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Observations

Observations

Opinion, arguments & analyses from the editors of Scientific American

Growing an Economy by Growing Weed

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Investors rocked world markets this week by selling Spanish bonds because of doubts about the country’s ability to put in place an austerity program. As prices plummeted, one small Catalonian village tried to think global and act local. It voted for a novel agricultural measure to work its way out of a €1.3 million debt hole and provide a few jobs.

A referendum that endorsed the growing of cannabis as a means to bolster finances of Rasquera, a municipality of about 900 less than 100 miles from Barcelona, received a solid majority. The final tally: 308 yays in counterpoint to 239 against.

The plan stipulates that a pro-cannabis group, the Barcelona Personal Use Cannabis Association, would rent 17 acres of public land in exchange for a sum equivalent to the debt load. Holding small amounts of marijuana for your own consumption is legal in Spain.

The prospects for a new cash crop alongside the olives and grapes in the area still remains a bit muddy. Mayor Bernat Pellisa had threatened to resign and scrap the project if the vote was less than 75 percent. It was 56. But afterward Pellisa equivocated. Officials of the national government are not happy with the whole situation and may move to block any attempt to set up a local pot industry.

So what does cannabis cultivation have to do with science—or at least the dismal side of it? Mayor Pellisa views the world very much like Nobel Prize-winning economist Gary Becker, who has written (pdf) that legalizing drugs would address many of the scourges that accompany the illegal trade. Legalization would put a damper on the violent crime that accompanies street sales while bringing needed revenue to government coffers, similar to what happened after Prohibition lifted. Municipalities elsewhere, not to mention a multitude of growers and users, must be thinking carefully about whether local events in Spain have global relevance in places like, say, northern California.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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