Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador says the government is studying what to do with opium poppy growers affected by competition from synthetic opioids, suggesting that some sort of legalization scheme could be possible.
CITY OF MEXICO – Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Monday that the government is studying what to do with opium poppy growers affected by competition from synthetic opioids, suggesting some kind of legalization could be possible.
The government has tried to introduce alternative crops, such as wood and orchards, into poppy-growing areas, but López Obrador has clearly suggested that the new study is in addition to those efforts.
He said farmers in remote mountain communities in Mexico have lost income as human traffickers switch to buying fentanyl from Asia, instead of paying people to grow poppy seeds and pick poppy gum needed to process heroin.
“We are in the phase of analysis and thinking about what will benefit Mexico the most,” he said. “Now there are incomparable conditions to do what benefits Mexico and our people the most, because the current government is completely free and not subordinate to any foreign government.”
This apparently referred to U.S. pressure to reduce Mexican opium production, which is almost all smuggled into the United States.
Studies of legal opium production have been circulating in Mexican government circles since before López Obrador took office in December 2018. However, a number of factors meant that these proposals were never adopted.
The production of medical opioids needed for surgeries and terminal patients – something that has been proposed in the past – would require much tighter control over farmers than Mexico will ever achieve in the mountainous communities of northern Mexico and the Pacific coast of Guerrero where illegal production is currently concentrated.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration said in a recent report that poppy and heroin production in Mexico fell in 2019. She said that “the low prices of opium paid to poppy growers in Mexico, along with the increase in fentanyl use in the United States, were likely to have resulted in a reduction in cultivation. “
Traffickers are increasingly cutting heroin into fentanyl to increase its potency, and “DTOs (drug trafficking organizations) may consider heroin a simple adulterer of fentanyl,” the report said.
But even if marijuana cultivation has been legalized and some solution found for poppy growers, Mexico is still facing an expansion of the illicit drug crop.
In February, López Obrador said experimental plots of coca leaves, a raw material for cocaine, had been found in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero. The plant is native to South America and has so far been grown mainly in Bolivia and Colombia.
“I want to tell the bad guys that we know they are experimenting with coca production in Guerrero,” the president said. “We found some plots of coca in Atoyac,” a clashed city district known for gang violence and drug production.
Any legalization of opium poppy would represent another point of friction with the American authorities, already hardened by Mexico’s decision to withdraw immunity for foreign agents and limit their activities in Mexico.
Mexico has also heavily armed the United States by releasing a former Mexican defense minister arrested in October in Los Angeles on drug charges. Mexico dismissed retired General Salvador Cienfuegos after conducting only a cursory investigation of American evidence against him, and then published the entire file.