I’m still not sure why the United States doesn’t start buying the stuff from farmers, which at the very least would drive up prices and put the squeeze on the warlords.
Because there isn’t a natural limit on poppy production. Whatever we buy will be replaced, out of current inventories (opium is a good store of value, so farmers hold some of their savings in the form of opium) or out of additional plantings. It’s virtually impossible to prepare a massive buyback program without word leaking out in advance. So if we try to buy the Afghan opium crop, Afghan poppy farmers will grow two crops, one to sell to us and the other to sell to the heroin manufacturers.
Whatever we pay, the refiners can afford to pay more. The price of opium is trivial compared to the price of heroin: $500 worth of opium makes a kilogram of heroin, worth $100,000 at import to the U.S. and $500,000 on the street. The warlords would barely feel it.
With sufficient enforcement effort, it’s sometimes possible to move drug production from one country to another, but controlling the heroin problem by controlling the poppy crop is a mere chimera, and known to be so by everyone with any economic training who has looked at the problem. Our drug problem, if it’s going to be solved, has to be solved here.
The concept of buying drug crops is a zombie meme, an Undead idea: No matter how often it’s killed and no matter how many analytic stakes are driven through its heart, it keeps moving. But it is utterly and totally without any merit whatsoever.
As to the warlords: those are the people we supported in overthrowing the Taliban. (The Northern Alliance is more or less a trade association of opium and heroin merchants.) With the Taliban resurgent, this wouldn’t seem like an ideal time to be putting the squeeze on the enemies of our enemies.