Electricians, delivery drivers and real estate agents also benefit from marijuana business
Catalan police warn that the sector is the gateway to the criminal world for people without a criminal record
BarcelonaThe production of marijuana in Catalonia that is then sold to Europe continues to rise, and it is causing a new phenomenon: it is becoming a gateway to crime. Some 53% of the 1,998 people arrested last year for marijuana offences – up 14.5% from 2020 – had no criminal record. "That 1,066 people enter the criminal world may respond to job insecurity and the geographical mobility of people arriving in our country," the head of the Criminal Investigation Division of the Catalan Police (Mossos d'Esquadra), Intendant Joan Carles Granja, explains. This is the second year in a row that more than half of those arrested for marijuana offences had no record, and the Home Affairs minister Joan Ignasi Elena warns of the magntic force this illegal business has, as it moves a lot of money and allows an "easy enrichment".
"It is a concern", admits Elena, who thinks that the phenomenon of people who see a way of entering criminal activity is not new, because he considers that during the last boom, the same thing happened because of the economic opportunity it also generated. In this case, however, the minister admits that it is influenced by "social destructuring". Granja specifies that one in four of those arrested for marijuana are Spanish and the rest are foreigners. In the latter case, they are people who come to Catalonia to work in this business. The Mossos spokeswoman, inspector Montse Escudé, points out that the economic crisis caused by covid and the chronification of poverty are other factors that facilitate this entry into the criminal world. But police add one more risk: the infiltration of marijuana in the legal economy.
The Mossos detect a "connivance" of some sectors with this business. "We have a formal economy that clearly lives around marijuana. The list of those who come from non-illegal work and are involved in this activity is enormous," Granja assures. For example, electricians who have specialised in making "professional" installations for the crops. Others who facilitate the business are real estate agents who offer warehouses or houses where to set up the plantations in exchange for a rent which is above the market price. "It can be a semi-simulated collusion, when you rent a house on the coast for €3,000 a month that at market price would cost €1,500," says Granja, who says that when they make a police intervention some people get a "big scare" but the fact that there is interest in a house that no one rented or at a price which is "not viable" should make them suspicious.
The intendant gives another example of this "connivance": delivery drivers who urgently deliver a supposed piece of furniture that costs five times more than usual. Marijuana makes it possible to pay above the market price thanks to the profitability a plantation gives: with an investment of €6,000, it is estimated that a single harvest gives a profit of between €25,000 and €32,000. "As more is sold to northern Europe, the price also increases," Granja explains.
Nine violent attacks by mistake
Another factor that "worries" is the growth of violence due to the cultivation and trafficking of marijuana. Granja speaks of a ghost figure of the violence caused by this activity, because the police are unaware of many of the cases that actually occur. Last year, they detected 127 incidents, such as 107 raids of plantations, three kidnappings and eight illegal detentions. According to the mayor, nine of the drug assaults were by mistake: "It is a big scare for those who receive the attack and do not understand what is happening". This happened in five homes and four industrial buildings. Weapons were used in 38% of the drug raids, most of which were real or fake firearms. "People who get into crime because of marijuana accept this hostile world and all that it entails," Granja recalls.
This violence to defend plantations "as a valuable asset" also leads to crimes. In 2021 there were again three homicides – the same number of victims that has been repeated the last four years – in Olesa de Montserrat, Rubí and Navarcles. A fourth case of a missing person is under investigation. In addition, this weaponisation of plantations has led to dangerous protection elements: an electrified system and traps with handmade firearms that wounded a police commando.
12 plantations per week
Last year the Mossos seized 8.90 tons of marijuana – the most confiscated drug in Catalonia – and raided 662 plantations, an average of 12 a week. Despite the record number of plantations raided, fewer tons of marijuana have been seized than in previous years because fewer marijuana deliveries have been detected, since one of the developments of the business has been freezing the drug so that it does not give off a smell, which avoids warnings from logistics centres when trucks leave for Europe. Almost half of the plants seized in 2021 are in the Tarragona area because there is where most outdoor plantations are.
The boom in this business has also created the figure of the broker, who is an intermediary who puts criminal networks in contact with each other. To curb marijuana, the plan of the Mossos is to double the number of agents dedicated to investigating how the money obtained from the drug is laundered and to work more in cooperation, both with state and European authorities. In addition, the force will create a central warehouse for narcotic substances, which will be in Nou Barris, in Barcelona, where all the drugs will be kept. They will have to be moved there without "delay" when they have been confiscated. "If we do not take action, in five years the panorama will have doubled", concludes Granja.