A hemp mega-farm in northern Spain, purposed for making CBD products, was seized on Wednesday and destroyed by federal police.
Authorities in the region of Navarra called the 166-acre plantation, which contained 415,000 plants worth as much as $110 million, Europe’s largest cannabis farm.
A statement from the Guardia Civil, Spain’s federal police agency, said about 50 tonnes (121,500 pounds) of the plant were found being dried in a warehouse. They were earmarked by the cultivators for nearby Italy and Switzerland to be processed into CBD.
Sale and consumption of CBD is legal in Spain and across most of Europe, but Spanish law only lets domestic growers cultivate cannabis for industrial use, mainly textile-making. Growing hemp for CBD or is still banned and carries a possible prison sentence of three to six years.
Police said three people were arrested in the investigation, which began in mid-2021 when authorities discovered one of the fields and concluded on Wednesday. Owners of the plantation originally told the Guardia Civil that the farm was in fact a legal setup designed for growing industrial hemp for textiles, not CBD products.
News of Wednesday’s mega-bust drew sharp criticism from cannabis advocates in Spain and across Europe, many of whom questioned Spanish authorities’ decision to punish growers for a “gray-area” in federal law. Research on the plant shows that CBD can help users manage a variety of ailments and symptoms, including depression, anxiety, chronic pain, epilepsy, inflammation and insomnia, among other medical conditions.
“CBD has been a life-changing form of medicine for countless people,” said Maite Nieto, a Madrid-based advocate with Spain’s Cannabis Industry Guild. “To have laws that let Spanish people buy and use the plant but not grow it is inherently discriminatory and causes our country to miss out on millions of tax dollars each year.”
Many European countries have legalized medical cannabis, while an increasing number have at least decriminalized personal use and possession. Yet protections for growers have been few and far between. In addition to Spain, at least 20 of the 27 European Union member countries prohibit domestic growers and producers from cultivating the plant for CBD or THC products. Instead, many such products are purchased from countries where production is legal. The European Union’s Court of Justice in November 2020 ruled that CBD products could move freely in trade within the EU.