With prices ranging between 600 and 800 Euro per kilo, hemp is rapidly gaining ground in the Spanish province of Almeria. The acreage has increased tenfold in the past year to a total of 100 hectares, according to data from the Andalusian Council of Agriculture, Fisheries and Rural Development. Growers are turning to this new crop because of the growing demand from a very lucrative market that is constantly expanding. There are numerous industrial uses for hemp, but most of all, there is a boom in products derived from cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive component popular today for its therapeutic properties, and which is in a legal limbo in Spain.
The difference between industrial hemp cultivation and marijuana cultivation lies in the content of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the substance that generates psychotropic effects and which must be below 0.2% to be legal. Under criminal law, the cultivation of hemp is no different from that of peppers or tomatoes, which creates confusion from a legal standpoint, as the transformation or extraction of cannabidiol is not allowed without the permission of the Spanish Agency for Medicines and Health Products.
Almeria has the ideal climate for the cultivation of hemp, as it is a crop that is not demanding in terms of soil, but in terms of light. Water consumption is minimal and hardly any fertilizers or manual labor are required. The seeds must be certified by the European Union.
Sergio López, lieutenant of Seprona, a nature conservation police force, says that cultivation in Almeria takes place through agreements with companies inside and outside Spain, which supply the seeds and get a cut of the profits. These trading companies send the biomass to countries such as Germany and the Netherlands, where there are different regulations regarding cannabidiol.
But not everything is rosy for the growers of this profitable crop. The dark side are the thefts. Growers therefore have to hire guards and set up video surveillance systems, and some even spend the night in the greenhouses, now that the harvest is underway. "When the price skyrockets, there are more thefts. That is also the case with tomatoes and watermelons," said José María Zalvide, head of the Almeria Judicial Police.
So far, the police have only needed to turn up twice to deal with such thefts, but in mid-September action was required in a violent robbery that got a person killed in the La Cañada neighborhood of Almeria.