Since 1974, Turkey has been free from illicit opium cultivation. However the plant is grown legally throughout the country.
Turkey, under intense pressure from other countries, especially the US, banned all production of the poppy plant. This decision affected a vast amount of people, and because of new pressures from the local people, the ban was lifted after only three years.
Since then, the Turkish government has worked to create a policy that will allow the cultivation of the poppy plant under strict controls. This new policy allowed farmers to grow relatively small quantities of the plant to be sold for medical purposes.
What makes this policy evidently different is that the policy understands that a large amount of farmers are more and more dependent on the cultivation of the poppy plant due to it being the only autumn sewn crop and the profits that come with it.
The Turkish government, in 1974, lifted the poppy ban and began by giving small farmers from six and a half provinces 0.5 hectares specifically for poppy cultivation. The government would measure the amount being grown and the field sizes, destroying any parts of the fields that would go above the given 0.5 hectares and subsequently withdrawing the farmers licence.
In 1981 Turkey finished constructing an Opium Alkaloids Plant in the province Bolvadin with the help of the United Nations. Two years later the U.S revoked any previous issues they had, and decided that Turkey would supply them with 80% of the raw opiate material that they needed. India would supply the other 20%.
In order to prevent heroin production further the Turkish government began to collect the entire poppy capsule from the farmer (apart from the seeds, which is used locally to make bread and oil), and would make sure none of the poppy pods were cut open. The entire poppy capsule would be harvested, and the given substances extracted in the opium alkaloid plant. If a pod was found to be cut open, the farmer would lose their licence.
Today, 13 provinces are allowed to grow the opium poppy, and around 70,000 hectares are permitted for the cultivation, and is controlled by the Turkish Grain Board (TMO). When the company was asked about the profitability of the industry, TMO replied saying they simply break even, and the system is simply set up in order to keep Turkish farmers employed, and to hold onto old traditions.
From turkey, we are able to learn that poppy cultivation can work under a legal framework under a number of tightly held regulations.
The argument here is that simply we have been able to see that eradication, or prohibition, of ANY plant, whether it is opium, coca or cannabis, does not work. It has been tried on countless occasions and we still have not learned this very valuable lesson. Turkey shows us that there are alternatives that do not include destroying a person’s livelihood.