July 4, 2018 / 7:19 PM / 12 days ago

Mexico's president-elect does not rule out medical opium sales: aide

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico’s president-elect, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, is not closed to the idea of selling opium for pharmaceutical use, a senior aide said on Wednesday, a sign of the deep changes the next government is considering in the war on drugs.

FILE PHOTO: A soldier walks among poppy plants before a poppy field is destroyed during a military operation in the municipality of Coyuca de Catalan, Mexico April 18, 2017. REUTERS/Henry Romero/File Photo

“Why not sell it to pharmaceutical companies?” said Olga Sanchez, a former Supreme Court judge who is the incoming president’s pick to run the interior ministry.

She said the next president, a 64-year-old former mayor of Mexico City, supported a public consultation on the possibility of regulating opium and decriminalizing marijuana.

Lopez Obrador did not take a clear stance on decriminalizing drugs before Sunday’s election, but says he will try out new approaches to tackling Mexico’s violence, including possible amnesty for some cartel employees.

The United States has been engulfed by an epidemic of opioid addiction in recent years that has led to tens of thousands of overdose deaths. The Drug Enforcement Administration says 93 percent of the heroin on U.S. streets is produced in Mexico.

In Mexico, the battle for control of heroin production and trafficking is held partly responsible for the country’s record violence, which led to nearly 30,000 murders last year.

FILE PHOTO: Poppy plants are seen in a field before they are destroyed during a military operation in the municipality of Coyuca de Catalan, Mexico April 18, 2017. REUTERS/Henry Romero/File Photo

Regulation of opium poppy farming for morphine production is a model used in Turkey and India, among other countries, but some experts believe changes in the market thanks to the rise of synthetic opiates make it hard to achieve.

To legally grow and export opium poppies for painkillers, Mexico first would need authorization from the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), a United Nations body.

Lopez Obrador takes office in December. The current government also explored regulating poppy production to make pharmaceutical opiates.

Lopez Obrador upturned Mexico’s political status quo in Sunday’s election with more than half the country voting for him, and his coalition will have a majority in Congress, projections show, ending 89 years of rule by just two parties.

Sanchez said the newcomers were also exploring decriminalizing marijuana for recreational use, saying it no longer made sense for Mexican authorities to engage in a violent struggle against the drug when Canada and several U.S. states had adopted more lenient policies.

“What are we thinking? Tell me. Killing ourselves. Really, keep on killing when ... North America is decriminalizing?” she told W Radio.

Sanchez said any such move would be in parallel to rehabilitation programs and strict punishments for anyone who sold drugs to children.

Reporting by Frank Jack Daniel and Dave Graham in Mexico City; Editing by Matthew Lewis

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