Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan surprised a group of municipal officials last week when he detoured from his prepared remarks to speak about the country’s policy on hemp and other products derived from cannabis. A week later, all of Turkey is talking about Erdogan’s plan to revive the country’s cultivation industry.
Turkey’s Plan to Revive Industrial Cannabis Cultivation Draws Support from Unlikely Sources
In case you haven’t been following Turkish politics very closely, here’s a quick recap that brings us to President Erdogan’s surprise announcement last week that the country would move to revive hemp cultivation. Erdogan is on a quest for dominance. Last year, he succeeded in implementing a new “presidential system” through a referendum that has faced multiple accusations of fraud. The new presidential system consolidates near-dictatorial powers for Erdogan, who survived a failed coup attempt in 2016.
Last week, Erdogan called on municipal officials from across Turkey to gather at the presidential complex. The purpose of the meeting was ostensibly to talk about the role local administrators would play under the new presidential system. But as he frequently does, Erdogan went off topic.
According to reports, Erdogan began expounding on the environmental damage caused by plastic bags. He told a story about the re-usable knit shopping bags his mother would use. “It is earth friendly, even if you wanted to dispose of it,” Erdogan said, before stating, “these are made of cannabis.”
Thus was Erdogan’s segue into an announcement that the Agriculture and Forestry Ministry was going to revive industrial cannabis cultivation. Meanwhile, Erdogan said that his administration would incentivize the manufacture of new cannabis-derived products.
It’s important to note that that the Turkish word for cannabis, “kenevir,” can mean both cannabis and hemp. Erdogan is almost certainly referring to industrial hemp cultivation and hemp-derived products. In Turkey, cannabis with high THC concentrations goes by the name “haşiş”—i.e., hashish.
Turkey Destroyed Cannabis Cultivation “Because of Some Enemies Disguised as Friends,” Says Erdogan
The day after his hemp grocery bag speech, Erdogan’s Agriculture Minister, Berat Pakdemirli, revealed the project. The plan includes increasing the number of hemp cultivation centers and incentivizing the production of hemp-based textiles, fabrics and other materials. So far, there has been little to no mention of developing hemp-derived CBD products.
Yet the way Erdogan framed his hemp revival plan has helped it gain traction with certain segments of the Turkish media. During his speech before his municipal officials, Erdogan said “we destroyed cannabis in this country because of some enemies who came disguised as friends.”
Erdogan is alluding to the United States. In the early 1940s, the U.S. pressured Turkey (along with European nations) to ban cannabis-based medications. In 1937, the U.S. passed the infamous Marihuana Tax Act, ushering in the ongoing era of prohibition. With medications banned, there were no longer major incentives for cultivation, and Turkey’s cannabis industry died.
But members of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), Erdogan’s opposition, blame the president’s administration. They say Erdogan’s Agriculture Ministry dealt the death blow to the national industry with bad regulations. “It was mostly destroyed before this government,” said CHP Deputy Chairman Orhan Saribal. “But it totally ceased to exist thanks to this ruling party.”
Still, framing hemp cultivation as the return to something lost under Western imperialism is powerful rhetoric. As a result, more Islamist-leaning publications threw their support behind Erdogan’s proposal. The daily newspaper, Dirilis Postasi, even published a full front-page headlined, “Hemp Production is a National Matter.”
While accusing “Western imperialists” of destroying Turkish soil “anywhere they set foot,” the front page article lists several benefits of industrial hemp for Turkey’s energy and textile sectors.