to resign if the December 4 elections are postponed. "If the Electoral Court decides it's impossible to hold the elections next December, I will immediately return to my office as president of the Supreme Court," he said in a surprise weekend address. Rodriguez arrived at the presidency in June in a deal cut after two presidents in two years were driven out of office by popular protests. If the elections are postponed, said Rodriguez, "the constitution's mandate, the people's trust, and my designation would not be fulfilled."

European parliamentarians are also turning up the heat on Bolivia. "The popular will for having elections in Bolivia in December 2005 can not be broken with pseudo-legal maneuvers. It is the hour of democracy and change in Bolivia, and we support them," said Spanish Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Willy Meyer, a member of the leftist bloc.

"I will not take a step back in defense of democracy and in the search for change so that the majority of Bolivians can participate in politics and benefit from the natural resources of the country," said Morales in Strasbourg, alluding to the raging controversies over Bolivian natural gas supplies. "If Bolivians could have control over our natural resources, professionals would not be obligated to migrate to Europe to wash dishes," he said.

Morales rose to prominence as a leader of embattled Bolivian coca growers and has helped meld the often disputatious growers into a strong force for political change within a larger movement of workers and peasants. In the last presidential elections, Morales came within a hair's breadth of winning.

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8. Latin America: US Fumigation Plane Shot Down in Colombia

Leftist rebels in northeast Colombia shot a drug fumigation plane out of the sky September 30, killing the pilot, according to wire service reports. The downing occurred near the town of Tarra, some 290 miles northeast of Bogota, Col. Henry Gamboa, head of the Colombian Counter Narcotics Police eradication unit, told reporters. The plane came under heavy gunfire as it was spraying pesticides on coca fields. "There were several bullet holes in the plane," Gamboa said.

Since 2000, the US government has funded an aerial eradication program designed to destroy the country's coca crop, from which cocaine is made. Much of that effort has been outsourced to private mercenary companies. A spokesman for Dyncorp, the company that holds a major eradication contract, said the plane was owned by the State Department, but declined to say whether the dead pilot was a Dyncorp employee.

Leftist rebels have shot down fumigation planes in the past, killing several pilots. They also continue to hold three US mercenaries who were captured when their plane crash-landed near a rebel stronghold in 2003. In that incident, a fourth American and a Colombian soldier aboard the plane were shot and killed at the crash site.

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9. Web Scan: New CJPF Newsletter, Meth Conference Audio & Powerpoint Online, Meth Commentary from Cascade

First issue of Drugs and Economics Memo, monthly publication of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation

Audio and Powerpoint from the August Methamphetamine, HIV & Hepatitis conference (video coming soon)

Meth Laws Need a Good Dose of Sanity, commentary by Angela Eckhardt for the Cascade Policy Institute

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10. Weekly: This Week in History

October 7, 1989: Former US Secretary of State George P. Shultz tells an alumni gathering at Stanford Business School, "It seems to me we're not really going to get anywhere until we can take the criminality out of the drug business and the incentives for criminality out of it. Frankly, the only way I can think of to accomplish this is to make it possible for addicts to buy drugs at some regulated place at a price that approximates their cost... We need at least to consider and examine forms of controlled legalization of drugs... No politician wants to say what I have just said, not for a minute."

October 7, 2003: Comedian Tommy Chong begins a nine-month federal prison sentence for operating a glass blowing shop that sold pipes to marijuana smokers.

October 8, 1932: The Uniform State Narcotics Act is passed, endorsed by the Federal Bureau of Narcotics as an alternative to Federal laws; by 1937 every state prohibits marijuana use.

October 10, 2002: Drug Czar John Walters travels to Las Vegas, Nevada and begins two days of making appearances around the state illegally lobbying against Question 9, a proposal to amend the state constitution by making the possession of three ounces or less of marijuana legal for adults.

October 12, 1984: The Comprehensive Crime Control Act becomes law, establishing federal "mandatory minimum" sentencing guidelines allowing judges no discretion in handing down prison terms. Over the next two years drug sentences increase by 71% nationwide.

