Turkey’s opium trade: successfully transitioning from illicit production to a legally regulated market

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Turkey’s move from illicit to licit opium production for medicinal use demonstrates that an orderly transition, with a range of benefits for the producer country, is possible in places with the institutional capacity to deliver the right regulatory framework. 

It provides a useful example of the practical steps involved in transitioning, and how such changes can impact on the global illicit trade, even while wider global prohibitions remain in place alongside steady or rising demand.

However, Turkey also demonstrates that moving opium production from the illicit market to the licit medical use market alone will not reduce overall global illicit production. The economic dynamics of the illicit trade mean supply will expand in other countries to meet continuing illicit demand. This is true of all ‘silver bullet fantasy’,1 poppy-for-medicine proposals in places such as Afghanistan, Guatemala and Mexico, that are aimed at eliminating global illicit opium production.