What’s the relationship between cannabis and the Taliban? August 30, 2021, marked the day the US left Afghanistan after a twenty-year-long campaign. Just like a body with a physical dependency suddenly being cut off, Afghanistan went into withdrawal as the entire world held its breath. With the Taliban poised to take over the country and form government, more questions than answers have arisen. Questions about human rights, specifically women, questions about healthcare, about the economy and many more.
This article investigates the role cannabis can play in the formation of the new Afghani economy to support public well-fare, for better or worse.
Despite the country’s legal status, Afghanistan is the world’s largest producer of cannabis
Although cannabis in Afghanistan is strictly illegal — both medicinally and recreationally. In 2010, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) declared Afghanistan to be the top supplier of Cannabis. Between 10,000 and 24,000 hectares of cannabis are grown every year in Afghanistan. With major cultivation in 17 out of 34 provinces, the U.N. drug agency (UNODC) said in its first report on cannabis production in Afghanistan.
While some countries grow cannabis on more land, Afghanistan’s robust crop yields — 145 kg of resin per hectare compared to around 40 kg per hectare in Morocco — make it the world’s largest producer, estimated at 1,500 to 3,500 tons a year.
decades of conflict have stalled economic development and largely cut Afghanistan off from the rest of the world. In the meantime, the cannabis industry has boomed worldwide, with growers investing in hybrid varieties that maximize the plant’s psychotropic effects, making it a more profitable product. But Afghanistan’s decades of isolation protected its native cannabis strands from modern hybrids, making it a biodiversity hotspot for the plant.
A war fueled by hash
It should be noted that the most common form cannabis takes in Afghanistan is hash. (Hashish: the compressed dried resin, of the flowering tops of mature and unpollinated female cannabis plants).
Hashish and opium have fueled war in Afghanistan since the 80s, when the CIA-backed Mujahideen rebels (later came to be known as the Taliban) turned to the drug trade to fund their insurgency against the Soviet forces, then occupying the country.
The drug trade in Afghanistan became such a boon that it justified labelling the country as a narco-state in its own right. Now it is extremely difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to estimating the revenue from cannabis in Afghanistan. Namely, because in addition to cannabis, the country is the world’s illicit opium supplier and Europe’s heroin dealer. But, taking this all into consideration, according to the US Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction report, “The drug trade accounts for up to 60 percent of the Taliban’s annual revenue … annual earnings from the illicit drug economy ranging from 100 million to 400 million.”
For context, this makes the Taliban operations in Afghanistan comparable to the top three licensed cannabis producers in the world by revenue. No one knows what the future holds. Yet, if the economic pressures and responsibilities of building an entire country can offer us a glimpse, it’s difficult to see how the Taliban can afford to forego such a lucrative operation.
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