October 13, 1999: In a series of raids named "Operation Millennium," law enforcement in Mexico, Colombia, and Ecuador arrest 31 persons for drug trafficking, including Colombian cartel leader Fabio Ochoa. Ochoa is indicted in a Ft. Lauderdale court for importing cocaine into the US, which requests his extradition in December 1999.

October 13, 1999: Governor of New Mexico Gary Johnson is quoted by the Boston Globe: "Make drugs a controlled substance like alcohol. Legalize it, control it, regulate it, tax it. If you legalize it, we might actually have a healthier society."

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11. Partnering: DRCNet Seeking Fellowship Application Collaborators

Last week in Drug War Chronicle we listed an opportunity available for experienced advocates, academics and others interested in doing work in areas at the intersection of drug policy and justice reform, the Open Society Institute's Soros Justice Fellowships. The deadline for applying for them this year is October 14, a week from today.

We are interested in speaking with individuals with strong academic skills and relevant backgrounds -- law, public policy, criminology, sociology are a few areas of relevance -- to work with us in developing proposals for this and other programs or grantors. We are probably not looking at doing something for this particular round of this program, since it is coming up so soon, though if a perfect match of skills and interests happens to be found next week perhaps we would.

If you are interested in having a dialogue on this topic, please contact David Borden at [email protected] -- mark your e-mail as requesting an automated acknowledgment of receipt, as a precaution against the occasional e-mail loss that inevitably occurs -- if you don't get something back, we haven't seen your e-mail.

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12. Contest: New DRCNet T-Shirt Designs

DRCNet is currently soliciting designs for new t-shirts to be made available on our web site and worn by people nationwide who want an end to prohibition and the war on drugs. If you are a talented graphic artist who cares about this cause, we hope you'll donate your time and take part.

T-shirt designs must include our web site, -- possibly in the form of our stop sign logo, though we are open to other design options and we are not necessarily looking to make the stop sign a centerpiece of our new shirts as it has been of our shirts so far. Note that DRCNet does not use the marijuana leaf or any other drug image on its products. Also, we recommend that you run your ideas or rough drafts by us first, before putting in a large amount of your time on a design that may or may not wind up getting used. (Designs that might be usable on other products too would be especially welcome.)

If we use your t-shirt design, now or in the future, you will receive ten free DRCNet t-shirts in any size, a book of your choice from our premiums list, a travel mug, a mouse pad, and one of our "flashy" stop sign strobe lights. You will also of course be recognized in Drug War Chronicle and on our web site. Runners-up will also receive a free choice of one premium gift. (Click here to see all of our current premium choices.)
Entries must be submitted by the competition deadline of Friday, November 4, 2005, and correspondence discussing concepts or presenting rough drafts should be sent by Friday, October 21. E-mail all of the above to David Guard at [email protected] -- faxes may be sent to (202) 293-8344 if needed as well, but please let us know they are coming.

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13. Weekly: The Reformer's Calendar

Please submit listings of events concerning drug policy and related topics to [email protected].

September 29-30, São Paulo, Brazil, "Drugs -- Controversies and Perspectives," symposium sponsored by NEIP -- Center for Interdisciplinary Studies of Psychoactives, with Psicotropicus, Dínamo, Aborda and IHRA. At the University of São Paulo, History Department Amphitheater, Av. Prof. Lineu, Prestes nº 338, for further information visit or contact (55 + 11) 3091 2364 or [email protected].

September 30, 5:00-8:00pm, Madison, WI, Third Annual IMMLY/Madison NORML Benefit. At the Cardinal Bar, 418 E. Wilson, contact Gary Storck at (608) 241-8922 or visit for information.

October 1-2, Madison WI, "35th Annual Great Midwest Marijuana Harvest Festival." At the UW Campus Library Mall, e-mail [email protected] or visit for further information.

