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How Do Afghan Drug Lords Spend All That Loot? (trueslant.com)
57 points by robg on Aug 21, 2009 | hide | past | favorite | 60 comments

The FARC in Columbia and the war lords in Afghanistan are all rich because a bunch of baby boomers can't bare the thought of legalizing drugs. Please someone contradict me and make a more reasoned argument. I am too pissed off to think of anything better.

Please someone contradict me and make a more reasoned argument.

The FARC sells cocaine. The Afghan warlords sell heroin. There is no constellation of American political interests for which "Legalize cocaine and heroin" is even remotely conceivable as an achievable policy option.

Incidentally, no matter what you legalize, smuggling remains a viable option for whatever it is you don't. FARC could just as easily be the world's largest kiddie porn or sex slave ring. Afghanistan could sell slaves.

(I am not speaking hypothetically. There are nations which do both. A willingness to do evil plus a local monopoly on coercive force makes for a very profitable combination.)

Your argument is specious.

The total addressable market for heroin and cocaine consumption is demonstrably high. Kiddie porn demand will never reach this level, and hiding a sex slave in your house is difficult.

Funny that you say that.

In Japan there's a whole (legal) industry that would be probably classified as "kiddie porn" distribution in US. It's certainly bigger than the local cocaine and heroine market.

What's legal in Japan creeps me out, but what's illegal in the US is often silly.

You'll be happy to know that freedom of expression is slowly being crushed in Japan, just like everywhere else, so you won't have to feel creeped out much longer.

http://www.sankakucomplex.com/2009/08/21/un-demands-hentai-b... (possibly NSFW)

The UN's obscure subdepartments can demand, but Japan doesn't have to comply. And considering the size of the market for hentai, I don't think it's going to go away any time soon.

> (legal)

Not in the de jure sense, surely?


You know, Portugal did decriminalize cocaine and heroin use five years ago, and it seems to be effective.

Whether or not a given measure is effective has little to do with whether it is an achievable goal in the U.S. political system.

Little, but not nothing.

This is one of the main points right wing pundits make against legalizing pot too.

I wonder what bootleggers started to sell after alcohol was legalized in the US.

I'm sure the Afghan warlords would be happy to sell morphine or codeine if they could sell on the legitimate international opiate market. However, they're not allowed and this dramatically increases the price of medical opium.

Just found some interesting stuff about the decriminalisation of illicit drugs in Portugal in 2001, seems to be doing them a great deal of good. But there was mention that NO country has ever rationally considered legalisation as this would open up an economy and a power hierarchy the likes of which the world has never seen (hyperbole, yes, but I think we could all imagine the darker side of a legal drugs industry. Off the top of my head, the vast sums of money that can be made would cause a global gold rush where "Prospectors" vs. "Indyuns" would be woefully unbalanced. The "Indyuns" are already there, have assets invested, have militias and are less than ethical business people... bad medicine.)

> I think we could all imagine the darker side of a legal drugs industry. Off the top of my head, the vast sums of money

If you're going to "imagine" a legal drugs industry, shouldn't it be things that aren't true of the illegal one that we have now?

Illegal drugs are universally available. They are well marketed.

However, the local Coors and Bud distributors rarely shoot at one another. And, when their customers go broke, neither one of them kills said customers.

Excellent point, never thought of it that way before. Beer is, I think, more or less the same as "drugs"...ok, yes, there are many differences which we all realize, etc.....but the point is, have you ever heard of, or does it even seem conceivable, that someone could get killed in the "beer trade"??

And to those who say "it's different"...yes, it is....I can list any number incidents involving potential serious societal harm, and some involving actual societal harm, that were totally a result of alcohol. And make no mistake, these people also had access to the full range of commonly available drugs as well, and partaked of them often. But in the aggregate, in my experience, it is rarely the drugs that causes the problem, it is almost always the booze. The argument is that all these social incidents come from booze, but it would be worse if drugs were also available.....well drugs ARE available...if you want drugs, it is only a little bit more difficult to buy than booze.

