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In Spain, Illegal Pot Farms Are Being Blamed for Blackouts

On a recent morning, Ángel Ortiz Rodríguez sat on a sofa in his Granada apartment, attached to a breathing machine with tubes coming out of his nose. After suffering a heart attack a few years ago, Rodríguez relies on the machine to survive. However, due to frequent power outages in his neighborhood, his wife, Rosa Martin Piñedo, keeps an oxygen cylinder as a backup solution. The constant blackouts in the area have resulted in spoiled food, dead phone batteries, and non-functioning medical devices, which have caused serious health complications for residents.

According to Endesa, Spain’s largest electric company, the cause of these increasingly worse blackouts is illegal marijuana farms. The company claims that marijuana growers illegally connect to the power grid, overloading it with the high-power lights and air-conditioning required for the plants. In Granada’s northern district alone, about a third of the stolen electricity last year was attributed to these illegal farms.

The police believe that the rise in the number of marijuana farms is partly due to ambiguous drug laws in Spain. Although the country allows small-scale private cultivation and use of marijuana, those operating large plantations and engaging in drug trafficking only face relatively short sentences if caught.

While residents acknowledge the presence of illegal cannabis farms, they argue that the focus on marijuana has allowed the authorities and Endesa to avoid addressing the longstanding issues with the power grid. Some frustrated residents have even sued the electric company for failing to provide reliable electricity.

Similar problems with failing electrical grids and illegal marijuana production have been observed in other poor districts across Spain. In 2020, United Nations human rights experts called on the Spanish government to address the issue after a two-month blackout in a poverty-stricken neighborhood in Madrid.

In Granada’s northern district, which is home to the city’s poorest population, the number of blackouts has tripled since 2017. The area is characterized by cramped living conditions and dilapidated electrical infrastructure.

Residents of the district experience nearly 100 power cuts per month on average, sometimes lasting over 10 hours. These blackouts have resulted in increased mortality rates and health complications, including difficulties for diabetic patients in accessing their insulin.

While the presence of underground marijuana farms is evident in the area, some residents argue that the blame should not solely be placed on them. They believe that more attention should be given to resolving structural issues with the power grid that have been ignored for years. Endesa claims to have invested millions in infrastructure improvements, but residents are skeptical and blame the company for not addressing the root causes of the blackouts.

The ongoing court case against Endesa accuses the company of violating residents’ right to health, as protected by the European Union’s charter of fundamental rights. However, some fear that the focus on marijuana may have overshadowed the real issues at hand. During the trial, even a presentation on how blackouts affect people’s health was met with questions about marijuana.