Has Spain Become Europe’s Marijuana Garden? Experts Say Sí

Photo by Nico Escondido

Cannabis cultivation in Spain has grown significantly in recent years with a large amount of the country’s harvest ending up in other parts of Europe—after the Spaniards take what they need.

Weed being the most commonly used illegal substance in Europe, Spain is 4th on the list of countries where it is consumed the most—after France, Denmark and Italy.

But in terms of confiscations, Spain is only surpassed by the Netherlands and United Kingdom; upwards of 300,000 plants were seized in 2015 in Spain, according to the latest European Drug Report.

While Spain has long been Europe’s point of entry for hash coming across the narrow Straight of Gibraltar from Morocco (only nine miles), it is now increasing its own weed cultivation with an eye to meeting its neighbors’ demands, as well as its own.

“The number of cannabis seizures in Spain has increased significantly, not only the number of operations, but also the size of those seizures,” said Francisco Babín, delegate for Spain’s National Drug Plan.

“A very significant amount of (Spanish) marijuana production is exported to other countries. We know that, it is not an assumption,” he added. “Moreover, the huge production of cannabis in Spain cannot be viewed in terms of satisfying local supply.”

Just last month, Spanish police seized 1,646 marijuana plants in four plantations. They were stashed in marble boxes on trucks destined for Liverpool. Earlier in the year, Chinese traffickers were busted with shipments of weed intended for export to Glasgow, Poland and Germany.

So, the experts are concluding that Spain is the cannabis garden for Europe.

Someone has to do it. After all, Spain is a large country with lots of unused farmland and an abundance of sunlight.

“There is no doubt that cannabis is trendy right now,”said Babín. “The risk perception of cannabis is very low. In Spain, we have lived through a heroin epidemic in the eighties, a cocaine epidemic in the late nineties and we dealt with them.”

And there is money to be made.

“Cultivation of cannabis is becoming a business in many countries, and Spain is certainly one of those which has recently gotten into it in a big way,”  Laurent Laniel, an advisor to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, told Euronews. “Gangs are moving in to the cannabis business because it is incredibly profitable.”

Spain, where weed is essentially decriminalized and, despite hundreds of cannabis clubs, there is still a gray legal area where it is unregulated; laws are not always clear and enforcement is inconsistent.

And, cultivation arrests are not treated nearly as harshly as they would be in the U.S.

Per Babín: “Prices range from five to 25 euros per gram and penalties are much lower than other drugs. Because each plantation is relatively small, when we arrest [growers], they are soon released with very soft convictions.”

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