What, if any, are the implications for Australia of the record crop of heroin-producing opium in Afghanistan?

The impetus for a smattering of stories on this theme in the local media has been the release of the annual reports, almost on top of each other, from the three main bodies which police and/or report on the US-led internationally-waged “war on drugs”: US State Department, UN’s International Narcotics Control Board and United Nations Office of Drug Control (UNODC).

The chart below is from the UNODC’s most recent publication “World Drug Report 2006” and speaks for itself but also may tell a tale or two which provides some
insight into the implications for Australia, if any, of the forecast record crop for 2006 which it is estimated will be “up 59% from the previous year”.

Of note is the severe dip in 2001 when the Taliban-controlled government of Afghanistan was able to achieve, and was rewarded for its efforts by the US government to the tune of US$40m, what no other government in the world has managed: winning the war on drugs by eliminating the opium crops used to produce heroin.

Well, no other government but Australia, because if the accepted wisdom being promulgated by federal politicians and the AFP, and supported by a research paper, is to be believed, our “heroin drought” which, coincidentally or not also began in early 2001, was the result of superior law enforcement and interdiction. There are several reasons why this hypothesis doesn’t pass what any pre-feminism student of law knows as “the reasonable man test”, and why any of that current Afghanistan crop is unlikely to lob here.

Our state and federal police intelligence for years have held the opinion that most if not all of the heroin available in Australia has been sourced in the so-called Golden Triangle region of SE Asia, an area where the borders of Thailand, Myanmar formerly Burma and Laos meet. Many will have done the tourist thing and had a photo taken at the border-crossing in Chiang Rai, Thailand.

Also evident from the chart is that production in these areas has been consistently falling such that in 2006 it is estimated that the region will only account for about 5% of world opium production. That’s the good news whereas the bad news is that it’s now generally accepted that the region has switched drugs and is now one of the major producing regions in the world for Amphetamine Type Stimulants (ATS) which are so much easier, quicker and less risky. There is no need to grow anything and wait for the harvest before processing it into heroin, just source all the precursor chemicals which are readily available through the porous borders of Southern China.

So the short answer to the what-about-us question is probably ”none” since we’re not on the trafficking route for Afghani heroin and the importers and distributors who used to trade in SE Asian heroin have long ago mostly abandoned that trade for speed, meth, ice, ya-ba, shabu, all the Amphetamine Type Stimulants, and are no doubt delighted with all the media coverage of an “ice epidemic”. It will more likely boost rather than curtail their sales.

John Boxall writes: The border crossing between Thailand and Myanmar in the “Golden Triangle” region is at Mae Sai in Thailand (not Chiang Rai – which is about one hour south of Mae Sai by car).

Jay Walker, former Australian correspondent for High Times magazine writes: One throwaway line in the whole piece and I’ve been seemingly Charles Richardsoned by John Boxall (comments, yesterday) but since this is pedant’s corner, let me try a George Brandis, an “a” or “the” of being rodent by using the “letter” of the statement as a defence against the ‘spirit’ of its intention. Chiang Rai is both a town and a province and both the towns of Chiang Rai and Mae Sai are in Chiang Rai province. When used on it’s own as here on this Thai tourist website: “The sights of Chiang Rai are often visited on a day-trip from Chiang Mai, but we would highly recommend a one or two-night stay in Chiang Rai town”, it refers to the province. The northern most point of Thailand is the northern most point of the province and is located at “the border crossing between Thailand and Myanmar in the ‘Golden Triangle’ region”. As for its intention, I sit corrected, had forgotten about the day trip from Chiang Rai town to Mae Sai but not the cold beer and lunch on the bank of the border river.