Nice to see an OpEd like this in the Financial Times. Written by Willem Buiter, professor of European political economy at the London School of Economics’ European Institute.
It’s not the best writing. But the content is well reasoned and takes the bold steps regarding overall legalization and regulation of illicit drugs.
He addresses dealing with drug problems through regulation, education, and rehabilitation rather than criminalization and takes on the so-called health care arguments for prohibition:
The argument that countries with publicly funded or subsidised healthcare have the right to proscribe the use of drugs likely to cause harm to the user is a ludicrous misuse of the concept of an externality. Should we ban rugby because it is more dangerous than tiddlywinks?
But the biggest part of this OpEd (while it does require some slogging through dense passages), is his view that full legalization will cut out profits to the Taliban.
Following legalisation, the allies in Afghanistan could further undermine the financial strength of the Taliban and al-Qaeda by buying up the entire poppy harvest. If a sufficient premium over the prevailing market price were offered, the Taliban/al-Qaeda middle-man could be cut out altogether, and thus would lose his tax base. Winning the hearts and minds of poppy growers and coca growers is a lot easier when you are not seen as intent on destroying their livelihood.
This proposal for legalising poppy growing regardless of what the poppy is used for is much more radical than the proposal from the Senlis Council to license the growing of poppy in Afghanistan only for the production of essential medicines. The Senlis Council proposal would not end the problem of illicit poppy cultivation co-existing with licensed cultivation. With the illicit price likely to exceed the licit price, the Taliban would retain a significant tax base.
He then goes on to explain why full legalization is the only way to eliminate the availability of black market profits to terrorists, and finishes with the part that will be the most difficult for people who are not prepared to wrap their minds around legalization — the actual legal distribution of drugs like heroin.
If opium and heroin were legalised, the allies’ stash could be sold to regulated producers/distributors of opium, heroin and other formerly illegal poppy derivatives. Our chemical and pharmaceutical industries, and indeed our cigarette manufacturers, would be well-positioned to enter this trade. The profits made by the allies on the sale of the stash could be turned over to the Afghan government. It surely makes more sense for the government to tax the poppy harvest than for the Taliban to do so.
So legalise, regulate, tax, educate and rehabilitate. Stop a losing war, get the government off our backs, beat the Taliban and deal a blow to al-Qaeda in the process. Not a bad deal! [emphasis added]