Although, it seems reasonable to me that if "drugs" are legalized, a larger portion of the public will get involved, but I haven't seen anything to make me think this will make society worse. My best guess would be that it might get people off the booze a bit and chill them out, so they don't start so many fights and other wild adventures that boozed up people get involved in.

> have you ever heard of, or does it even seem conceivable, that someone could get killed in the "beer trade"

It happened during Prohibition, so it's unclear why you think that it's inconceivable.

However, I'm compariing between drugs and booze.

I'm pointing out that the "{something bad} will happen" arguments against legalizing drugs almost always use a "{something bad}" that is happens while they're illegal. In other words, legalization doesn't change whether said something occurs, so said something isn't relevant to the legalization or not discussion.

I think my point is often overlooked. I'm not denying that there exists sustainable economic models for the "legal drugs trade", such as tobacco and alcohol, nor am I forgetting this in my hyperbolic critique of the legalisation of the "illicit drugs trade". What I'm saying is simply a matter of scale. Look at the illicit drugs trade as it currently stands, valued at billions if not trillions of monies, dispite the effect of very agressive lobbying on behalf of the worlds governments, police and military institutions. If this pressure were to let up, even in only a few of these countries, this would surely cause an economic vacuum that would be for all intents and purposes like a gold rush(?). What I'm saying is that there effectively exists a non-partisan international agreement to actively surpress the emergence of the free (as in speech) drugs trade. Coffee is already the second largest comodity in the world, it's not that far a stretch of the imagination to picture Meth or Cocaine supplanting the humble bean as our stimulant of choice were they to be part of a legal industry.

Don't get me wrong, I'm well aware of the rhetorical/polemic structure of this argument, as well as the simple age of it, I'm just chipping in with what I've considered. I myself have a very liberal approach to drugs, my use of certain drugs (which is moderate even for alcohol) and I have a family involved in Iraq/AfPaq, figured this thread was well suited to my two cents. Just thought I had to defend my comments as something more than simply a "ohhh, terrorist'll get ya" pokey stick.

> What I'm saying is that there effectively exists a non-partisan international agreement to actively surpress the emergence of the free (as in speech) drugs trade.

I agree that there's an attempt to suppress. My point is that this attempt hasn't produced a significant shortage or any of the benefits that we'd supposedly get from making drugs unavailable.

It's sort of like running an air conditioner outdoors. One can feel a temperature differential if one stands in exactly the right place but otherwise it's a complete waste of energy.

> If this pressure were to let up, even in only a few of these countries, this would surely cause an economic vacuum that would be for all intents and purposes like a gold rush(?).

Legalization might change the players, but there's no vacuum.

> Just thought I had to defend my comments as something more than simply a "ohhh, terrorist'll get ya" pokey stick.


> Just thought I had to defend my comments as something more than simply a "ohhh, terrorist'll get ya" pokey stick.

Ha, I think we're broadly in agreemant but I'm tending toward pessimism, the above is a reference to Alex Jones which I guess helps qualify that!! Was just alluding to the fact I wasn't trying to doomsay and polarise the argument but articulate a genuine concern that there exists far to much potential in a free (a.i.s) drugs trade for corruption and misuse of power. It is not a trade I would like to see legal for fear of a smarmy spin covered consumerism. I manage nicely as it is, but decriminalisation I think is a far better option than legalisation. Speaking conservatively and pessimistically.

> However, I'm compariing between drugs and booze.

Argh! I'm NOT comparing them.

I think we could all imagine the darker side of a legal drugs industry

Think of a crack resurgence in the inner city powered by a marketing campaign strong enough to make Nike envious, market penetration approaching that of television, and the resulting decision of middle class America to essentially write them off.

See, for example, alcohol on Indian reservations.

I don't think the availability of alcohol is the main reason for alcoholism rates in Indian reservations. There's that whole reservation aspect of it.

And as far as inner city drugs go, they might as well be legal given how easy it is to get them.

Most people wouldn't do drugs even with Nike like advertising and those who do get hooked could get it legally. Wouldn't steal from their own mother to buy it, wouldn't support the Taliban.

Yeah? Like all those TV ads for liquor?

As a factual matter, lots of Baby Boomers can bear the thought of legalizing drugs. Most HN participants are too young to realize that the Baby Boom generation is still rather young compared to their living parents, who are very influential in politics because they turn out to vote.

