This will be the first in what will be an irregularly scheduled series of posts on cannabis in foreign countries. We hardly need to tell you that both cannabis and cannabis legalization are not confined to the United States. We will through this series be showing you what other countries are doing, both because we view this as an interesting topic and because we all should be learning from each other. Eventually, as cannabis legalization dominoes continue falling around the world, there will come a day when cannabis will be exported and imported between countries no differently from other products.
When thinking about cannabis clubs and lounges, many of us instantly think of Amsterdam “coffee shops,” but there is another European country experimenting with cannabis clubs that is rapidly becoming a European cannabis center: Spain.
Spain, and Catalan (think Barcelona) in particular, has seen the number of its cannabis clubs grow exponentially by taking advantage of a legal loop-hole in the country’s ban on marijuana trafficking. Spanish law allows for private cultivation and consumption, including collective consumption. So what did entrepreneurial Catalonians do with this? They opened membership-only cannabis “associations” where marijuana is collectively consumed in private. There are now approximately 400 such “associations” in Catalan alone.
One of the most interesting aspects of the Spanish model is the distinctly non-commercial approach of its cannabis clubs, the official aim of which is to reduce the “negative effects of drug use.” Many of these cannabis clubs bring in medical doctors and other health care professionals to give medical advice to the club’s members.
Why are Spanish clubs run this way? Part of the reason lies in the legal requirement that clubs be run on a not for profit basis. Though nearly all of Spain’s cannabis clubs have membership fees to join, most use the membership funds for operating costs, with any additional revenue being reinvested into operations. Another reason for Spain having become a center for such cannabis associations is the legal loophole under which these clubs must operate: cultivation and consumption of marijuana is allowed in Spain, but trafficking of marijuana is still illegal. Thus, clubs must be careful to avoid taking any actions that might make its leaders or its members susceptible to arrest under Spain’s drug trafficking laws.
The Spanish approach is yet another phenomenon in the wave of cannabis legalization around the world and its successes or failures will no doubt serve as a useful case study for legalization efforts in the U.S. and around the world.