Will cannabis be the saviour or scourge of Rasquera?

Por: Jessica Jones | 20 de marzo de 2012

Cannabis for el pais

Its usual crops consist of olives and almonds, but the tiny Catalonian town of Rasquera could soon be cultivating a crop of a very different kind, becoming Europe´s biggest cannabis supplier. The local council has recently approved plans for seven hectares of land to be sold to the Barcelona Personal Use Cannabis Organization (ABCDA), who plan to grow cannabis crops for use by its members.

The ABCDA is one of hundreds of ‘cannabis clubs’ that have sprung up around Spain over the last few years; private members clubs that aim to evade the country´s ambiguous drugs laws, under which the buying, selling and transporting of cannabis is illegal but smoking it in private is not.

While the town’s left-leaning mayor, Bernat Pellisa, is in favour of the plan, approved by the town council on 29 February, it has provoked widespread debate and opposition, with Barcelona’s special anti-drugs prosecutor already examining the legality of the  development before the first seed has even been planted.

In the latest twist in the tale, Pellisa announced last week that the issue would be put to a referendum. The 900 inhabitants of Rasquera will decide their own fate and that of their town, but which fate would benefit the town most and what are the main issues being debated?

With so much opposition before the crops have even been planted, cannabis plantations are unlikely to provide a long term solution to Rasquera’s economic problems. While the project will provide the cash strapped town with a 1.3 million lump sum and up to 40 jobs, residents might question how long the town would be allowed to play host to the ABCDA’s cannabis crops. The government representative for the National Drugs Plan (Plan Nacional sobre Drogas), Francisco de Asís Babín, has accused council members of perverting language to justify something which, any way you look at it, ¨constitutes a crime¨. If the cannabis crops were planted, boosting the town’s economy, it would be a cruel economic blow for them to be swiftly taken away if those opposing the project get their way and outlaw the project.

While no doubt providing a ¨get rich quick¨ solution to Rasquera’s debt crisis, could the project have dire, long term consequences for the small town? Being catapulted into the position Europe’s premier drugs supplier, it is almost inevitable that some of the drugs would find their way into the town and local area. Would the money saved now only be wasted later on addressing the drugs and social problems that critics claim will befall the town if it goes ahead with the project?

Will an economy that is principally dependent on drugs money benefit Rasquera? Some Californian counties have now reached the stage where cannabis cultivation accounts for up to two thirds of the local economy, with local producers taking advantage of lax California state drugs laws. When Spanish law is so ambiguous on the matter of drugs, relying on a crop that at any moment could be judged illegal could result in economic disaster for Rasquera.

While under Spanish law, growing cannabis for personal use is legal, the term ‘personal use’ brings to mind having a couple of plants in your apartment that you and your friends can enjoy smoking, not planting and cultivating seven hectares worth of the drug. Many critics believe the project is stretching the law to its limits in producing such a large quantity of drugs.

Despite mounting opposition, residents might find it hard to ignore the immediate benefits the project will bring to the town; 1.3 million euros and up to 40 jobs. The contract will last for 30 months, until September 2014, and will be renewed if the town council complies with the terms of the contract. In a town where many young people are leaving for bigger towns and cities to find work, job creation might blind residents to any other possible problems. With Spain suffering the highest unemployment figures in Europe and a bleak future of labour reforms and cuts, what, residents may wonder, is the alternative solution to their tiny town’s debt crisis?

According to the town council, the crops will be used exclusively by ABCDA and for medicinal purposes; for therapeutic treatments for cancer sufferers. Even if a small percentage of the drugs did find their way out into the local market, perhaps it would be better to smoke home grown and regulated cannabis than taking a chance on imported marijuana, that quite possibly might not be as pure, and potentially contaminated.

With some critics citing the fact that four of the ABCDA´s founder members were arrested in January 2011 for drugs trafficking as a reason to oppose the project, it should be remembered that they were quickly freed by a judge who, indeed, showed some admiration for their organisation. The cannabis grown in Rasquera will be, it is claimed, used responsibly by the 5,000 vetted members of the cannabis club and not, as it is feared, by anyone and everyone who might flock to the town once it has become one of Europe’s biggest drugs suppliers. But with even the faintest scent of drugs trafficking lingering around the ABCDA, will residents be able to have complete trust in the association?

Only time will tell the outcome for the residents of Rasquera, but with the debate continuing to rage, residents are set to vote on the project on April 10, with a two thirds majority needed for the project to get the green light. Perhaps, despite the moral misgivings some of them may have, residents and council alike cannot afford, at this time of economic crisis, to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Photograph – Sara Houlison 

Fuente: http://blogs.elpais.com/trans-iberian/

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