Allergies are rife at this time of year, but for the people of Spain, it might not be typical flower pollen tickling their nose hairs.
Instead, their sneezing fits and red eyes could be caused by cannabis pollen.
The news emerges amid a recent surge in cannabis pollen levels across the European country — a situation that industry experts attribute to the repercussions of illegal cannabis cultivation. Cannabis is decriminalized in Spain for personal use, but cultivation remains illegal.
However, this hasn’t stopped illegal growers from getting their monthly pay packet, with hundreds of grow sites believed to be scattered across the agriculturally diverse landscape. Among the many hazards associated with illegal grow sites is cannabis pollen. Pollen is produced and released by male sperm cell-carrying cannabis plants. After floating through the air for some time, the powdery pollen lands on the female plant, thus enabling it to produce seeds.
Understanding the Dangers of Illegal Cannabis Cultivation
Authorities caution that cultivators pass their illegal cannabis off as industrial-purpose hemp. Since legitimate sellers can pay less for illegal weed, many choose to save on company overheads and increase their profit potential by sidestepping the law. However, not only does this kind of activity put consumer health at risk but also, it negatively impacts the environment.
The legal and illegal cannabis markets are both associated with environmental obstacles, such as issues with land-use change, freshwater use, and toxic and nutrient pollution. Moreover, illegal cannabis cultivation sites are renowned for using unknown (and often dangerous) chemicals. Some examples include pesticides that are formulated to deter animals from crops.
According to The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI), the symptoms of cannabis allergy depend on the level of exposure. Plant-touching or close contact may cause skin swelling, rashes, and hives. Inhaling cannabis allergens like pollen, on the other hand, may cause nasal or ocular allergy symptoms.
Spain’s Cannabis Scene Thrives off of Legal Uncertainty
Cannabis seizures catapulted eighteenfold in the Almería province last year. In April, authorities destroyed 415,000 hemp plants worth up to €100 million in the northern region of Navarre. Illegal activity of this kind is not exactly new news, however. Spain’s cannabis market has thrived since the Spanish supreme court ruled that drug consumption and possession were not a crime in 1974.
The judge’s ruling only applied to drugs for personal use while still regarding drug trafficking as an imprisonable offense. Ultimately, this created a legal system that meant cannabis could be provided to others for compassionate reasons without punishment, so long as the plant was not offered with profit-seeking intentions. Occasionally, arrests of cannabis club members still happen due to the perplexing law. For decades, these social cannabis user associations have been cropping up in their hundreds across Spain, with Barcelona alone having some 200-active member-only clubs operating outside the law.
Mexican Drug Cartels Contribute to Illegal Cannabis Growing in Spain
A Mexican drug trafficking ring with close ties to Spain’s cartels was recently caught operating cocaine processing labs and cannabis plantations in the country, thus demonstrating how criminal organizations across Mexico are further implanting themselves in the EU’s lucrative drug trade. Based on the details of a June 4 news release by Spain’s National Police, over 200 police officers descended upon illegal drug production sites throughout the central Spanish provinces of Guadalajara and Madrid. The raids resulted in two dozen arrests and the confiscation of one ton of marijuana and 37 kilograms of cocaine.
The drug ring was allegedly operated by a Mexican family affiliated with Spanish drug cartels. An investigation ensued after an influx of Mexican nationals originally from Sinaloa started to purchase luxurious homes in 2020. According to the news report, expensive properties were purchased using $10 million worth of cash and gold.Drug enforcement agents actively observed family members as they ran several illegal cannabis farms in Guadalajara. Drug traffickers were believed to have visited their farms to purchase harvested cannabis, which they transported to legal cannabis companies in Portugal and Switzerland. Such companies would rely on the plant to extract its non-psychotropic compound CBD (cannabidiol).
Spanish Cannabis Laws are Changing: Decrminalisation and Medical Legalisation
Spain is preparing to become the latest European country to decriminalize medical cannabis use, with industry insiders feeling confident that Europe’s largest illegal cannabis growing destination could eventually evolve into a legal cannabis industry hub.
Spanish lawmakers recently approved a text urging medical cannabis use to be broadened. The move forges a new path for pharmacies to begin selling the drug within the next six months — a timeline that Spain’s medicines agency AEMPS must stick to. AEMPS submitted the recommendations to Congress, which approved them on June 21. Now, they must be stamped by the European country’s Health Commission. Highlighted in the report are several qualifying medical conditions for prescribable THC-rich cannabis. THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the plant’s primary psychoactive compound. As per the recommendations, a centralized registry of the patients qualified to use cannabis will be created. It also pushes for a wider field of research in the medical cannabis market.
Currently, Spain permits just two drugs containing cannabis derivatives to be provided as a treatment option in hospitals — one that may relieve epilepsy-related seizures and another designed to reduce MS-related muscle stiffness.”Extracts or standardized preparations of cannabis that do not have marketing authorization today” can be sold legally in Spain’s pharmacies, based on the health commission-approved text.
Legislative moves such as those mentioned in this article heavily emphasize public health and safety. With that being said, new efforts to stamp out illegal cannabis grow sites across Spain will transpire soon. As lawmakers focus their attention on the direction of a legal cannabis market, the need for quality-grown, chemical-free cannabis in Spain is growing. Once a legal market is in full effect, black market growers will find it more difficult to hide from the law. Plus, since properly-cultivated cannabis puts less stress on the environment, the people who buy it will rest assured that they have not contributed to the damaging repercussions of illegal cannabis grow sites.