A poppy field in Guerrero

The governor of Mexico's Guerrero state is again calling for the legalization of opium poppy, the plant from which heroin is derived, as a remedy for extreme insecurity -- a solution that ignores the underlying factors driving heightened violence levels.

Guerrero Gov. Héctor Astudillo has put forward legalization of poppy for medicinal purposes -- echoing statements he made in March -- as an alternative route for reducing the violence that is plaguing the state, reported Animal Politico. 

"We must look for other paths that bring about less tension, less conflict, and less violence," said Astudillo.

Antonio Mazzitelli, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) representative to Mexico, said Guerrero would face many difficulties in attempting to legalize poppy. This includes resistance from organized crime groups that profit from the illicit cultivation of the plant, as well as the remote location of many poppy producing areas making access difficult, according to Animal Politico.

"We must find structural solutions in Guerrero to escape the vicious cycle of violence, the lack of development, and the lack of state presence, which forces farmers to cultivate the only product they can sell where there is no market, and which makes them victims of criminal groups," said Mazzitelli.

In Guerrero, there are approximately 10,000 to 12,000 hectares that are used for poppy cultivation, reported Animal Politico, although precise numbers are difficult to pin down. 

Insight Crime Analysis

The drug trade and competition between criminal groups has helped transform Guerrero into one of Mexico's most violent states. Battles for control of poppy cultivation have undoubtedly been a contributing factor in this given the plant's use as a base ingredient to make heroin.   

Nonetheless, Gov. Astudillo's violence-reduction strategy of legalizing poppy for medicinal purposes, while perhaps tempting to view as a quick fix, is short-sighted. That is, it distracts from the structural, long-term improvements Guerrero needs but that are much tougher to implement. This includes those ideas put forward by UNODC representative Mazzitelli, such as expanded economic opportunity and development and a greater state presence in remote regions. 

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For instance, a recent report showed that as coffee cultivation decreased in Guerrero, many farmers moved into poppy cultivation out of simple economic necessity. Previous estimates have suggested over 1,000 Guerrero communities are economically dependent on poppy production.

Until the government is able to push out the criminal groups operating with impunity in these regions, and provide economic alternatives for residents, violence in Guerrero is likely to continue, whether or not poppy is made legal for medicinal purposes. 

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