MADRID -- A tiny Spanish village has voted to lease land for growing marijuana as a source of desperately needed revenue – a unique but legally questionable way of battling an economic crisis highlighted by staggering unemployment and a looming recession.
A government official with the National Drug Plan said such planting would in fact be against the law and that prosecutors would intervene as soon as the first pot seed was sown.
The village of Rasquera, population 900 and in the northeastern Catalonia region, said its town hall councilors approved the plan Wednesday night in a 4-3 vote.
Rasquera is a picturesque, compact hamlet of stone buildings at the foot of a mountain range in Tarragona province. It has a castle that dates back to the 12th century.
The Barcelona newspaper La Vanguardia says it is the kind of village that is dying – its young people leaving for lack of work, and those left behind desperate for some lure to keep people put.
The idea is for private citizens to lease or lend land to town hall, which would then create a company to manage the land and lease it to an association of marijuana-smokers in Barcelona.
Under Spanish law, consumption in private of cannabis in small amounts is allowed. But growing it for sale, or advertising it or selling it, are illegal, the anti-drug official said on condition of anonymity under department policy.
The group that wants to acquire the marijuana, called ABCDA, said on its website that it will make an initial investment of euro30,000 ($40,000) but makes no mention of how much it will pay Rasquera per year. A representative who declined to give his name said more details would come when ABCDA signs a formal agreement with the village in the coming days.
ABCDA said the project would create 40 jobs in Rasquera – workers to grow, harvest and package the pot – and the marijuana produced would go to ABCDA members.
Rasquera's mayor, Bernat Pellisa, could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.
But after the Wednesday night vote he hailed the plan. "It is a question of opportunity, which is going to bring in money and create jobs," Pellisa.
The National Drug Plan official said Thursday the project has zero chance of getting off the ground.
If it somehow did, Rasquera's way of raising money in hard times would indeed be novel.
Many Spanish cities and towns are trying to cope by cutting spending on things like social services such as health care and education.
Spain's deficit for 2011 was 8.5 percent of GDP, and the country is now about to enter another recession, with unemployment at nearly 23 percent.