Mixed reaction to calls for opium legalisation
[This report does not necessarily
reflect the views of the United Nations]
KABUL, 15 Mar 2005 (IRIN) - Local officials and
NGOs are divided on the idea of legalising opium
cultivation for medical purposes in Afghanistan,
currently the world’s top producer of the illicit
“It is a new idea, and proper research has to be
done to look again at all sides of it; the control
mechanism, permission from the International Narcotics
Control Board [INCB], and the United Nations Office on
Drugs and Crime [UNODC],” Habibulllah Qaderi, Minister
of Counter Narcotics, told IRIN in the capital Kabul,
Their comments followed the launch of a new
feasibility study in Vienna last week by the Senlis
Council - an international drug policy think tank -
for the creation of an opium licensing framework for
Afghanistan, similar to frameworks already in place in
Australia, France, Turkey and India.
The idea is to turn Afghanistan's massive levels of
opium production away from drug lords and the illegal
heroin trade, and towards serving the global need for
essential opiate-based medicines such as morphine and
codeine, the council said in a statement.
According to the United Nations, Afghanistan
produces 87 percent of the world’s supply of opium.
Some 2.3 million Afghan farmers grow the opium poppy
and can make 10 times more money from it than they
would cultivating legal crops.
“The position of the Afghan government would be
that when proper research has been done and if it
really helps the world community and Afghanistan, the
government of Afghanistan would not have any problem
[with it]. But if it does not help, we will not be
supporting this idea,” Qaderi said.
Dave Mather, managing director of Afghan Aid, a
Kabul-based NGO working to develop alternative
livelihoods for farmers growing opium poppy, told IRIN
that given the magnitude of the problem there was a
need to look at all possible ways of tackling the
“There is no magic wand that can resolve this issue
and one needs to explore various methods to address
it,” he said.
But some strongly rejected the idea. “It is
ridiculous. If you legalise it [opium cultivation]
than all the farmers will jump on this opportunity and
opium cultivation could spread to all parts of the
country,” an international analyst who did not want to
be identified, told IRIN.
The Senlis Council report said that licensed opium
production in Afghanistan could help to reduce the
worldwide shortage of morphine for pain relief, which
is particularly felt in developing countries.
"The world's largest supply of opium could be
turned into essential medicine such as morphine and
codeine rather than heroin," Emmanuel Reinert,
executive director of the Senlis Council, said.
“Our solution would allow farmers to carry on
producing opium for the legitimate and useful legal
market instead of the illicit trade in heroin.
Reducing the amount of heroin produced by
Afghanistan's poppy crop would shift the drug trade
and its profits from the drug lords and terrorists to
the people of Afghanistan," Reinert added.
Under the current international system, countries
are free to apply for a licence from the UN's INCB to
legally produce and sell opium for medical purposes.
One of the concerns shared by many officials is how
the trade would be regulated. “Unless there is a
proper policing system, provincial officials who are
not corrupt and a forum for the profits to be used for
the development of the entire country, then the idea
is not workable,” Qaderi said.
The findings of the Senlis study are expected to be
discussed at an international drug policy symposium in
Kabul scheduled for September 2005.
Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), a
project the Office for the Coordination of
Humanitarian Affairs. IRIN is UN humanitarian news and
information service, but may not necessarily reflect
the views of the United Nations or its agencies.