Spain court rules against town's plans to grow pot as a means of combating financial crisis

MADRID – Spain’s judiciary on Friday rejected a plan by a small town in northeastern Catalonia to ease its municipal debt and help lift itself out of the financial crisis by growing marijuana.

When the seven-member town council of Rasquera — population 960 — voted in favour of cultivating cannabis just over a year ago in order to create jobs and shore up its finances, the news flashed around the world.

In April 2012, 56 per cent of Rasquera’s inhabitants gave support in a referendum to the plan to rent land to the Barcelona-based pot-smoking group ABCDA which agreed to pay $750,000 per year for two years.

The payment would have been roughly equal to the debt owed by the picturesque town nestled at the foot of a mountain range with a castle dating back to the 12th century.

Now such plans have been dashed by a court ruling, accepting a central government appeal against the council’s decision.

Under Spanish law, consumption in private of cannabis in small amounts is allowed. However, growing it for sale, advertising it or selling it are illegal.

Rasquera’s debt woes mirror those of many larger towns and regions since Spain’s economy crashed when a real estate bubble burst, ushering in a double-dip recession and leaving local administrations desperately trying to cope by cutting jobs and slashing spending on health care and education.

Spain has the highest unemployment rate in the 17-nation eurozone at a record 27.2 per cent, and is double that rate for Spaniards under 25 years old.

Rasquera’s council argues that its proposal falls within the law because the crop would be intended exclusively for the private consumption of the 5,000 members of ABCDA.

However, the ruling said the cultivation of marijuana can’t be considered to be “in the public interest” however serious the town hall’s economic plight might be.

Rasquera’s council said it will appeal the ruling.