US Marijuana Party

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Afghanistan not ready for legal opium - minister

By David Brunnstrom

KABUL, Sept 25 (Reuters) - Afghanistan, the world's biggest producer of illicit opium and heroin, is not ready to adopt a controversial proposal to use its opium to help ease a global shortage of painkillers, its counter-narcotics minister says.

The Senlis Council, a Paris-based non-governmental organisation, has suggested licensed Afghan opium production could be used to produce morphine and codeine and is to a launch a feasibility study on the proposal in Kabul on Monday.

Speaking to Reuters on Sunday, Counter-Narcotics Minister Habibullah Qaderi said he was happy for Senlis to do studies, but it was too early to consider such a proposal when Afghanistan was still struggling to cut massive illegal production.

"As far as the licensing at this moment is concerned, I am saying no," he said. "I'm not in favour because it jeopardises the whole of our effort ... There would be anarchy in this country now. It would create a lot of problems."

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has also rejected the Senlis Council proposal, saying it risked creating confusion among farmers and raising false expectations.

Senlis has estimated the worldwide shortage of morphine and codeine at about 10,000 tonnes of opium equivalent a year, while Afghanistan produces roughly 4,000 tonnes of opium a year.

However, the UNODC, while conceding there is a shortage of narcotics for medical purposes, says lawful production of opiates worldwide had considerably exceeded global consumption in the past years and could be increased should demand increase.

The U.N. body argues that licit production of opium would send the wrong message to farmers in Afghanistan, would be impossible to control, and would not offer a viable economic alternative.


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