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Legalizing production would make Afghanistan a narco-welfare state.

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Opinion

USA Today / May 21, 2007
By Thomas A. Schweich and R. Gainer Lamar

The proposed legalization of the Afghan opium crop does not withstand even modest analytical scrutiny:

* The price of opium on the legal market is $16-$49 per kilo vs. roughly $138 per kilo on the illegal market. Afghan farmers would have no incentive to switch to the legal market β€” which pays a third as much as the illegal market.

To address this fact, legalization advocates propose a system of massive subsidies to make up the price difference. Currently, less than 15% of the Afghan population is involved in the opium trade, but with a guaranteed high price, the whole country would grow poppy. Considering that the crop is already worth $755 million to those few Afghans who grow poppy, a dramatically increased supply would raise the cost of a buyout to many billions of dollars per year, with no end in sight. Afghanistan would become a narco-welfare state with American taxpayers picking up the bill.

* Not only is the legalization idea prohibitively expensive, but it would create an economy dependent on one commodity. This approach contradicts all our experience with effective development, which thrives on economic diversification and a free market.

* Almost insurmountable hurdles to legalization remain. In India, one of the oldest legal opium producers in the world, 20%-30% of its closely-monitored crop is diverted to the illegal market each year. How could Afghanistan, a much less developed country with a much bigger crop, prevent major diversion into the illegal opium market?

* Advocates of legalization also argue that more opium is needed to address an alleged world shortage of painkillers. According to international experts, including the United Nations, there is no shortage of raw material for painkillers. In fact, there is an oversupply.

* Efforts to change the system for legal opium, which is governed by U.N. agreements, has already met strong opposition from existing supplier countries.

The current strategy β€” education, demand reduction, alternative development, eradication, interdiction and prosecution β€” has reduced or eliminated poppy in Pakistan, Laos, Thailand and other nations. It requires time and political will. Let’s not divert the world’s attention from sound policy toward pie-in-the-sky solutions with no chance of success.

Thomas A. Schweich is the U.S. coordinator for Afghan counternarcotics and justice reform. R. Gainer Lamar is his adviser.

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Written by afghandevnews

May 22, 2007 at 1:56 am

Posted in Drugs

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