Is Spain becoming Europe's cannabis garden?

Is Spain becoming Europe's cannabis garden?
By Euronews
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Spain, once considered an entry point for cannabis to reach Europe, is now increaisngly producing the drug on home soil.


Cannabis production in Spain has grown significantly in recent years with more than 300,000 plants seized in 2015. Marijuana labs are believed to be operated by organized groups who want to export to northern Europe.

They called her ‘the president’. She run a prosperous business in the holiday town of Marbella, on the southern coast of Spain. Francisca Pérez, 50, had allegedly set up three marijuana labs in three separated townhouses in the same luxury Aloha Village Lake estate. The Spanish Police seized 1,225 cannabis plants and five loaded guns.

This operation in July 2016 was one of many the Spanish police have launched in the past few years. “We are dismantling marijuana labs each week”, a policeman who wanted to remain anonymous told Euronews. “Organised groups may rent out different chalets, flats and warehouses or they hide the plants in the middle of maize fields”.

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“Gangs are moving into the cannabis business because it is incredibly profitable. Prices range from five to 25 euros per gramme and penalties are much lower than other drugs. Because each plantation has a relatively small size, when we arrest them, they are soon released with very soft convictions”, he argued.

Spain has long been considered as Europe’s point of entry for cannabis resin, also known as hashish, coming in from Morocco. But now it’s also increasing its own marijuana production to satisfy local and external demand. Seizures of cannabis plants grew by 53.6% between 2013 and 2014 and an extra 40.3% the next year.

The Spanish police took 379.846 plants out of the market in 2015, an amount only surpassed by those in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, according to new data released by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA).

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“Cannabis resin has always been a very plentiful product in Spain, like in France, or Italy, and it is also the case that now the herb is more frequent that cannabis resin. So in this sense Spain is part of a general European trend”, Laurent Laniel, a scientific analyst for drug supply reduction at the EMCDDA told Euronews from Lisbon.

“As a result of the previous trend Europe is becoming a larger producer of cannabis than it used to be in the past. The growing of cannabis is becoming a business in many countries and Spain it seems is certainly one of those which has recently been taken in this movement very strongly”.

“There is a whole range of actors for cannabis production (in Spain) like in the rest of Europe; small growers grow for themselves and their friends, but we think most of the plants seized come from commercial plantations owned by people who are organised criminals” Laniel added.

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“This can be a Spanish-based organisation producing for the Spanish market, but we know by qualitative information that we get from the Spanish police and several other sources that there are also foreign organizations operating in Spain”.

“It seems that Spain is a particular target for these organisations but it is not the only one. This production, we think, again, we cannot be 100 per cent certain, but it seems that most of the production is exported out of Spain and sold in other cannabis markets for example in France, in the UK, maybe in Sweden… depending on the country these organisations are targeting”, Laurent Laniel warned.

Recent police actions reveal an increasing number of herbal cannabis exports from Spain to Europe. On March 2017, police broke up a Dutch gang in southern Spain in possession of 5,000 plants intended to be exported to Europe, mainly Belgium and the Netherlands. In the same month, two people were arrested for sending 130 kilogrammes of marijuana grown in Alicante, on Spain’s east coast, to Italy.

In May this year, the police seized 1,646 marijuana plants in four plantations. The drugs were disguised in marble boxes and packed onto trucks destined for Liverpool. On January, 14 Chinese nationals were arrested with 16 kilogrammes of the herb intended to be exported to Glasgow. Earlier in December, another gang in Valencia was busted for sending marijuana hidden in vegetable shipments to Poland and Germany.

“The number of cannabis seizures in Spain has increased significantly, not only the number of operations but also the size of those seizures”, Francisco Babín, the government’s delegate for Drug Policy confirmed. “A very important amount of the (Spanish) marijuana production is exported to other countries. We know it, it is not an assumption”, he added. “Moreover, the huge production of cannabis in Spain cannot be understood only in terms of satisfying local supply”.

Although cannabis prevalence of those who consumed the drug within a year has slightly increased in a recent survey, marijuana consumption in Spain has gone down over the last six years, “but the percentage of those consumers who are at risk for cannabis abuse has grown worryingly”, Babín warned.

“There is no doubt that cannabis is a trendy drug right now. 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. I think society will only realise the potential harm of cannabis in the future when those that are now abusing the drug will seek help”, he concluded.

Contributed by Jaime Velázquez

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