Western observers of Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan usually take the authoritarian’s statements on industry with an industrial dosage of salt, and eyebrows have been raised again following his recent calls to make the country a major global cannabis player.
Erdogan, who leads the heavily anti-drug Islamist government, has a habit of toying with the media, and will change the nature of his speeches on a whim. It was therefore a total surprise to local media that he used a recent address to pitch the revival of Turkey’s industrial hemp manufacturing trade through a review of agricultural laws.
At a separate address a few days later, during a visit to an armoured vehicles factory in the north-western province of Sakarya, he repeated his goal of a new Turkish agricultural sector.
“I am calling out to my nation; let’s start the process to cultivate industrial hemp,” he told local reporters. “We will see that industrial hemp has many different benefits in many different areas.”
Erdogan’s pitch to his conservative Islamist base put the blame on Western forces for the implosion of Turkey’s lucrative cannabis industry in the past.
“We destroyed cannabis in this country because of some enemies who were disguised as friends,” Erdogan said.
In 1971, the Turkish military overthrew the government headed by late President Süleyman Demirel, who was unwilling to reduce cannabis production despite pressure from the US administration. Turkey was one of the largest producers in the world at the time.
As a reminder: Turkey has been in a state of emergency since a failed coup attempt in 2016, and last year, Erdogan gave himself much greater powers in a controversial and widely contested constitutional referendum.
Members of the press are routinely arrested and tortured in Turkey, and the European Union has refused to let it become a member, as the country’s economy continues to spiral downward.
Existing Turkish legislation outlaws cannabis cultivation, but a legal loophole allows its fiber, stem and seed to be used. The new laws will allegedly allow fresh types of cannabis with minimized THC levels to be cultivated.
The upper THC limit for industrial cannabis in Canada is set at 0.3 percent and 0.2 percent in the European Union, the latter being the more likely figure Turkey would stick to given its current political approach.
The legal principles for a cultivation permit, necessary regulation, and other procedures to be implemented in unlicensed cultivation have been drawn up, local press has reported.
The move was hailed by producers and farmers, and government agencies were quick to jump on the news and roll out announcements.
Agriculture and Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli later fleshed out more detail and said the government will take steps to increase cannabis production, which is currently allowed in 19 of 81 provinces in the country, per a 2016 rule in the Official Gazette.
Outside of these 19 districts, all forms of cannabis cultivation are banned, which resulted in a huge drop in cultivation numbers from 42,000 acres in 1989 to merely 200 last year, statistics show.
The head of the Cannabis Institute of the Center for Eurasian Strategic Studies (ASAM) on Thursday, January 17, put the magic numbers on the potential boost to the economy.
“Extrapolating from the cannabis leaf’s price of €15m [$17m] per ton, we could earn €1.5bn [$1.7bn] by exporting 100 tons of [cannabis] oil,” he said.
The country could use the cannabis plant to produce textile materials and paper, he said, and also produce new biodiesel, electricity, biodegradable polymers, and all types of plastics.
“Cannabis has 85 types of cellulose and it can be recycled eight times,” he said, name dropping several other countries worldwide already produce cannabis, including France, the Netherlands, Canada, and the US. “The US expects $71bn in income from cannabis by 2025,” he said.
The reaction domestically has been fairly positivewith media coming out in support of the plan, and investors will be hoping Erdogan’s taste for misdirection does not extend to using the hemp industry for political point-scoring.