Research refutes notion of opium licensing system in Afghanistan

Study concludes that Senlis Council’s recommendations have little potential for success in current political conditions

February 25, 2007

Waterloo, Canada - The Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) today released a study that adopts a critical view of the proposal for a licensing system that would legalize opium cultivation in Afghanistan as a step towards ending the narcotics trade in that country.

The Senlis Council's Poppy for Medicine model envisions that selected Afghan communities would cultivate opium for the production of essential medicines such as morphine and codeine. The goal is to break the vicious cycle of the drug economy by moving the opium trade into a legal system controlled by the government. The Senlis Council has offices in Brussels, Kabul, London, Ottawa, Paris and Rio de Janeiro. Parliamentarians in several countries, some foundations and policy leaders have endorsed the initiative.

CIGI's working paper Anatomy of a Fallacy: the Senlis Council and Narcotics in Afghanistan offers a detailed refutation of the Senlis Council initiative. The research concludes that the proposed approach has little potential for success under current political conditions in Afghanistan.

Frédéric Grare, author of the CIGI study, says drug production and trafficking is a major governance issue in the country. "Although some of the proposals could indeed be applied," writes Dr. Grare, "their eventual success would require political conditions that are still missing in Afghanistan." In particular, no counter-narcotics efforts will succeed without ending corruption, creating well-functioning state institutions and strengthening the capacities of Afghan police and narcotics enforcement agencies.

He says the Senlis Council proposal also fails to demonstrate that there is a sufficient international market for opium-based medicines or that this market could be developed in the time necessary for the present reconstruction of Afghanistan.

"The exponential growth of the opium trade since the collapse of the Taliban regime in 2001 has been one of the principal obstacles to the Afghan state-building process," says Mark Sedra, CIGI Senior Fellow and resident expert on Afghanistan. "Only by expanding the Afghan state's capacity for law enforcement and stimulating comprehensive rural development that can provide alternative livelihoods for farmers can the steady growth of the trade be arrested."

According to both Frédéric Grare and Mark Sedra, Afghanistan is speeding up its transformation into a narco-economy by legitimizing the position of the current drug lords who hold power in the country.

For more information and to download a copy of this paper please visit

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