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The last harvest? From the US fentanyl boom to the Mexican Opium Crisis

Le Cour Grandmaison, Romain, Morris, Nathaniel and Smith, Benjamin (2019) The last harvest? From the US fentanyl boom to the Mexican Opium Crisis. Journal of Illicit Economies and Development, 1 (3). 312 - 329. ISSN 2516-7227

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Identification Number: 10.31389/jied.45


For decades, farmers in the most marginalised regions of Mexico have depended for survival on the illicit cultivation of opium poppy for the US heroin market. In 2017 they could earn up to 20,000 pesos ($950–$1,050 dollars) per kilo of opium, which channelled around 19 billion pesos ($1 billion dollars) into the country’s poorest communities, sustaining regional economies, religious ceremonies, and intra-community relations while stemming out-migration to Mexican cities and the US. With the recent upsurge in fentanyl use in the US, however, the demand for Mexican heroin has fallen sharply, meaning that farmers are now being paid around 6000 to 8000 pesos ($315–415 dollars) per kilo of raw opium. Thus the total money being paid to opium producing villages has dropped to an unprecedented low of 7 billion pesos ($370 million dollars). Drawing on fieldwork conducted in two poppy-producing regions of Mexico – one in the State of Nayarit, one in the State of Guerrero – this article shows that today, farmers cannot make a profit from opium once fertilizers and other capital inputs have been taken into account; village economies are starting to dry up; and out-migration is on the up. But this economic emergency opens the possibility of wrestling Mexico’s opium-growing regions from the control of Mexico’s Drug Trafficking Organizations (DTOs). This article concludes by addressing several possible solutions to what we term ‘the Mexican Opium Crisis’ – including crop substitution or opium legalization for medicinal use – and evaluates how realistic they are in the Mexican context.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2019 The Authors
Divisions: LSE
Subjects: K Law > K Law (General)
S Agriculture > S Agriculture (General)
H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare. Criminology
Date Deposited: 20 Dec 2019 11:39
Last Modified: 30 May 2024 07:21

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