Spanish police said Tuesday they had seized a major haul of 372,000 cannabis plants during a nationwide operation targeting one of the country's growing number of production networks.
The operation, carried out by the Guardia Civil police in October and November, targeted 52 plantations in Madrid and in the south and centre of the country, which were run by a network that grows and sells cannabis.
During the raids, police seized "more than 372,000 plants", a statement said -- more than a third of the usual number seized annually.
Interior ministry figures show that between them, the Guardia Civil and Spain's national police confiscate around a million cannabis plants every year in Spain, the European Union's top producer where illegal production is on the rise.
During the raids, police arrested three Spanish nationals running the network, who had rented agricultural land and convinced the owners they were operating legal plantations for medicinal purposes.
Police also seized several tonnes of vacuum-packed buds ready for distribution.
After decades as the gateway for Moroccan hashish to enter Europe, Spain is now seeing illegal plantations multiply as the country morphs into a cannabis production hub, attracting criminal gangs from across the continent.
Between 2014 and 2018, seizures of marijuana plants quadrupled, interior ministry figures show.
Recent figures show that since February 2019, Spain's national police have arrested almost 3,700 people and seized nearly half a million plants.
With some 25 million consumers, cannabis is the illicit drug of choice in Europe, bringing in some 11.6 billion euros ($13.6 billion) last year, estimates by EU's policing agency Europol show.
Although a gram of marijuana sells for 5.0 euros in Spain, it costs around three times as much in the rest of Europe, and even six times that amount in some Nordic countries.