Record Opium Poppy Acreage Means Victory Is Just Around the Corner (As Usual)

According to a

released yesterday by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime
(UNODC), the amount of land devoted to opium poppies in Afghanistan
reached an
all-time high
this year: 209,000 hectares, up 36 percent from
last year and 8 percent higher than the previous record, set in
2007. The good news, according to the UNODC: “Unfavourable weather
conditions, particularly in the Western and Southern regions
of the country, meant that the 2013 opium yield was adversely
affected,” so that estimated opium production, while 49 percent
higher than last year, was still lower than the 2007 record. Once
again, drug warriors’ most effective tactic in Afghanistan, which
produces about 90 percent of the raw material for the world’s
heroin, seems to be praying
for bad weather

Although it could have been higher with better weather, the 2013
production level, 5,500 tons, was more than enough to satisfy the
annual global demand for illicit opium, which is estimated to be
something like 5,000 tons. Production has exceeded that level in
five of the last 10 years. So even if the weather gets
really bad, drug traffickers willl have a
on which to draw. After opium production fell to a
measly 185 tons in 2001 under the Taliban (who simultaneously
cracked down on and profited from the trade), heroin did not
disappear from the streets.

Even less meaningful is the official number of “poppy-free”
provinces, which fell from 17 to 15 (out of 34) this year. But let
us note for the record that most of Afghanistan’s provinces are
once again producing opium. The farm-gate price for opium fell by
12 percent, the sort of change you might expect as production
expands, although it is still “much higher than the prices fetched
during the high yield years of 2006-2008.” Hence the returns
“continued to lure farmers.”

That reality reflects a basic problem with the never-ending,
always-failing strategy of preventing drug use by attacking supply.
Although the UNODC seems to have forgotten, the whole point of
eradicating poppies and seizing opium is to drive up prices and
thereby discourage heroin consumption. But to the extent that drug
warriors succeed in raising prices, they make the business of
growing poppies and producing opium more appealing, thereby
defeating themselves. As you may vaguely recall from an economics
course in college, higher prices stimulate an increased supply,
which drives prices down again. Even in the heroin market. In the
last decade, as opium seizures skyrocketed, heroin
purity rose and heroin prices fell

But there’s always next year! Back in 1997, Pino Arlacchi, the
first director of the U.N. Office for Drug Control and Crime
Prevention, which later became the
UNODC, explained that
“global coca leaf and opium poppy acreage totals an area less than
half the size of Puerto Rico,” so “there is no reason it cannot be
eliminated.” Four years ago, UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria
Costa declared:
“It is no longer sufficient to say: no to drugs. We
have to state an equally vehement: no to crime.”
Yesterday Costa’s successor, Yury Fedotov,
the 2013 cultivation figures “sobering,” but he also
had a solution: “What is needed is an integrated,
comprehensive response to the drug problem. Counter-narcotics
efforts must be an integral part of the security, development and
institution-building agenda.”

Drug warriors are becoming so sophisticated that pretty soon we
will have no idea what their goals are, and neither will they. Then
they can declare victory without fear of contradiction.

from Hit & Run

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