By Roland Sebestyén
Some people believe that they are the result of a legal loophole; others argue that the country’s tolerant drug policy allows their success and expansion. Either way, Cannabis social clubs are flourishing in Spain as increasing numbers of both locals and tourists are attracted to the safe environment that they offer.
Increasingly, parts of Spain – namely, Catalonia – are being heralded as the “new Amsterdam” thanks to the area’s popularity among ‘canna-tourists’ visiting from all over the world.
The Spanish cannabis market is indeed a big one. According to Canna Byte, there are four million local consumers, as well as around 6.5-12.5 million people spending time in the country to enjoy cannabis every year. Although the government is clearly aware of the situation, its tolerant stance on dug consumption – particularly cannabis – and a lack of clear regulation has led to increased questionable practises in some of these clubs.
Although cannabis in Spain is still illegal for commercial purposes, personal use and cultivation have been decriminalised. Essentially, as long as cannabis consumption is done privately and discretely on private property, the police won’t bother. However, this approach provides a legal loophole, a grey area if you like, for businesses.
On the courtesy of the above-mentioned tolerant environment, around 400-500 Cannabis Social Clubs (CSCs) have been established in the country since 2001. Around 200 of these establishments are believed to be in Catalonia, with the majority in the regional capital, Barcelona.
In these clubs, the name of the game is ‘shared consumption’.
The clubs generally grow cannabis collectively and then distribute it among the paying members while providing an exclusive social place to consume and enjoy the product. Members pay a membership fee, ranging from around 20-50 euros per year. Members then also pay for the cannabis that they consume.
However, to operate, the clubs must follow a rather strict guideline. On paper, selling or transporting cannabis in Spain are still criminal offenses which are punishable with 1-3 years in prison.
Among the criteria these clubs and businesses have to meet, first and foremost, CSCs must be registered in a regional association. The nature of Spanish politics makes the legislation a bit tricky because some parts of the country have their own rules.
Maybe even more importantly, the clubs must be closed to the public. Technically, new members should be invited in by an already existing member. However, some say it’s hardly the case in most of the clubs as canna-tourists flock to the country, paying top-dollar to get access.
The clubs must be run on a non-profit basis. As we’ve already mentioned, selling cannabis is illegal. On the other hand – and this is where the grey legal area is – selling memberships to people is not against the law.
So, the consumers pay for the production of cannabis which is seen as a membership fee in the books.
The clubs must restrict the quantity of cannabis consumed as it’s feared that cannabis can be taken to the streets from those social places. Therefore, one person can only consume three grams a day – which sounds more than enough when it comes to recreational use.
The CSCs method is a huge success, creating an alternative option for cannabis consumers to the commercial ‘coffee-shops’ that have become synonymous with Amsterdam.
The clubs also provide its members with an alternative to street cannabis, where the production methods are unknown. Therefore, in theory, as more clubs begin to pop up in the country, the more territory and custom the street loses.
On the other hand, the CSCs must find the right balance when restricting access to cannabis as new customers. While restrictions remain on entry, many people are left with no choice but to consume illegal, low-quality cannabis provided by non-regulated parties.
In the future, access to Cannabis Social Clubs may be made easier, allowing more people to benefit from safe products and environments. However, this is unlikely until the Spanish drug policy is further loosened.
CSCs could also be good news for the Spanish government as tax revenues collected from these businesses could contribute to the economy, which has been hit hard in recent months due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
The cannabis industry and social clubs employ thousands and the trends show the numbers are growing.
Other European countries are watching. Even in the UK, Cannabis Social Clubs are popping up despite still being illegal. But who knows? Spain’s proven record might result in some expansion post-Brexit era.