Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Hitchens On the Drug War

This month's issue of Foreign Policy features two articles that should be of particular interest to readers of this blog. In the cover story, entitled "21 Solutions to Save the World," 21 "leading thinkers" on world affairs articulated their answers to this specific question: What is one solution that would make the world a better place?

I'm a tremendous admirer of the writer Christopher Hitchens, so I was genuinely intrigued to see that his response pertained to the alleged "War on Drugs." Although the full piece is accessible only to the publication's subscribers, the opening paragraphs are worth quoting in full:

The largest single change for the better in U.S. foreign policy, and one that could be accomplished simply by an act of political will, would be the abandonment of the so-called War on Drugs. This last relic of the Nixon era has long been a laughingstock within the borders of the United States itself (where narcotics are freely available to anybody who wants them and where the only guarantee is that all the money goes straight into criminal hands). But the same diminishing returns are now having a deplorable effect on America’s international efforts.

Consider the case of Afghanistan. Thirty years ago, it was a vinegrowing [sic] country, renowned for its raisins. It is now so deforested that a farmer planting a vine would be an optimist, while a farmer growing poppies is assured of at least some income. We burn and destroy what is in effect the Afghans’ only crop, while suffering from a shortage of analgesics in the United States. The beneficiaries of this policy are the Taliban. Why not instead buy the Afghan crop, use it to manufacture painkillers, and burn or throw away the rest (if you insist) while simultaneously offering incentives and aid to vine growers? We already pay the Turks to grow medical opium; they don’t need the money. The revenue that now goes to drug lords and terrorists could be applied straight to Afghanistan’s reconstruction, while weakening those who benefit from an artificially created monopoly. This might be termed “winwin.” And this is to speak only of opiates. The usefulness of marijuana in combating glaucoma and in helping to ease the pain of chemotherapy is now well attested.

Decriminalization of drugs could also mean fewer lethal impurities (the result of gangsters “cutting” the stuff) and a decline in the glamour associated with prohibition.

Another article, "Prison Planet," discusses how the global prison population is on the rise, with upwards of 9 million people now doing time. Countries are now locking up more of their citizens than ever before. According to the authors, "this troubling trend has left jails severely overcrowded, costs booming, and countless prisoners waiting years for justice." Unfortunately, this article is also available only to subscribers.

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