October 15, 8:30-11:30am, Vancouver, BC, Canada, Mayor's Forum on Vancouver's Draft Prevention Strategy, forum hosted by Mayor Larry Campbell. At the Mount Pleasant Community Centre, 3161 Ontario St., visit for information.

October 4, 8:00pm, New Brunswick, NJ, "Dynamics of American Drug Use," lecture by Confessions of a Dope Dealer author Sheldon Norberg. At Rutgers University, Livingston Campus, College Hall, visit for further information.

October 18-19, Vancouver, BC, CA, "Beyond Drug Prohibition, A Public Health Approach," symposium sponsored by the "Keeping the Door Open: Dialogues on Drug Use" coalition. At Simon Fraser University, Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue, 580 West Hastings St., Vancouver (enter on Seymour St.), visit to RSVP or for further information.

October 21-22, Hartford, CT, "Hartford's Drug Burden -- Where to Put Our Resources," sponsored by the City of Hartford and Aetna Insurance. For further information visit or contact (860) 657-8438, (860) 522-4888 ext. 6112, or [email protected].

October 21-23, Chicago, IL, "Partnering for Peace: Colombian and North American Communities in Solidarity," and "Encounter of Communities," sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee and others. Visit or contact Natalie Cardona at (215) 241-7162 or [email protected] for further information.

October 26, Washington, DC, "Rally for Rescheduling: Demand HHS Reschedule Marijuana Now!" Demonstration for medical marijuana at the US Dept. of Health & Human Services, visit for further information.

November 5, 10:00am-6:00pm, Ithaca, NY, "The Latest Developments in the War on Drugs," hosted by the Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy, discussing Supreme Court decisions on medical marijuana and sentencing guidelines and the intersection of the war on terror and the war on drugs. At Cornell Law School, Room G90, Myron Taylor Hall, contact Ellis M. Oster at [email protected] or visit for further information.

November 9-12, Long Beach, CA, "Building a Movement for Reason, Compassion and Justice," the 2005 International Drug Policy Reform Conference. Sponsored by Drug Policy Alliance, at the Westin Hotel, details to be announced. Visit for updates.

November 13-16, Markham, Ontario, "Issues of Substance," Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse National Conference 2005. At Hilton Suites Toronto/Markham Conference Centre & Spa, visit for info.

December 1-2, Seattle, WA, "Exit Strategy for the War on Drugs: Toward a New Legal Framework," KCBA Drug Policy Project 2005 conference. At the Red Lion Hotel, 1415 5th Ave., registration opening 11/1. For further information visit or contact KCBA at (206) 267-7001 or [email protected].

January 13-15, 2006, Basel, Switzerland, "Problem Child and Wonder Drug: International Symposium on the occasion of the 100th Birthday of Albert Hofmann." Sponsored by the Gaia Media Foundation, visit for further information.

February 9-11, 2006, Tasmania, Australia, The Eleventh International Conference on Penal Abolition (ICOPA), coordinated by Justice Action. For further information visit or contact +612-9660 9111 or [email protected].

April 5-8, 2006, Santa Barbara, CA, Fourth National Clinical Conference on Cannabis Therapeutics. Sponsored by Patients Out of Time, details to be announced, visit for updates.

April 30-May 4, 2006, Vancouver, BC, Canada, "17th International Conference on the Reduction of Drug Related Harm," annual conference of the International Harm Reduction Association. Visit for further information.

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PERMISSION to reprint or redistribute any or all of the contents of Drug War Chronicle is hereby granted. We ask that any use of these materials include proper credit and, where appropriate, a link to one or more of our web sites. If your publication customarily pays for publication, DRCNet requests checks payable to the organization. If your publication does not pay for materials, you are free to use the materials gratis. In all cases, we request notification for our records, including physical copies where material has appeared in print. Contact: the Drug Reform Coordination Network, P.O. Box 18402, Washington, DC 20036, (202) 293-8340 (voice), (202) 293-8344 (fax), e-mail [email protected]. Thank you.

Articles of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of the DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.

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