Catalan police dismantled up to two marijuana plantations per day in 2021
People working in the business increased due to uncertainty brought by Covid-19
The Catalan Mossos d’Esquadra police announced on Thursday that their Marijuana team dismantled up to two cannabis plantations daily.
Records show that last year, law enforcement took down 662 marijuana farms in Catalonia. The figure is almost double that of 2020 when police dismantled 393 plantations.
One of the worries the Catalan police have pertains to the increase of people entering the cannabis sector. As officials claim, precarity due to Covid-19 has made people want to enter the business.
Of those arrested on charges relating to cannabis, 53% did not have any criminal background. In 2021, Mossos detained 1,998 people, 250 more than the previous year.
However, the amount of marijuana confiscated has dropped from 10 to 8.9 tonnes.
Out of the 53% arrested (1,066), "three out of four are not Spanish nationals. Meaning that people come from other European countries to benefit from the conditions in Catalonia to plant marijuana," Joan Carles Granja, Chief Intendant of the Criminal Division of the Mossos d'Esquadra, said on Thursday at a press conference
In 2021, police detained 1,200 people from 35 different countries, with 40% (800) being from Spain.
Catalonia, a marijuana hotspot
There are several reasons why Catalonia has become "the epicenter of the illegal marijuana market in Europe," Catalan officials said.
"Good meteorological conditions are one of the factors that allow marijuana plantations to grow easily in Catalonia," the police explained.
Other ambits are linked to "rural depopulation and housing crisis with empty houses and parcels used by marijuana growers, higher unemployment rates that can work on a marijuana plantation, and a less punishable law compared to other countries," police officials listed.
In Spain, marijuana trafficking is punishable by law with up to three years in prison, far lower compared to other EU member states. Therefore, police investigators always try to "look for criminal organization links, money laundering or electrical fraud," to increase the possible sentencing, police explained during the press conference.
"The proximity to the French border makes Catalonia a great spot, in a couple of hours by car you are already at the border," Granja said before contrasting the territory "to Andalusia where you have to cross all the country."
Most confiscated drug in Catalonia
Marijuana is the most confiscated drug in the territory, Mossos d’Esquadra said. Last year along, 826,697 plants were seized, 212.4% more than the previous year (264,627 plants).
"Back in 2015, the marijuana problem in Catalonia started," Granja said before recognizing that "we realized that we had a problem in 2017."
Authorities want to differentiate kilograms, which have decreased by 11%, to plants and plantations found in Catalonia. The police only count kilos when the cannabis is ready for consumption and marijuana is either in storage or in movement.
In those cases, time is essential, as marijuana is only ready for short periods of time, while plantations need more time due to electricity, installation.
"Doing their farming right, someone can harvest marijuana up to four times a year," Chief Intendant said.
Criminality also increases
Police are worried about the increase in criminality seen in the territory. There have been three homicides every year since 2018, a total of 12 people.
Last year, authorities registered three kidnappings, eight illegal arrests, and 107 drug-related robberies, 24.5% more than 2020.
"We also counted nine drug-related robberies by mistake, five in private residences and four in warehouses," Joan Carles Granja said.
Even minor criminality also has increased. Some people could rent their homes to drug cartels despite knowing that they will cultivate marijuana but they are the only ones "willing to pay," police acknowledge.
Similar situations are seen in legal workers such as electricians, truck drivers, or estate agencies that "are opportunistically corrupted, as they are doing illegal things but are corrupted because of an opportunity."
‘Brokers’ a new role in play
With the increase of drug-related businesses in Catalonia, police have detected a new agent. Authorities called them "brokers" as they help to coordinate international marijuana demand with the national offering.
They will work as a connection between the cannabis farmer and the buyer in the territory or overseas, especially in France or the Netherlands.
This person is key to international buyers due to the price difference between local selling prices and those abroad. In Catalonia, the average price for a kilogram of marijuana goes from €2,100 to €2,700.
However, when police dismantled international organizations, the "amount would be €100,000 minimum," Granja said.
Drug organizations have made some improvements to their sector to make sure Catalonia remains part of the marijuana business. These include using LED lights to save electricity, 24-hour plantation armed security, freezing marijuana so the smell goes undetected, or even growing cannabis underground.
Residents’ help to fight marijuana plantations
Neighbors are one of the most important ways to warn police of marijuana plantations. Residents are key in the fight against drugs to the Catalan police, as explained on Thursday.
Most of them are concerned due to the smell, the insecurity they face, or other drug-related violence cases. In fact, farmers place traps around their harvests to avoid robberies from other drug groups.
One of these traps injured the leg of a policeman in service and could "injure any citizen walking around the area," something that worries Mossos d’Esquadra.