When municipal and regional officials from throughout Turkey gathered at the presidential palace in the capital Ankara for a speech on the role of local governments, they were in for a surprise. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that Turkey would be returning to widespread cannabis cultivation and called upon regional leaders to promote the crop.
“The Ministry of Agriculture will begin a study and we will take these steps,” Erdogan pledged at the Jan. 9 meeting. “We will produce it again.”
He even invoked childhood memories of his family’s cannabis-based cottage industry, Middle East Eye notes. “I remember my mother used to knit shopping bags that we could use when shopping. You don’t throw them away immediately… It is earth friendly… These are made of cannabis,” Erdogan said.
Four days later, speaking on his economic program during a visit to an armored vehicles factory in the northwestern province of Sakarya, he again stressed his vision for a new agricultural sector in the country: “I am calling out to my nation; let’s start the process to cultivate industrial hemp. We will see that industrial hemp has many different benefits in many different areas.”
It should be noted that Erdogan used the word kenevir in both comments, which English translations have variously rendered as either “cannabis” or “hemp.” The word can mean both or either in Turkish — it derives from the same Greek root as the English word “cannabis,” and there is no separate word for “hemp.” In a Spanish-language write-up, Turkey’s own official news agency TRT used the word “cannabis.”
The ambiguity may have been intentional, especially as more and more hemp is grown around the world today for CBD production as opposed to traditional industrial purposes. Some of Erdogan’s supporters have seized on his announcement to more explicitly call for medical marijuana production in Turkey.
Hemp for Victory Over Western Imperialism?
Playing to his conservative Islamist base, Erdogan used barely veiled terms to blame Western pressure for the decline of cannabis in Turkey over the past generations. “We destroyed cannabis in this country because of some enemies who were disguised as friends,” Erdogan said at the Ankara speech.
Indeed, Erdogan’s announcement comes amid heightened tensions with the West. A state of emergency has been in place in Turkey since a 2016 coup attempt, and Erdogan grabbed sweeping executive powers in a constitutional referendum last year. Thousands have been arrested, press freedom is under attack and the European Union has iced plans for Turkish membership.
Tensions are particularly high with Washington, D.C. at the moment over U.S. support for Syrian Kurdish forces that Erdogan considers “terrorists.” Tying a cannabis economy to anti-Western sentiment may be a bid to win support from a culturally conservative establishment otherwise ill-disposed to the idea.
Hemp cultivation is currently permitted in only 19 of Turkey’s 81 provinces, Daily Sabah reports. The day after Erdogan’s announcement, Agriculture Minister Bekir Pakdemirli said that the government will begin issuing new permits to expand this area. Successive governments have restricted the sector, so that the area under hemp cultivation in Turkey plunged from 42,000 acres in 1989 just 200 acres last year. The Erdogan government’s plan is to rapidly reverse this trend.
Pakdemirli said the Black Sea Agricultural Institute and Ondokuz Mayis University, both in the northern city of Samsun, are carrying out a joint research project on commercial cannabis. “We will approve new locations that will produce organic cannabis,” he said, according to Middle East Eye.
Some regional leaders are embracing the idea enthusiastically. Gov. Osman Bilgin of Kirklareli province, on the Bulgarian border, stated: “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.”
Not Just for Fuel and Fiber?
Also jumping on Erdogan’s proposal was the pro-government Istanbul daily newspaper Dirilis Postasi, which on Sunday published a full front-page spread under the headline “Cannabis production is a national matter.” As Middle East Eye notes, the story included a large graph shaped like a stylized cannabis leaf, with each blade representing an application of the plant, from the energy sector to the textile industry. The article also accused “Western imperialists” of seeking to undermine Turkish agriculture through cannabis prohibition.
On the same day, Abdurrahman Dilipak, one of Turkey’s most prominent Islamist writers, ran an opinion piece in the fiercely conservative Istanbul newspaper Yeni Akit in which he explicitly called for the legalization of medical marijuana in the country. “[The] Turkish Social Security Administration should produce medication based on cannabis and distribute without a charge under the supervision of medical doctors,” he wrote.
With the Islamist right actually embracing the idea, Turkey may be poised for very rapid ascendance in the world cannabis industry.
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