efe-epaAcapulco, Mexico

The southern Mexican state of Guerrero, one of the regions lashed by gangland violence, is promoting a project to legalize the growing of opium poppies for medical purposes as a way of reducing drug-cartel profits.

"If you open a legal market...you're going to stab these groups in the heart, and that will help eliminate much of the violence," Guerrero state legislator Ricardo Mejia told EFE.

The Guerrero legislature unanimously agreed at the beginning of August to urge the Mexican Congress to "legalize the growing, production and sale of poppies so they can be used for medical and scientific purposes."

Mejia noted that 18 countries currently grow poppies for use as medicine.

Mexico is the world's No. 3 producer of poppies, the raw material of heroin. Only Afghanistan and Myanmar surpass Mexico in the production of opium poppies.

Around 60 percent of Mexican production takes place in Guerrero, where the poppy is the economic foundation of at least 1,287 communities, according to the US Drug Enforcement Administration.

Morphine, oxycodone, fentanyl and buprenorphine are drugs derived from the poppy, which is why growing the flower is considered a great opportunity for growing Guerrero's economy.

Mejia said that if the Mexican Congress passes the legislation, thousands of rural growers can join the legal economy.

"First of all, this will help satisfy the demand for painkillers, given that neither in Guerrero nor in all Mexico are there sufficient medications to treat the thousands of people suffering illnesses," he said

He also believes it will help combat violence, given that now the poppy crop "is only used by criminals to make heroin, export it and kill people to get it."

Mejia acknowledges that violence in Guerrero has more than one cause, but one of the main factors is the war over the production, control and distribution of drugs made from poppies, which, he said, would be eradicated by putting them on the market legally."

Guerrero Gov. Hector Astudillo recently told the media of the need to "turn thesse complicated circumstances into an opportunity."

Olga Sanchez Cordero, proposed as government secretary by President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, has suggested on numerous occasions that the decriminalization of marijuana and poppies should be studied in order to "pacify the country."

The next government, set to take office Dec. 1, will have majorities in both houses of Congress.