Indebted Spanish village approves cannabis farming
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The village of Rasquera in Catalonia could become Europe’s biggest legal cannabis producer after residents approved a local council plan on Tuesday to allow marijuana cultivation in a bid to pay off its debts.
A small Spanish village approved a council plan Tuesday to reduce its crippling debts – by renting out land for cannabis cultivation.
Villagers of Rasquera, 140 km south of Barcelona, were asked to ratify a measure passed by the village council at the end of February as part of its 'Municipal Anti-Crisis Plan 2012'.
Rasquera, which has just 950 inhabitants, is burdened by debts of around 1.3 million euros and is suffering from chronic unemployment. It is a microcosm of the huge financial problems facing Spain.
With 57 per cent of voters agreeing to the plan, Mayor Bernat Pellisa spoke of a “magnificent result”. Earlier, he had threatened to resign with the entire council if the 'Yes' vote was less than 75 per cent, but he happily brushed that aside after the results came through, saying: "Tomorrow morning we'll make decisions after digesting the results."
‘Fun and therapeutic’
Farmland traditionally used as vineyards, olive groves and goat herding will be sown with cannabis plants this summer. The project will be run by the Barcelona Association for the Private Consumption of Cannabis (ABCDA), which is exploiting a loophole in Spanish law that allows people to grow and consume their own cannabis so long as it is not produced commercially.
ABCDA, a group which advocates “fun and therapeutic” use of cannabis, wants to use the land to grow the drug and supply it directly to its 5,000 members, a solution it says keeps its activities away from the black market.
Mayor Pellisa said it was “an opportunity to be seized” so that the village could pay its debts and create new jobs, adding that the price for renting fields for cannabis production was ten times higher than for traditional agriculture, and that some 40 local jobs would be created.
ABCDA has agreed to give the village 36,000 euros up front, and then pay 550,000 euros a year in rent, which would allow the village to clear its debts within two years.
‘Not advocating cannabis use’
The association said it will cover all administrative, legal and security costs, and that the local emergency services and civil servants from the interior ministry were cooperating to make sure that the local environment is respected and that the project remains legally above board.
“We are absolutely not advocating cannabis use,” Mayor Pellisa insisted when the vote was put to the village council on February 29.
The local political opposition doesn’t see things in quite the same way. Bernard Farnos, of the centre-right CiU coalition of Catalan parties, told Spanish TV channel ABC on Tuesday: “People here think this is a totally irresponsible project.”
Association under investigation
The Spanish police are also on guard. While the ABCDA insists that the finished product is destined only for consumption by its members, one of the association organisers was arrested recently for allegedly selling cannabis after police found 1.3 kilos of the drug, worth 5,400 euros, at the association headquarters in Barcelona.
Police also confirmed that the ABCDA was subject of an investigation for suspected dealing on its premises.
The association insists it is the victim of an harassment campaign.