Side Event: Transformation of Opium Poppy Economies: Crises, Booms and Future of Drug Policies

Organized by México Unido Contra la Delincuencia, Open Society Foundations, Transform Drug Policy Foundation and Transnational Institute

Moderator: Tania Ramirez, MUCD Mexico

Steve Rolles, Transform UK

Issues around legal and illegal opium in Mexico and international system. We work with MUCD and have produced briefing on the left, and a broader critique on the failings of the broader system. Opium latex: contains various drugs – codeine, thebaine and morphine – then synthetised and made into different medicines. Half of opium economy is legal. ~18 countries currently legally produce opium. 400 tonnes are produced each year. Most is poppy straw – (ground up dried poppy). India is only country making gum.

Afghanistan making vastly more opium than anyone in the world (but illegal crop). UN treaty requirements for legal opium production – have to set up national agency to do it, in negotiation with INCB – INCB not opposed in any way. Opium can grow pretty much anywhere, it’s a hardy plant. People generally don’t steal opium poppies – has to be processed and is bulky. Countries that have established licensed opium production for formerly illicit small scale opium farmers (Turkey and India). Could Mexico do this – it’s possible – need to establish an agency. Challenges with rural/regional areas. Demand for illegal heroin remains – and a transition to a legal market may not change this – but if innovative responses are explored then illicit demand could be reduced – if incorporating through harm reduction measures such as safe supply.

Sai Lone, TNI, Myanmar

Opium cultivation issue is challenging – especially to talk about in 9 min. In Myanmar we used to be the champion of illicit production. Now third biggest country. Introduced in early 16th century. Chinese nationalist general was defeated and when arrived in Shan State and made a smart comment – many freedom fighters in Myanmar – opium cultivation increased in 1950 – highest in 1996. Lowest in 2006. Farmers grow opium because of high elevation – where it’s hard to grow food crops – no viable cash crops. Lack of public services and development support – armed conflicts, traditional use and medical value. Opium as a cash crop – short term crop (harvest within 100 days), easy to cultivate, get credit, high value, easy to store and carry, ready market, extremely non-perishable, least depleting of the soil nutrients, cure almost all common diseases of the highland. We call it ‘gift of heaven’. Attempted to legalise in 1962 in eastern Shan state, but at the time UNODC didn’t support. 1964: formed opium enquiry committee, 1965 prohibited sale, 1974, started forced eradication, 2018: national drug control policy. But eradication is not the solution – creates humanitarian crisis, increases cultivation and change in cultivation patterns. Creates community conflicts, encourages corrupt. Within complicated problem – no plant is a drug, need to stop criminalising farmers. Development should come first, and there should be less military interactions. Need more holistic support. Licit cultivation should also be considered.

Romain Le Cour Grandmaison, Noria Research, France

No more opium for the masses

I’m a PhD in political science. Started working on drug cartels in Mexico about 10 years ago. You can find our report: www.noria-research.com/no-more-opium-for-the-masses/

Mexican opium goes to US market – production was becoming unprofitable. When we did more research, we found that Mexico was usually never mentioned when you read global reports. Creating Mexico Opium network and build up a project with evidence-based data. Network will bring data in combination with new quant data useful for advocacy efforts.

  1. Produce new knowledge
  2. Work with producing communities
  3. Generate evidence based debate within Mexican civil society
  4. Engage with key decision makers
  5. Offer alternative strategies

So many regions in Mexico produce opium. Bridging gap between applied research and design. Very complex issue though. Network will be announced next week. UC San Diego, …, Transform Drug Policy Foundation and TNI. Want to see how Mexico is different to Myanmar and Afghanistan for example. New debate on drug policies at national and international level. Will allow us to deploy our experience. How do they interact with criminal organisations? Based on area we work in we want to develop rural development strategy. Context is evolving right now in Mexico. Profitability has been lost over last 3 years. Farmers are asking us for solutions and alternatives. Ideas to generate practical knowledge and data. Mexico cannot be constantly absent. We will provide up to date info to stakeholders to bring Mexico to the table. We want to help sustain a group of experts. Try to build a thematical expert group. You are the first to hear about this network. We will keep you updated.

Catalina Gil, Global Drug Policy Program, OSF (Video)

2018/9 we organised program with female producers. Part of team that coordinated event. Two events – 7 women and identified 6 points. We’re not trying to generalise this issue.

  1. Local values prevail – women expected to marry young
  2. Culture around work, look after kids, cook for husbands. Not economically independent, cant go to study
  3. Planting, collecting gum, cook for men working in fields. Have to walk 2hrs to bring lunch to men. Men keep the money and decide what to give to woman
  4. Participation – compared to other countries – women don’t take place in decision making. Women cannot vote in meetings
  5. Alternative development (AD) programs – no proper substitution programs. Once they were given chickens. Lack of diagnosis in communities. Usually communities are not consulted. Usually only men are informed of AD projects. Most women are single mothers. Women are not usually able to be organised. Violence against women is high in these communities. Forced eradication occurs. Violence in these communities impact social fabric. 2 of the women participate in programs.

Policies in rural areas do little to address women’s needs – we are exacerbating problems. Females need to be in leadership positions. Capacity and knowledge – women know about soil, political situations. Need to be included in projects.

Ms Gomez: Represent female growers in Gueurro. Different to other counties, in Mexico we are less organised. Voices of women are usually absent in public conversations. In my experience, if we organised, we can strengthen our capacity. Our aim is for women growers in rural areas to enjoy their rights. Our aim is to be seen as a group of organised women growers, and to strengthen our voices.

Q: Our perspective takes in children rights – what does it mean to be a child in a criminalised community. Traditional users of peyote are being forced into poppy production.

Romain: Poppy production in indigenous and non-indigenous regions. History of growing as complementary crop – farmers now have to migrate to coast to legal tobacco farming – usually have worse working conditions there than the illegal fields. Huge issue – people in Guerro need to travel to be work.

 

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