Spanish Police Bust ‘Europe’s Largest Cannabis Farm’—Despite Only Growing Hemp

The bust shows the need for comprehensive cannabis reform at both the European and individual country level.

On Wednesday, Spanish authorities announced the destruction of 415,000 cannabis plants worth an estimated $108 million. Police claimed that this was a vital strike against Europe’s “largest cannabis plantation.”

Approximately 50 tons of plants were being dried in a warehouse in the rural region of Navarre. The plantation was spread over 166 acres of land. The owners are now facing criminal charges.

But here is where the story starts to get really strange.

The plants were all low THC hemp—a substance at least on the European level, which is no longer considered a “narcotic.” Even in Spain, the sale and consumption of CBD is legal.

Spanish Cultivation and Legality

This case is one of the stranger ones to hit headlines of late, precisely because it highlights the legal confusion over the status of cannabis and hemp across the E.U. However, it also goes to show why there is a dire need for not only European, but individual European country sovereign reform.

Legally, the cultivation of cannabis in Spain (including CBD) is only allowed when the cultivator is growing “industrial hemp.” Growing hemp for conversion into CBD remains a criminal offense. Indeed, Article 368 of the Spanish Criminal Code criminalizes the cultivation of cannabis when it promotes, favors, or facilitates the illegal consumption of “drugs” with a prison sentence of between 3-6 years.

However this case is a bit of a legal oddity. European law, which of course at this point Spain is out of compliance with, does not define hemp with more than .02% CBD as a narcotic. In this case, the farmer was apparently planning to export the dried plant to other countries for this extraction process.

Further, per the Kanavape case, companies are allowed to export hemp flower and low THC products across country lines for sale when legally produced in the country of origin —which would also seem to apply in this case as the farmer claimed that this is what he was doing. Apparently, even though the crop was designated as industrial hemp in Spain, the intent to export and then extract was what triggered the police action.

It will be interesting to see the development of this case.

The Dire Need for European Reform

It is precisely cases like this that underline the growing need for a regional approach to comprehensive cannabis reform. The problem seen in Spain (home, let’s not forget to non-profit cannabis clubs where high THC flower can be obtained), is one that is also showing up in other countries.

In Germany right now, importation of CBD can still result in legal action from overzealous prosecutors. In France, this was also true until the Kanavape case, which of course then went on to challenge E.U. law on the topic—and further set E.U. wide precedent that if hemp is legally produced in one member state, it can also be exported to another.

There is currently a case in Germany now pending in an attempt to bring German law into compliance with the E.U. on this matter.

This case, if properly defended, may well go on to set legal precedent about the same in Spain.

Until such matters are settled, however, working even in the CBD space in Europe remains a dangerous proposition.

It was, after all, less than a year ago that the German grocery retailer Lidl was actually raided by police in Munich for the “crime” of selling cookies and other products containing CBD.

In the Meantime…

The entire European cannabis industry is actually getting more hazardous, not less, even as reform begins to make headway in individual countries and E.U. wide policy on CBD is being set. This is even true in Holland, home of the coffeeshop, where there is a national trial underway to regulate the cultivation of cannabis, but the mayor of Amsterdam wants to ban tourists from the coffeeshops and close about two-thirds of them down.

In Germany right now, there are several hundred pending cases against legitimate businesses selling hemp—even as the new government has announced its intention to create a recreational market for high THC cannabis.

Beyond that, there are about 185,000 pending preliminary criminal proceedings across the country for recreational users who have been busted by the police for possession or even home-grow for personal consumption. These numbers also do not include patients, including those whose insurance companies have refused to cover medical cannabis despite such treatment being recommended by their doctors.

As the saying goes, it is always darkest before the dawn.

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