Mexico debates legalising opium for medicine

2016-05-14 12:03
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Mexico City - Fed up with drug-related violence, a growing number of Mexican politicians see one potential cure: Legalising the cultivation of opium poppies for the production of medicine.

The debate has emerged in recent weeks after President Enrique Peña Nieto proposed legislation in April to loosen dagga laws by legalising medical cannabis and easing restrictions on its recreational use.

Since then, governors and congressional lawmakers have voiced their support for regulating opium poppies, which are often grown by farmers in poor areas of the country and sold to cartels as the raw material for heroin.

The idea was launched by Héctor Astudillo, governor of the southern state of Guerrero, which has the country's highest murder rate amid turf wars among drug cartels battling for control of the mountains where US-bound heroin is born.

Astudillo, whose state is the biggest producer of opium poppies, proposed a pilot programme for the crop's cultivation for medical uses.

Government proposal

Graco Ramirez, governor of the neighbouring crime-plagued state of Morelos, which is a transit route for the drug, voiced his support.

"In (the north-western state of) Sinaloa and Guerrero, growing opium poppies is a fact of life and we must take it away from the criminals and give it to health," Ramirez said.

Manuel Mondragón y Kalb, the national commissioner against drug addiction, said that his agency is "deeply studying the use of opium gum as medicine, its transformation into morphine and its derivatives as painkillers".

While Mondragón did not indicate whether the government was drafting some kind of legislation, El Universal newspaper said on Wednesday, citing presidency sources, that the government was working on a proposal to send to Congress by the end of the year.

Peña Nieto's spokesperson, Eduardo Sánchez, said that he had "no idea about this information" in the newspaper while Health Minister José Narro told reporters that Congress must first focus on the dagga bill.

One backer of such a measure, Senator Miguel Romo, of Peña Nieto's centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), said opium poppies are regulated in "a very efficient way" in some countries where it is legal for medical uses, such as Spain.

Australia, France, Turkey, Hungary and India also grow opium poppies legally for the pharmaceutical industry under international licenses.

Senator Roberto Gil, of the conservative National Action Party, said that it "is stupid" that Mexico cannot use opium poppies for medical purposes when it is one of the world's major producers of the crop.

But for Raúl Benítez-Manaut, a security expert at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, such a measure would not reduce violence in Guerrero because the illegal heroin market in the US will always be too lucrative for cartels to give it up.

"The profit from the illegal drug is much, much higher than any legal cultivation, even if it is very profitable," he said.

Read more on:    mexico  |  narcotics

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