Erdogan wants to revive cannabis production, and Turkish Islamists love it
ISTANBUL, Turkey – When municipal officials from all over Turkey arrived at the presidential complex on Wednesday to attend a speech by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, they didn’t expect him to speak about cannabis.
They were at the symposium to discuss something quite different: the role of local administrations in the new presidential system.
We destroyed cannabis in this country because of some enemies who were disguised as friends
But Erdogan, who is known to change the content of his addresses spontaneously upon delivery, despite having a large group of speechwriters, took a different route.
To the congregated officials’ surprise, he began railing against plastic bags and the need to protect the environment. His solution? Cannabis.
“I remember my mother used to knit shopping bags that we could use when shopping. You don’t throw them away immediately, and go out shopping with them again. It is earth friendly, even if you wanted to dispose of it,” he said.
“These are made of cannabis.”
The Agriculture and Forestry Ministry, Erdogan revealed, was set to revive the cannabis cultivation industry, with a view to encourage the production of a raft of local products using new incentives.
“We destroyed cannabis in this country because of some enemies who were disguised as friends,” Erdogan said.
Some, like journalist and writer Yunus Eksi, an expert at Eurasia Strategic Researches Center (ASAM) who spoke to Turkish media last week, believes US policies forced Turkey into curbing cannabis farming.
“The US government, by leveraging its financial power, pressured other countries into removing cannabis-based medications from their national codex,” he told Russia’s Sputnik agency.
“After the US banned 37 cannabis-based medications, European countries followed its lead. Turkey also excluded cannabis products from its medical system from 1940 onwards.”
Erdogan’s own rhetoric for the reason suggests that his government also agrees with this theory.
The Turkish opposition, however, says that the policies of Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) are some of the fundamental reasons behind low production.
Deputy chairman the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Orhan Saribal, told Russia’s Sputnik agency that the cannabis farming industry was destroyed by the government with faulty agricultural regulations.
“It was mostly destroyed before this government due to lack of incentives and increasing costs. But it totally ceased to exist thanks to this ruling party,” he said.
Since that announcement, developments have moved fast.
On Thursday, Agriculture Minister Berat Pakdemirli unveiled the project. He said that government has already permitted cannabis production in 19 provinces, and there were plans to increase the number of farms depending on the demand.
“Samsun Black Sea Agricultural Institute and Ondokuz Mayis University are conducting a research project on cannabis. We will approve new locations that will produce organic cannabis,” he said.
Governor of Kirklareli Osman Bilgin, followed suit later that day.
“There are 2.5 million cannabis plants naturally grown in our city. We won’t burn them anymore. We will contribute the economy with them,” he said, adding that the crop could be used to produce ship ropes.
Bilgin’s statements were quickly mocked on Twitter because of his claim that the cannabis plants weren’t planted by farmers but grew naturally. One Twitter user joked that it was because of these plants there was a very low crime rate in Kirklareli.
On Sunday, daily Dirilis Postasi published a full front-page spread on the topic, with the headline “Cannabis production is a national matter.” The story included a very large graph with which the newspaper laid out the perceived benefits of cannabis, from the energy sector to the textile industry.
Diriliş Postası, kenevir üretimi için 2 yıldır canla başla mücadele veriyor.
Kenevir üretimi memleket meselesi https://t.co/RW6jWmJ8fW pic.twitter.com/L9wtzrTrMr
The article also accused “Western imperialists” of drying out Turkish soil “anywhere they set foot” in order to prevent agricultural work in the country.
Abdurrahman Dilipak, one of the most prominent Islamist writers who defends the legalisation of cannabis production and medical use, penned a column in the Yeni Akit newspaper the same day as Dirilis Postasi’s spread came out.
Dilipak argued that cannabis is only psychologically addictive and harmless compared to heroin and other drugs, so should not be treated as such.
“[The] Turkish Social Security Administration [SGK] should produce medication based on cannabis and distribute without a charge under the supervision of medical doctors,” he said, adding that in this way sale of cannabis could be taken from the hands of organised crime that profits from it.
This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.
President hopes reviving the industry will signal high times ahead for Turkey's economy and environment
The Legal Situation of Cannabis in Turkey
Turkey is one of Europe’s favourite holiday locations. People from all over the continent visit Turkey for its beaches, natural landscape and interesting culture. There are certainly a lot of things to do and enjoy in Turkey, but is smoking cannabis one of them?
What’s the legal situation of cannabis in Turkey? Read on to find out.
Drug laws in Turkey
Turkey has adopted a harsh stance on drugs in an attempt to combat drug trafficking. Turkey is a crucial transit point between Europe and the Middle East. It is a key point on the Balkan drug trafficking route, so Turkish law enforcement agencies have to intercept drug shipments coming by land, sea and air.
Growing, buying, receiving or possessing drugs for personal use can be punishable by prison sentences of one to two years in Turkey. Drug users may also join treatment programs or be placed on probation for up to three years.
If offenders refuse treatment or don’t comply with the probation conditions, they may be sentenced to imprisonment. Drug users who seek treatment before being investigated do not risk punishment, and healthcare professionals do not have to report the offence to law enforcement agencies.
