(REUTERS) — Drug experts gathered in Mexico City on Tuesday (July 05) for talks on the regulation of marijuana in the cartel-ravaged country, amidst warnings that opium production is opening up a new front in the war on drugs.
The conference called Bioethics and Public Health In Marijuana Regulation brings together thinkers and leading experts in on illicit drugs. It comes after a landmark Supreme Court decision late last year that paved the way for liberalisation of Mexico’s marijuana laws.
Speaking at the conference, Doctor Maria Elena Medina, the director of the National Institute of Psychiatry, said it was important that drug policies evolve to reflect changing consumption patterns.
“I think there has been an important commitment made to the issue. There are many treatment centres and what I think is that we need to evolve towards new manifestations of this problem, which means an adequate response for prevention. We (Mexico) don’t have a lot of serious users. When heroin was contained, models for care were focused on where the problem was. If it deepens then the country needs to adapt itself to this. It was what was done,” she said.
Mexico’s debate on marijuana legalisation follows moves by two dozen U.S. states which approved marijuana for medical purposes, while recreational use of the drug has been legalised in Colorado, Washington state, Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia.
The move by the U.S. states has reportedly created a dent in takings by Mexican traffickers sending marijuana north.
But a new front in drugs is opening in Mexico with a reported uptake in poppy production. The plant is used to produce heroin.
Medina said that Mexico ranks alongside Myanmar and behind Afghanistan in global supply.
“What other problem does Mexico have? The production of opium. A large part of illegal opium is produced in Afghanistan and surrounding areas around there. It’s a significant amount of drugs that are distributed around the world, around 80%. It differs from year to year but in second place is Myanmar and Mexico. They’re both very close and with a very small proportion of the global market but it is a market that is very attractive and which is very close to us. It is an international market of which a significant amount of drugs is produced,” she said.
Mexico’s Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong asked policy experts late last year whether Mexico could win authorisation from the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), a United Nations body, to grow and export opium poppies for painkillers as a means to curb illegal production.
President Enrique Pena Nieto has also proposed legalising marijuana-based medicines, substantially raising the amount of pot that users can carry and freeing inmates on minor marijuana charges.
With its shift, Mexico has joined a growing group of Latin American countries openly questioning the prohibitionist policies at the heart of the war on drugs.
More than 100,000 people have died in drug-related violence in Mexico in the last decade.