In an opinion piece for the Financial Times (3rd January 2016), the author, Misha Glenny, laid out how inextricably linked the ‘War on Terror’ and the ‘War on Drugs’ are. In the article he calls upon Western governments to recognise the interwoven economics of their attempts to stamp out terrorism and drug use.
The terms may no longer be politically correct but western governments continue to wage both a war on terror and a war on drugs. They now need to recognise what is staring them in the face : that the prosecution of the latter makes it impossible to win the former.
Glenny goes on to outline some of the sources of income for terrorist groups. He starts with the Taliban in Afghanistan.
The billions spent by America and its allies on war in Afghanistan since 2001 have not destroyed the Taliban. On the contrary, funds from heroin sales have made the group stronger than ever.
He then points to the west African and Maghreb drug trade routes to Europe, which pass through areas populated with organisations linked to Islamic extremists such as Daesh.
The movement of cocaine and marijuana through west Africa and the Maghreb has provided various organisations linked to al-Qaeda and Isis with a cash boost.
The consumption of drugs in the West draws in narcotics from all over the world, not only those at the source countries but also those in countries the drug smugglers move their goods through. The futility of attempts to prevent this are not only costly but wholly ineffective argues Glenny.
Western governments cannot stop drugs reaching their cities, and their passage benefits some of the worst people in the world.
One point the author makes is very interesting at a time when prison and policing budgets are being questioned or cut; the link between homegrown extremist recruitment and the prison system. Individuals jailed for small time drug offences are entered into a environment where they are more prone to recruitment by violent extremist groups. The articles reports that 15% of UK prison population is in on drug offences.
Moving on from these violent, drug trade-orientated points, the author discusses the potential financial benefits of legalisation. Not only would it prevent the illegal drug trade profiting so heavily or the unnecessary imprisonment of those prone to radicalisation, but it would reap a large amount of tax for the UK says Glenny.
If marijuana were legalised in the UK, the extra tax take could amount to £1bn or so a year.
George Osborne gets a mention too, with a nudge and a wink from the author.
In almost every other sector, George Osborne, the chancellor, has demonstrated a sharp eye for a bargain. Reforming the drug laws would offer a big financial prize. If the examples of Switzerland and Portugal are anything to go by, decriminalisation will also lead to a reduction in drug consumption