Your IP access to will expire on June 15

To ensure uninterrupted reading, please contact Rachel Mines, sales director, at


Legalize It

Want to defeat the pushers and drug kingpins? Then let's buy what they're selling.

The largest single change for the better in U.S. foreign policy, and one that could be accomplished simply by an act of political will, would be the abandonment of the so-called War on Drugs. This last relic of the Nixon era has long been a laughingstock within the borders of the United States itself (where narcotics are freely available to anybody who wants them and where the only guarantee is that all the money goes straight into criminal hands). But the same diminishing returns are now having a deplorable effect on America’s international efforts.

Consider the case of Afghanistan. Thirty years ago, it was a vine-growing country, renowned for its raisins. It is now so deforested that a farmer planting a vine would be an optimist, while a farmer growing poppies is assured of at least some income. We burn and destroy what is in effect the Afghans’ only crop, while suffering from a shortage of analgesics in the United States. The beneficiaries of this policy are the Taliban. Why not instead buy the Afghan crop, use it to manufacture painkillers, and burn or throw away the rest (if you insist) while simultaneously offering incentives and aid to vine growers? We already pay the Turks to grow medical opium; they don’t need the money. The revenue that now goes to drug lords and terrorists could be applied straight to Afghanistan’s reconstruction, while weakening those who benefit from an artificially created monopoly. This might be termed "win-win." And this is to speak only of opiates. The usefulness of marijuana in combating glaucoma and in helping to ease the pain of chemotherapy is now well attested.

Decriminalization of drugs could also mean fewer lethal impurities (the result of gangsters "cutting" the stuff) and a decline in the glamour associated with prohibition. The opportunities for the corruption of officialdom, both overseas and in the United States, would decline also, as would the deadly turf wars that inflate the crime rate. One does not have to be an apostle of Milton Friedman’s to realize that any attempt to prohibit a commodity with such huge demand and ease of supply is doomed. It has no place in the policy of a great nation.

Trending Now Sponsored Links by Taboola

By Taboola

More from Foreign Policy

By Taboola