Study Proposes Opium Licensing for Afghanistan

September 27, 2005

KABUL, Afghanistan, Sept. 26 - Afghanistan, the world's biggest producer of opium and its derivative, heroin, acknowledged Monday that it had considered licensing its vast illicit crop and using it to produce opium-based medicines, though it ruled out such a move in the immediate future.

The government said it welcomed the release on Monday of a feasibility study about the subject by the Senlis Council, a drug policy research organization based in Europe. But Afghanistan's counternarcotics minister, Habibullah Qaderi, ruled out adopting such a program until security conditions in the country improved.

The idea of licensing poppy cultivation completely goes against current Afghan counternarcotics policy, devised with Britain's help, which calls for eradicating poppy fields and persuading farmers to adopt alternative crops through assistance programs, much of them financed by the United States Agency for International Development.

Mr. Qaderi said the government could not consider a program for legalizing cultivation for the time being because Afghanistan had experienced such a rapid increase in poppy cultivation in the past few years.

Emmanuel Reinert, executive director of the Senlis Council, said that the group's research showed a world shortage of painkillers, like opium-based morphine and codeine, in the developing world in particular, and that a licensing system in Afghanistan and local production of painkillers could give farmers a steady legal income.

"It is a tragic irony that the country which produces the most opium in the world has no access to painkillers," he said. He called for a plan to explore trade agreements to export Afghan opium-based medicines and to start scientific studies.