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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Monday 22nd April 2013

When I worked in Zambia, in the 1970s, head office sent over a young high-flyer MBA to conduct a strategic review of the Zambian subsidiary. His conclusion was that the company should be sold and the money returned to the UK. He made this pronouncement as if no-one had ever thought of it before and completely ignored that foreign exchange rules in Zambia would have prevented the repatriation of the sale proceeds.

I mention this because it illustrates how someone of apparent intelligence can let that appearance slip by claiming to have an original idea that isn’t and making statements that reveal how little they know about their subject. So, today I want to write about Hassan Tahsin.

I could easily return to making this a daily blog if I wrote about every stupid remark made about the issues surrounding psychoactive substances. The writings of Kevin Sabet, Melanie Phillips, Kathy Gyngell, Peter Hitchens, Mary Brett and Russell Brand would, probably, be enough to keep me going without having to look at various pronouncements from police and politicians. But, in general, I’ve decided that the better course, mostly, is to ignore the illogical ranting of those who are only looking to appeal to their core support.

A Tweet from ‏@DannyKushlick directed my attention to a piece that is so amazingly silly that I thought it was worth looking at in some detail. I set out to poke fun but, once you get to the central proposal of the article, it becomes a long way from funny.

Apparently, ‘Hassan Tahsin is a veteran Egyptian writer and a regular contributor to pan-Arab newspapers, including the Saudi Gazette’.  That’s presumably why Al Arabiya decided to reprint an article of his from that publication. The piece is entitled ‘Political intervention key to global war on drugs’ and in it Hassan Tahsin provides simple solutions to the problems caused by drugs.

His solution comes in two parts based on the type of substance. His ‘first one is traditional drugs — hashish, opium, cannabis, qat (narcotic plant), marijuana, etc.’ Demonstrating that you don’t understanding that hashish, cannabis and marijuana are all from the same plant, Cannabis sativa, is not the best start to presenting yourself as the first person to see how the drug problem is to be solved.

But it is his solution to this first part that is so laughable. The author says that all that is needed is to eradicate the growing of these plants. Amazing. Why has nobody ever thought of this before? No, wait. Didn’t I read somewhere that hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent trying to eradicate the opium poppy, Papaver somniferum, in Afghanistan alone but that country continues to produce about 90% of the world’s output.

His second part is manufactured drugs where his solution is to destroy the factories that produce them. The problem is that his list of ‘manufactured drugs’ is ‘cocaine, heroin, ice, and all types of hallucinatory and narcotic pills’. It seems he knows so much about his subject that he hasn’t realised that in his ideal world where growing the opium poppy and Erythroxylum coca has ended there would be no cocaine or heroin.

So far so funny but where the piece becomes scary is when he offers a proposal for dealing with these factories. Essentially, Hassan Tahsin believes that if a country fails to eliminate the manufacture of drugs then the USA should do so on its behalf, with or without the permission of the government of the country concerned.

‘Simply put, effective military plans should be designed and implemented under the U.N. umbrella to destroy all the strongholds of drugs whether the countries with drug factories accepted it or not.’

Though that paragraph mentions the UN, the author later says that body has ‘lost its significance’ and makes clear who he expects to be the arm of the international body.

‘We all agree unanimously that the USA has the strongest military force and the most advanced technology to play the role of world savior and save the entire world from this epidemic called drugs.’

If the notion that all you need to do to end the problem of drugs is to stop psychoactive plants from being grown is not the novel solution Hassan Tahsin presents it as, you might think that widespread military action by the US regardless of the wishes of the governments of the countries concerned is something new. Sadly, there are plenty of people in countries in Central and South America who can testify both that this approach has been used extensively and that all it has done is to make matters a great deal worse for the populations concerned without having any discernible effects on the availability of drugs in the USA and other consumer countries.

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