Canada has a significant proportion of it’s military involved in a combat and reconstruction role in Afghanistan. In principle, the mission is a good one: get rid of what’s left of the Taliban; help rebuild the damage done by war; establish a stable political system that allows the country to become self-sufficient.

Everything sounds pretty good except for that last part. Try holding a gun to someone’s head and saying “right, form a stable civil state or I’ll shoot.” It’s not going to work.

One of the big complications here is that a large portion of Afghanistan’s economy is unacceptable to Western governments, or at least to America: poppies, the source of opium and heroin. Various aid agencies have called for the destruction of the poppy crops, while other agencies have pointed out that doing that would do irreparable damage to the economy, destabilize the government, and cause various heavily armed warlords to join in fighting the so-called “forces of liberation”. In short, immediate destruction of the poppy crop will guarantee that the West’s strategic objectives are thwarted. The likely result is a much improved supply of high quality heroin.

Those who advocate crop destruction must be wearing those same special filters that still allow some to deny that global warming is a problem — these people simply should be dismissed as dangerous cranks with a tenuous grip on reality.

So is the solution to allow Afghanistan to continue to supply the west with high quality heroin? No, of course not. There’s a worldwide shortage of medical grade morphine, which is derived from the same source. But it’s probably not a good idea to set Afghanistan up as the world’s morphine store either.

So here’s a solution: Canada should buy Afghanistan’s poppy crop, at prices at or above those that are paid by the heroin business, up to a predetermined quota. These poppies should then be processed into medical grade morphine in Canada — we have a thriving generic pharmaceutical industry that’s well suited to the task. The morphine should be sold for medicinal purposes, and if there’s excess, it should be stockpiled.

Over the next decade, the poppy production quota should be lowered. As the heroin industry decomposes due to lack of supply, the offered price should also drop. The transition will allow Afghan farmers to convert to other crops over time, with no disruption to the local economy. The only losers here are those in the heroin trade, and they deserve to lose.