Growing, importing and exporting drugs can lead to prison sentences of 10 years or more in Turkey. Selling and/or supplying drugs can be punished with prison sentences of five to 15 years. The extent of the prison sentences are linked to the type of drugs involved, and they can increase by 50 percent for hard drugs such as heroin, cocaine, morphine or morphine-based drugs and synthetic cannabinoids.
Offenders who occupy positions that are regulated by Turkish law, such as pharmacists, doctors or other health professionals, may receive penalties that are 50 percent harsher if they’re involved in drug trafficking operations.
All penalties are doubled if the offenders belong to organised crime groups.
Cannabis in Turkey
Even though only 1.8 percent of the Turkish population aged 15 to 34 reported using cannabis in 2017 , weed is still the country’s most popular drug. Most of the cannabis products seized in Turkey come from western Balkan countries or Morroco.
Domestic cannabis plantations spring up once in a while, but they’re usually raided and shut down by law enforcement agents. In one recent raid, Turkish law enforcement agents seized over 9 million cannabis roots and around 1.18 tons of marijuana.
Cannabis has a bad reputation in Turkey, and recreational cannabis use is highly illegal. Buying, receiving or possessing cannabis for personal use in Turkey can lead to prison sentences of up to five years.
Foreigners visiting Turkey may be tempted to argue that they were not aware of the severity of their crime, but that is most likely not going to be an adequate defence if they are caught with weed.
Offenders who are caught in possession of cannabis in Turkey and don’t have prior similar offences may have their public prosecution postponed. And, according to Article 171 of the Criminal Procedure Code No. 5271, prosecutors have the discretionary power to decide whether to proceed with the prosecution.
This means that, under certain circumstances, the prosecutor may decide to drop all the drug possession charges and refuse to start the public prosecution. On the other hand, it also means that the prosecutor can start the public prosecution and place the offender under probation.
All things considered, possessing and using cannabis in Turkey is risky. Law enforcement agents are not actively looking for cannabis users, but they will most likely arrest anyone who disobeys the law.
Hemp in Turkey
Turkey has a long history of growing industrial cannabis or hemp. Archaeological evidence shows that people living in Anatolia, part of modern-day Turkey, have been growing hemp at least since the 8th century B.C. Some scholars believe that the plant was cultivated in Anatolia as far back as 1,800 to 1,500 B.C.
In 1961, there were over 35,000 acres of cannabis being cultivated in Turkey, making the country one of the largest hemp producers in the world. Following intense pressure from the U.S., Turkey reduced its cannabis production and placed the cannabis plant under strict control and supervision. In 2017, there were only 11.3 acres of cannabis in Turkey.
But the legal situation of cannabis finally changed in late 2016, when Turkey’s government legalised controlled hemp production in 19 of the country’s provinces. Under the new regulations, farmers are allowed to grow hemp after obtaining a licence from the government. The licence allows farmers to grow industrial cannabis for a period of three years before renewal.
Farmers who want to apply have to prove that they don’t have any previous drug convictions, and they must allow authorities to monitor and check their cannabis plantations every month. The new regulations also state that farmers must dispose of the unused cannabis plant matter to prevent them from being sold as psychoactive drugs.
However, the future looks bright for Turkish hemp farmers. In January 2019, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Turkey should revive its industrial cannabis cultivation industry and encouraged local hemp production.
Medical cannabis in Turkey
Medical cannabis is now allowed in Turkey following the 2016 legalisation. Turkish patients who want to access cannabis medication have to obtain a doctor’s prescription.
Cannabis medication is controlled by the state, similar to other narcotics, such as morphine. As a result, only doctors who are authorised to prescribe narcotics can prescribe cannabis-based medicine. Doctors usually prescribe cannabis only after trying other treatments without success.
The 2016 law prohibits patients from purchasing cannabis buds but allows them to access drugs such as Dronabinol, Sativex or various cannabis oils.
CBD in Turkey
Cannabidiol (CBD) is currently in a legal grey area in Turkey. This cannabinoid is not covered by any laws, so it’s neither legal nor illegal.
However, most CBD products are illegal because they contain trace amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Everything containing THC, even in trace amounts, is either considered illegal or a medical product.
So, from a legal point of view, you basically cannot buy or use CBD products without a prescription.
That being said, there are some CBD products available in pharmacies, and you can buy those with a medical prescription.
The future of cannabis in Turkey
The future seems to hold great things for cannabis in Turkey. The country’s president made his thoughts about promoting industrial cannabis cultivation clear, so Turkish farmers will most likely be encouraged to plant hemp from now on.
Turkey’s medical cannabis plan is new, and a lot of patients report that accessing cannabis medication is still rather difficult. Doctors only prescribe cannabis medication as a last resort, so patients have to go through several unsuccessful treatments until they get cannabis medicine.
As for recreational cannabis, this topic doesn’t attract a lot of attention, and it’s easy to see why. With a foothold in Europe and one in Asia, Turkey is an important transit spot for drug traffickers. Authorities may believe that cannabis decriminalisation or legalisation might lead to an increase in drug trafficking and make the country’s battle against drugs even more difficult than it already is.
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Victor is a staff writer at Strain Insider and a digital marketer. He writes about cannabis, health & wellness, and marketing topics. When he’s not writing, Victor usually wastes time online looking for the perfect gif.
There are certainly a lot of things to do and enjoy in Turkey, but is smoking cannabis one of them? What is the legal situation of marijuana in Turkey?