What is it about Opium?
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 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