In Turkey, the possession, purchase, and use of cannabis for recreational purposes is prohibited.
However, it is allowed – with certain limitations – for medical and scientific purposes. Moreover, the cultivation of cannabis plant for medical and scientific purposes is permitted in 19 Turkish provinces. It is also allowed in other provinces, but with special permission.
Turkey has harsh penalties for those arrested for the sale, possession, cultivation, use, and trafficking of cannabis.
Possession and purchase of cannabis is punishable by one to two years in prison, or the option of treatment plus up to three years’ probation. Users who refuse treatment or those who fail to meet probation requirements will have to face a court sentence.
Meanwhile, the sale and distribution of illegal drugs, including marijuana, is punishable by four to 10 years in prison. Those caught exporting the substance face six to 12 years in jail and a per-gram fine. Importing and producing cannabis, on the other hand, means 10 to 12 years’ imprisonment.
Cannabis culture and history
The country has a long history of marijuana use, dating back thousands of years. It also has a rich cannabis culture. There is evidence that cannabis plants have been cultivated in the country since at least 1,000 BCE.
Throughout most part of the Ottoman period (1299-1922), the use of hashish was common and was accepted. In fact, the Sufi sect of Islam used cannabis as a sacrament, and coffee houses and parlors allowed the use of hashish within their premises.
Hashish and cannabis were only made illegal in 1890. Turkey, along with Egypt, vehemently insisted that cannabis be included in the Geneva International Convention on Narcotics Control, which was established by the League of Nations.
Today, Turkey still has active illicit cannabis growers whose products are mainly exported to other countries. Diyarbakir Province in southeast Anatolia is the hub of marijuana cultivation in the country, producing two-thirds of its total harvest. The province’s climate, fertile soil, and rugged terrain are all very ideal for growing cannabis. Much of Turkey’s harvests are processed into hash. Hashish is also imported from Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon.
The cannabis industry in Turkey is highly politicized. Diyarbakir Province and majority of the southeast region are considered by the Kurdish population to be a part of Turkish Kurdistan and is at the midst of their decades-long struggle to set up an independent Kurdish nation.
Police authorities in Diyarbakir Province are trying to eradicate cannabis plantations, and they have been actively seizing market-ready hashish and cannabis. It is estimated that in 2013, more than 200 police operations in southeast Turkey had led to the seizure of a total of more than 48 million plants worth more than €100 million.
Legalizing cannabis in 19 provinces
Under the new regulations of the Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Livestock, the production of cannabis in 19 provinces has been legalized. Production is also limited only to cannabis for scientific and medical purposes.
This ministry-sanctioned and highly controlled marijuana production in selected provinces is expected to help the Turkish government gain more control over illegal production. Under the new regulations, growers need to obtain a three-year government license before they can legally cultivate cannabis plants. They also need to produce a warrant that proves they have not been previously involved in any narcotic or cannabis production activity.
Ministry officials also check cannabis fields every month before harvest season and monitor these fields for any signs of prohibited activities.
These selected provinces include Antalya, Amasya, Burdur, Bartın, İzmir, Karabük, Çorum, Kayseri, Kütahya, Kastamonu, Ordu, Rize, Malatya, Sinop, Tokat, Samsun, Yozgat, Zonguldak, and Uşak.
The ministry can also grant special permission for other provinces to grow cannabis for scientific purposes.