RASQUERA, Spain (AP) — What about growing marijuana to pay off crushing municipal debt? One Spanish village put the idea to the vote Tuesday, and a majority of its citizens approved — but not the 75 percent needed.
The referendum in Rasquera, population 960, in the northeastern Catalonia region represented a quirky and 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.
For the plan to go ahead, the yes camp needed at least 75 percent of the vote, but just 308 people said 'Si' — only 56.3 percent — while 239 said 'No,' according to results published on the village's Website.
The result effectively ends the idea to lease a plot of land to an association of marijuana buffs in Barcelona who wanted to pay Rasquera €1.3 million ($1.7 million) over two years. About 40 jobs — growing, harvesting and packaging the pot — were envisioned.
The payment by the pot-smoking group ABCDA would have been about equal to the debt owed by this picturesque pueblo that sits at the foot of a mountain range with a castle dating back to the 12th century.
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 rate in the 17-nation eurozone at nearly 23 percent — just shy of 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 thought the pot-growing idea was "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.
Mayor Bernat Pallisa insisted that the initiative was legal, however, because ABCDA had pledged that the marijuana grown in Rasquera would have been for private consumption by its 5,000 members.
Pallisa had pledged to resign if the referendum failed. Insausti did not immediately return a message left on his cell phone seeking information about the mayor's plans after the results were released late Tuesday.
Woolls reported from Madrid, and Associated Press writer Alan Clendenning contributed from Madrid.