The most positive aspect of Iran’s war on drugs is that it is responsible for 74% of the opium busts and 25% of all morphine/heroin busts in the world. According to Mohammad Javad Larijani, Iran’s chief of human rights, “the battle against drug smugglers is a serious issue in Iran that should be heeded at an international level because the whole world will in practice benefit from the fight“…OK, but apart from the statistics and Larijani’s hype, the positivity ends abruptly because the efficiency of this war is doubted on three levels:
- Strike 1 – War on drugs leads to executions: Drug trafficking in Iran is punishable by death. It’s estimated that 70% of all prisoners and all executions in Iran are drug-related and accounts for approximately 1,000 executions a year. Furthermore, the UNODC, the UN’s organization against the trafficking of drugs, donates at least $20 million dollars a year to Iran’s war on drugs which makes the UN partly responsible for the executions. Other EU countries, which are the main destination for most of the drugs passing through Iran, also chipped in added millions to support this program although some, like the UK and Denmark stopped doing so because of the executions. It would be hard to find any country in the world which doesn’t support the war on drugs but it is much harder to find countries which are willing to take responsibility for the executions of drug traffickers.
- Strike 2 – War on drugs inefficient in Iran: The number of drug addicts in Iran is soaring alongside the growing number of executions so local determent is obviously not a positive factor. Don’t think of these drug addicts as simply weed or hash smokers – local meth labs and heroin from nearby Afghanistan are the real problems. Unofficial estimates point to over 6 million drug users, 2.2 million overall hard-drug addicts and 1.3 million addicts undergoing treatment in private facilities since the government doesn’t condone rehab programs. Iran is also one of the biggest importers of pseudoephedrine (the key ingredient in crystal meth) in the world.
- Strike 3 – War on drugs benefits corruption: It is a known “secret” that the drug trade, whether within Iran or through it from Afghanistan, could not succeed as it does without the support of crooked IRGC officials on the take. This fact makes a lot of sense since the IRGC is in control of a large chunk of Iran’s economy and drug smuggling, along with smuggling of any kind was a big money-maker for the IRGC during the sanction years. Drug sales in Iran account for $3 billion and since the IRGC had been running the war on drugs it was in the perfect position to reap commissions. In fact, the IRGC has developed close ties with drug cartels in Latin America.
In a nut-shell, Iran is running a war against drugs, which is leading to the rise in capital punishment, which is ineffective in reducing the number of addicts in Iran and which is benefiting corrupt officials. Oh, and this war on drugs has also resulted in the deaths of approximately 3,000 drug-enforcement officials.
This might sound like a clear-cut case to instigate a change to this program but change is hard to come by in Tehran. 70 MP’s have actually signed a petition to legalize some drugs and to abolish capital punishment for drug-related crimes but the petition was buried by the regime. In fact, despite the continuing criticism against capital punishment for drug traffickers, word got out last week that Iran was planning to execute another 100 drug traffickers and Iran’s VP for family affairs, Shahindokht Molaverdi, shocked the world by claiming that “we have a village in Sistan-Baluchistan where every single man has been executed” for drug trafficking.
It’s time for Tehran to revamp its war on drugs for three simple reasons:
- Executions are not acceptable any more: The linkage between drugs and executions: The link between executions and drug seizures, however big they may be, is becoming unbearable for many Westerners who will continue to pressure Iran to abolish the capital punishment laws.
- The timing is right for change: The nuclear deal, the opening of Iran to international business, the increasing power of moderates in the regime, the growing power of women and youths…all point to an environment which can foster change.
- Rehabilitation more successful then death: The fact that the number of addicts in Iran is growing is a clear statement that drug addiction is an epidemic which cannot be eradicated and that rehabilitation is sometimes the only option.
In this context, it’s strange that Larijani, in an interview last week, stated that the “system of punishment in Iran is not based on revenge; it is for rehabilitation“. Executed drug-related criminals cannot be rehabilitated. Larijani should take the issue of rehabilitation more seriously and introduce laws that will allow Iranian drug addicts the hope of rehabilitation.