Heroin and cocaine both do really bad things to a very high proportion of the people who take them -- scrambling their brains to the point where they don't really care about anything except getting more drugs. They're not really comparable to alcohol or nicotine, or even to marijuana, in terms of the amount of harm they typically do to their users.

As a libertarian I am very grudgingly in favour of drug legalization, but you can't deny the harm which would probably come from having all these drugs freely and cheaply available. I can't say for sure whether it would be greater or lesser than the current level of harm, but it would certainly be substantial.

"Judging by every metric, decriminalization in Portugal has been a resounding success," says Glenn Greenwald, an attorney, author and fluent Portuguese speaker, who conducted the research. "It has enabled the Portuguese government to manage and control the drug problem far better than virtually every other Western country does."


> Heroin and cocaine both do really bad things to a very high proportion of the people who take them

The very simple solution is to provide legal drugs for users who are documented addicts (and no-one else) in certified clinics at a very low price.

Since most of the economy of illegal drug-dealing is based on recurring business (addicts), the illegal market for drugs would collapse -- drugs would simply be prohibitively expensive when the majority of clients run off to the much cheaper, cleaner and safer competetition.

Also, the biggest problem with drugs aren't the drugs themselves, it's the crime that follows as users need to get money quick to get their next fix. Burglaries, robberies, muggings etc. -- most are perpetrated by drug addicts. This would be avoided.

I'm pretty sure a secure system for dispensing the drugs in the clinic can be devised. After all, we can distribute large amounts of physical cash with few incidents, drugs shouldn't be much different. Heroin-ATMs, anyone? The addict "withdraws" one dosis pr. 24 hour period, authenticated by a retina-scan.

It will be gamed because the motivation is much greater than just money, it's to feed an addiction. Crime by crack addicts aren't the only problem, the self destructive behavior when you're addicted to heroin and cocaine are also dangerous. I'm libertarian in terms of drug decriminalization and all that but I don't think a segment of society will ever be able to deal with hard drugs in a responsible way like that.

I'm sorry for the late reply, hope this reaches you anyway.

First, the point of this is the decouple addiction from money, and with that from crimes of enrichment. I'm sure we can agree that addiction is the root of this issue?

Second, this would only be offered to those already addicted. Once the illegal drug trading collapses, so will the "first hit for free" offers, since those are based on the expectation that the receiver will become addicted and be a returning customer. This is, as I understand, the primary way of getting addicted (very few would-be heroin users sit a home Thursday afternoon and decides that today is the day to try a hit).

I agree that drug usage is destructive in so many way, and I've come to realize that my solution isn't really to help the users -- strategies to help the users have failed over and over again -- but rather to contain the problem, and cut the causes as close the root as possible. Once that part is complete, we can look at getting people into rehab -- which should also be more effective when you old neighbourhood isn't full of pushers whose business depends on getting you back in the habit.

> you can't deny the harm which would probably come from having all these drugs freely and cheaply available.

Yes, there's harm from those drugs being available. However, criminalization hasn't reduced their availability.

Criminalization is very expensive. What are the benefits that we're actually getting?

* However, criminalization hasn't reduced their availability.*

I suspect that if that were actually true, prices would be an awful lot lower.


Like cars and booze, there are illegal drugs at pretty much every price point. (Crack created a lower price point option for cocaine.)

The War on (some) Drugs is so friggin' stupid! We'd be better off just doing what we can to make drug production a respectable and not so dangerous trade.

I don't necessarily disagree, but we already don't have a war on a long list of drugs, from caffeine to nicotine to alcohol to pharmaceuticals. You seem to feel that this list is inadequate, but that legalization of all drugs isn't the answer either, so I'd be interested to know which drugs we should no longer war against, and what the criteria is.

We could just change it every year. The increase in police will help boost the economy. At each state of the union address the pres could announce that this year Jolt and Ibuprofen are banned and you would have 24hours to consume it all before the police raids start.

I think you read "War on (some) Drugs" to mean that he felt a war on other drugs was acceptable. Instead, this is meant as a way to point out the ridiculousness of the name "War on Drugs": that it isn't "drugs" we're against, but only certain unapproved drugs.

