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Editorial: Legalize the Drug Trade to Cut Off Terrorism Funding

David Borden, Executive Director

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David Borden
A conflict that doesn't make the US radar screen as often as it merits is the civil war between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers. The Tigers are a nasty group that among other abuses uses children as soldiers. (I don't know enough about Sri Lanka's government to venture an opinion on its own human rights record -- a quick web search did not turn up anything quite so obvious or outrageous, though I'm slow to trust any government overmuch.) I'm not too familiar with the causes of the conflict or the issues that are driving it. Regardless, the Tigers are bad news. Naturally, media outlets located closer to the conflict cover it much more prominently.

An article in the Asia Times last weekend reported in detail on the buildup of arms on both sides and predicted intense resumed fighting. The drug trade came up:

The Sri Lankan government has repeatedly charged that the Tigers' ships transported illegal drugs from Myanmar, though no concrete evidence of this has been presented. However, the Tigers do seem to have close links to organized criminal groups in Russia, Lithuania and Bulgaria, as well as foreign terrorist groups.

Whatever their source, the Tamil Tigers appear to have ample funds to acquire weapons from anywhere and everywhere. Modern assault rifles, machine-guns, anti-tank weapons (rocket-propelled grenades), mortars and even man-pack SA-7 surface-to-air missiles from Russia, China and Europe.

Without concrete evidence, one should never fully trust any government's accusations of drug trafficking made against its opponents -- not only because the government has an incentive to make its opponents look as awful as possible, but also because there are drug-fighters within the government who want the money and crave the attention, and because it is a tactic governments use to try and get the international community and the US in particular more involved with their fights.

That said, it could certainly be true -- John Thompson of the Mackenzie Institute, a Canadian think-tank concerned with organized violence and political instability, discussed the issue of terrorist groups using the drug trade to finance their activities in an interview with this newsletter in October 2001 -- it is a substantial factor for many such organizations, and something that tends to keep them around as mere criminal organizations once the political and ideological conflicts have faded.

An arguably more reliable information source than many governments on the issue -- the Orthodox Anarchist blog, published from Jerusalem -- has made a similar observation about the hashish trade in Israel, which is extensively if not primarily supplied by Hezbollah, according to sources quoted. Author Dan Sieradski wrote last month that, "with a heavy heart, I am officially boycotting hashish effective immediately," confessed to having unintentionally helped to fund Hezbollah rockets through his consumption of it, and urged "all my Israel-based readers to cease their consumption of hashish immediately, for the sake of Israel and for the sake of the Lebanese living under the yoke of Iran and Syria's oppression by proxy."

Sieradski went on to recommend, as "an imperfect solution," that the foreign trade be replaced with a domestically-supplied market through decriminalizing the growing of a small number of marijuana plants in the home. So while Sieradski has proferred this confession for himself and friends for their small part of the illicit drug trade with all its evils, he has also implicitly pointed out the blame that governments deserve for creating all of it through drug prohibition. On that idea, outright legalization would be closer to a perfect solution.

Not a perfect one, of course -- there is no perfect policy toward the permanent human issues and shortcomings that exist in relation to the use of mind-altering substances. But it is a better solution than any other. I can't say to what extent the illegal drug trade is helping Hezbollah, but clearly drug prohibition is a major contributor to violence, be it global, localized, political or economic. It is only because of prohibition that the world's underground economy is of such a size that it can help terrorist groups so very much, enough to literally cause civil wars to escalate in places like Sri Lanka or Colombia.

In a time for which political violence has become the defining issue, to continue to support it through ill-conceived laws when viable alternatives exist is senseless. It is time for some clear thinking on this issue from our leaders.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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Chianada use children as the owners of the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus tell the Jews off by saying "The kingdom of God belongs to these such as these." Anyone who poisons their minds tie a grind stone and drowns deep.

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