Where there’s smoke there’s ire; Catalonia village says yes to drugs

Rasquera approves scheme for cannabis plantation to swell municipal coffers

Residents of Rasquera show off the voting form for the referendum on the marijuana plan.
Residents of Rasquera show off the voting form for the referendum on the marijuana plan.JOSEP LLUÍS SELLART (EL PAÍS)

Residents of the village of Rasquera, Catalonia, on Tuesday voted on a plan to plant cannabis on a large scale as a way out of the financial crisis. The outcome was close: 308 people voted in favor of the project, and 239 against. With the yes vote in hand, the landscape of the village, identified for decades by olive and almond trees, could change dramatically in the next few months.

Rasquera is one of the most indebted municipalities in Catalonia. If the plan goes ahead, the cannabis plantation will serve the 5,000 or so members of the Barcelona Personal Use Cannabis Association (ABCDA), a smoking club with recreational-therapeutic pretensions. According to the initial agreement, Rasquera could expect to receive 1.3 million euros from the ABCDA over two years. Furthermore, the plantation would create 40 direct jobs.

Rasquera’s proposal has caused friction between the mayor, Bernat Pallisa, and opposition CiU councilors who vehemently oppose the idea. Pallisa said he would veto the project if 75 percent of the village did not vote yes — in the end the figure was 56 percent. He also offered to resign if the target was not met but later performed a U-turn, saying it would be “frivolous.” The CiU, meanwhile, accuses Pallisa of registering ABCDA members as residents of Rasquera so that they could vote.

The unusual referendum drew media interest from Europe, South Korea and the Arab world, but it has divided opinion among the villagers as much as the politicians.

“Only traffickers make a living out of drugs — the police will seize the plantations and all this will have just been throwing money away,” opined Francisco Garrido. “It frightens me,” said Ana, who has lived in Rasquera for five years. “The land is next to my house. The Mossos d’Esquadra will bring charges against the village. We need to get out of the crisis, but this is not the answer — and I’m Dutch.”

“I voted no,” added Liliana Moya. “I arrived from Colombia 10 years ago, I lived alongside drug trafficking, and there are lots of drugs and prostitution there. The only people who get rich are the landowners and the four or five people who run it.”

On the other side of the fence, supporters argue that the publicity alone has been good for Rasquera. “The shops are doing really well,” noted Florenci Miró.

“I voted yes,” said 80-year-old Paquita Torres. “It’s good for the village. I don’t agree with drugs but if we vote against it, the plantation will go to another village; it’s better that it stays here.” The octogenarian added that there “had always been” marijuana plantations in Rasquera, supplying nearby villages.

But the green shoots of recovery are not yet ready to be sown. Various sources say that the attorney general is watching the situation closely and that public prosecutors in Tarragona and the anti-narcotics office have opened investigations.

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