MADRID – Marijuana production in Spain has increased exponentially, despite government efforts to turn the tide. In 2021, an average of 9,100 plants per day were seized. That´s an increase of 783% compared to 2015.
This alarmed the government to introduce a ‘National Action Plan against Crime Related to the Production and Trade of Marijuana’ in 2021.
Authorities are concerned that the THC content of seized drugs has risen significantly. Where this used to be between 5 and 11%, of the analysed samples now, 30% have a THC content between 15 and 25%. Marijuana is mainly produced in hidden, small-scale indoor installations. Although the trade is a criminal offence, the risks are considered low compared to other drugs and the profits are substantial.
Energy consumption and public health
The production of marijuana is not only linked to drug trafficking but also to illegal energy consumption. According to energy company Endesa, the annual electricity consumption for marijuana plantations is equivalent to the consumption of the city of Seville. In addition, smoking marijuana, despite the fact that it is often regarded as a ‘soft’ drug, is harmful to health.
Outdoor plantations and organised crime
Large outdoor plantations are also on the rise, due to favourable weather conditions and the ability to set up plantations in remote locations. The security services report that transnational criminal organisations are actively involved in cannabis production and trade, which also lead to related illegal activities such as human trafficking.
Hidden among legal crops
The Public Prosecution Service warns that drug traffickers are increasingly trying to disguise illegal plantations as legal hemp fields. Distinguishing these two types of plantations is difficult, as they are from the same plant species, Cannabis sativa. The amount of THC makes all the difference, but determining this requires lab tests, which are time-consuming and not always readily available.
The police experts consulted acknowledge that Spain has “a problem” with the ‘boom’ of this type of plantation. The Mossos recognise they have to deploy many troops in Catalonia to pursue this type of crop. However, Castilla-La Mancha (especially in Toledo) and Andalucia lead the seizures.
In November 2022, the Guardia Civil reported the dismantling of the “largest marijuana production garden in Europe” in Toledo and Ciudad Real. It was an industrial facility for drying, processing and packaging smoke-ready hemp plants and buds that had never been seen before: 32,370 kilos. Furthermore, the organisation was in charge of the entire process: they had a company that bought the seeds, another company that was responsible for taking the merchandise to the field and planting it, and finally, a third company that was responsible for the most delicate phase : plant care (in terms of light, heat and humidity), harvesting, maintenance and drying. Then the dried buds (which are smoked) were stored in Valencia for later sale throughout Europe.
Also in November 2022, the Guardia Civil seized 44,382 marijuana plants in nine hidden crops in the Aragonese Pyrenees, in the province of Huesca. Each plantation was visited by only two or three people hidden in the forest in perfectly camouflaged camps.
In September 2022, the Mossos arrested daring drug traffickers who cut down no less than 220 trees to plant nearly 2,000 stems of marijuana in a hidden spot in the middle of the nature reserve of Forat de Bulí. A hundred other trees had also been cut down so that they would not shade the marijuana plants.
Many police operations are real records. In April 2022, the Guardia Civil and the Navarra Police announced that they had dismantled the largest marijuana plantation in Europe between the towns of Olite and Artajona: 11 farms growing 415,000 plants that would have brought 100 million euros to the market.
For example, in the province of Granada, one of the most active, the Guardia Civil and the National Police have just presented their balance sheet for 2022: 234,071 plants seized in 767 interventions, 737 arrested and 2,643 illegal lighting fixtures dismantled.
In October 2021, the Guardia Civil reported the seizure of 135,000 cannabis plants in the town of Huerta de Valdecarábanos (Toledo). That was the largest “quantity of this harvest in Europe” at the time until Navarra made it to the podium. In the summer of 2021, the Guardia Civil seized 5.6 tons of marijuana in an industrial warehouse in La Mojonera (Almería). These were ready-to-use buds to be shipped to the UK and included “the largest seizure of this drug in a police operation in Spain”.
Spain as stage for large criminal networks
From the Guardia Civil they also add that Spain has become the stage for large criminal networks. However, they usually entail an additional security problem. “They compete with each other. Thsi includes settling accounts, ‘toppling’ [stealing merchandise], money laundering and human trafficking. It is our duty to say it. We are dealing with a very serious problem in Spain,” they condemn from the Guardia Civil.
Despite the challenges, the Spanish government remains committed to combating illegal cannabis plantations. It is working with other European countries and international organisations to dismantle the transnational criminal networks engaged in these activities and to reduce the production, trade and consumption of illicit drugs in Spain and across Europe.