Astudillo: thinking aloud. Astudillo: thinking aloud.

Legal opium farming now part of debate

Guerrero governor wonders about other options for poppy growers

The governor of Guerrero might have been thinking aloud when he suggested legalizing the cultivation of opium poppies for medicinal purposes, but Héctor Astudillo’s thoughts have now become part of the national debate on drug use.

Astudillo made the remark a week ago, later clarifying that it was more a thought said out loud than a concrete political initiative.

Some observers have said that legalizing the cultivation of opium, from which heroine and morphine are obtained, is a viable option that should be discussed, while others believe it will have a negligible effect in reducing the violence linked with drug trafficking.

Astudillo saw legalization as offering an option for local farmers whose livelihoods currently depend on it.

It is common for poor families to grow opium on small plots of less than half a hectare. Children are tasked with extracting opium gum, which is purchased by a drug cartel.

It has become the only means of income for many farm families as their other crops are usually grown for their own consumption.

Among the critics of the idea is the representative in Mexico of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Governor Astudillo’s approach “is not viable,” said Antonio Mazzitelli.

The market for opium poppy is different than that for cannabis, he said. The market for opiates is controlled at the global level by the International Narcotics Control Board, a United Nations entity.

In order for a country to become a legal producer of opiates, it must be able to comply with the board’s security and quality requirements. In Mexico, Mazzitelli pointed out, the poppy is grown in remote, mountainous regions where the state has little presence and the cost of providing security would be high.

Not only that, he said, there isn’t sufficient demand.

Instead, he suggested, the state should invest in “a long-term alternative development plan” by building schools, strengthening the police and justice systems and the creation of infrastructure and new economic activities that would enable local families to grow crops other than drugs.

The drug policy coordinator of the civil organization Mexico United Against Crime disagreed with Mazzitelli.

“The debate should focus on legal routes for opiate plantations, as an organized market would disempower organized crime and reduce violence, although it should not be considered the only solution,” said Lisa Sánchez.

Source: El Economista (sp)

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