Christian Escobar Mora, File, Associated Press
RASQUERA, Spain — What about growing marijuana to pay off municipal debt? One Spanish village is putting the idea to a vote.
The referendum Tuesday in Rasquera, population 960, in the northeastern Catalonia region is a quirky, legally touchy illustration of Spain's deep financial woes.
The seven-member town council first approved the idea in March, but it ignited such controversy that the mayor agreed to put it to a referendum in the hamlet of mostly retirees.
At least 75 percent must be in favor for the plan to go ahead. If that happens, a plot of land will be leased to an association of marijuana buffs in Barcelona who would grow the plants and pay Rasquera €1.3 million ($1.7 million). Some 40 jobs — growing, harvesting and packaging the pot — would allegedly be created.
The payment by the pot-smoking group ABCDA is about equal to the debt owed by this picturesque hamlet that sits at the foot of a mountain range and has a castle that dates back to the 12th century.
If the plan does not get enough votes, Mayor Bernat Pallisa says he will resign.
Rasquera is not alone with its debt problems. Spain's economy crashed after a real estate bubble and many cities and towns are desperately trying to cope by cutting spending for health care, education and jobs. Spain has the highest unemployment in the 17-nation eurozone at nearly 23 percent — nearly 50 percent for young workers — and it's about to enter another recession.
Pallisa could not be reached for comment Tuesday. But Jose Maria Insausti, an adviser to the town council, said the mayor feels "this can be a good solution for the local economy and if somebody else has better idea, let them come forward."
Under Spanish law, consumption in private of cannabis in small amounts is allowed. Growing it for sale, or advertising it or selling it are illegal.
Officials with the government's National Drug Plan have said growing marijuana in large amounts as planned in Rasquera would be against the law, and have vowed to block any attempts.
Rasquera believes the initiative is legal, however, because ABCDA has pledged that the marijuana grown there will be for its members only — thus, for private consumption, albeit by a group with 5,000 members.
"That is the key," said Insausti.
Results were expected late Tuesday.