Even the ones that we shouldn't condone, shouldn't be opposed as we currently fight the 'war' on drugs.

The war is wrongheaded and self-defeating, regardless of which currently-illegal drugs might be safely and productively legalized.

Or we could set up morphine processing facilities and sell the processed, medical grade, codine/morphine on the open market-- creating industry, jobs, economic devpt.. that whole schtick

I wish they would just firebomb the poppy fields and get it over with. What would be wrong with that? They've been saying they would for years but always decide to 'wait a little longer' and never do anything.

They would take away the livelihoods of a large number of farmers. From an Afgan farmer's position, when there are these foreign troops with strange customs and behavior that you don't really understand or like, and then they destroy all your crops and leave you and your family to starve, it tends to turn you against them. And when you have a lot of anger and time on your hands, some will decide to take up arms against the troops instead.

A better solution would be to just pay the farmers more than they get for the poppy to produce something else instead. With some basic sanity checks on the amount of stuff they produce the inevitable cheating of the system should be somewhat manageable. It might not be very cheap, but neither is handling the effects of drug-based crime at home or posting troops abroad.

This (subsidised legal crop production) was suggested by Columbia in the eighties as a way to curb cocaine exports, the response: We don't make deals with Terrorists...

Found a number on the amount of money such a scheme would require: "Although Afghanistan's overall economy is being boosted by opium profits, less than 20 percent of the $3 billion in opium profits actually goes to impoverished farmers, while more than 80 percent goes into the pockets of Afghan's opium traffickers and kingpins and their political connections."

So 600 million dollars, give or take, to replace the economic incentive.

I heard saffron could be a viable alternative cash crop.

Sounds a bit unfair to all the saffron farmers in other countries. With half the land in Afghanistan suddenly devoted to saffron production, the value of saffron will plummet. Meanwhile, Afghan saffron farmers will be selling their saffron to the US government for some insane price. If I were a foreign saffron farmer I'd be pretty pissed off. Oh, and the number one saffron producer at the moment is Iran, so you'd probably get a vast industry in smuggling Iranian saffron across the border to be sold in Afghanistan.

Oh, and also the drop in opium production will raise opium prices, and so you'll need to keep raising the Afghanistan saffron buying price in order to keep it more attractive than opium farming.

I foresee all sorts of unforeseen consequences, and those are just the foreseen ones!

I agree with the problems you mention, and the likely unintended effects. My point was that it might be a least-worst-option alternative. I suspect there are no perfect solutions that can be imposed onto the Afghan people from outside.

It would be pretty sweet for us if we could convince them to grow biodiesel.

If the could grow corn or soybeans - which are the main feedstocks for biodiesel - it would be better for everyone if they just used it for food production, as opposed to refining it and shipping it over here.

Where would they get all that water? Corn is a VERY thirsty crop, wheras opium poppies actually produce more alkoloids when given less water.

I don't think they could - hence, one of the many reasons that they don't grow it.

I'm saying that if they had the capability to grow corn, as fizx suggests, then it would be better to use that corn for food, as opposed to biodiesel.

How about FOOD!

There is no food shortage. There is a food distribution problem.

Afghanistan is having massive food shortages and food prices are through the roof. Hunger is a VERY serious problem there.

Growing corn for biodiesel would make very little sense.

until people figure out how to get high on saffron instead.

What is wrong with that? Seriously?

Firebombing peasant farmers in another country - and you see nothing wrong with that?

Perhaps we could accept some social and economic responsibility for dealing with the problem. Firebombing the poppy fields would be like removing all web developers hands because a website was compromised and credit card numbers stolen.

I'm not in favor of firebombing anyone, but you seriously need a different analogy, since that one suggests that all the farmer's crops are being stolen from them anyway. :)

Probably a bad idea. Poor, angry, disenfranchised people make for great terrorism recruits.


Why don't we just nuke the planet? I mean, there wouldn't be anybody left afterwards to complain and all the baddies would also be dead.

You're ridiculous.

Nooo! Leave my poppy seed bagels out of this

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