Last year we examined the state of cannabis clubs in Catalonia. Historically a frontrunner in terms of both medical and recreational cannabis the region has blazed a trail in continental Europe. However, 12 months later, the Spanish government have done little to progress cannabis legislation at a federal level and issues of independence and territorial segregation have taken priority over a national cannabis policy.
Cannabis consumption and cultivation for recreational or medical use is decriminalised in Spain, providing it is for personal use and in a private place. Sale, importation, purchase, possession and consumption of cannabis in a public place is still illegal however. Spanish law does not distinguish between recreational or medical cannabis, so many patients go to cannabis clubs to obtain and use their medicine, a result of the fact that Spain currently prohibits medical cannabis containing THC.
With its 17 autonomous communities and two autonomous cities, Spain’s medical cannabis laws vary by region. Most of Spain’s regions criminalise some aspects of recreational and medical cannabis, predominantly the use, sale and cultivation of the plant. Many areas of the country, including Andalucia, Catalonia, and the Basque country, have maintained a stable, if not growing number of cannabis social clubs, though this does not represent a fully regulated market.
Actions that are illegal under the Federal Anti-Narcotics Act in Spain include:
Sale of cannabis
Cultivation of cannabis for purposes other than personal use
Actions that are legal, but sanctioned by fines under the Citizenship Security Act, include:
Possession of recreational or medical cannabis
Cultivation of cannabis plants for personal use, in spaces viewable to the public
Public consumption of cannabis
There have been several failed attempts to implement policies and regulations that allow the possession and consumption of cannabis at a local level. All proposals were issued by city councils or by regional institutions (either local parliaments or regional governments of the autonomous communities), taking advantage of their devolved powers regarding health, public safety, and regulation of non-profit entities. However, almost all initiatives have been ultimately cancelled at the federal level by the central government.
In Spain, physicians can prescribe Cesamet (nabilone) and Marinol (dronabinol) against nausea and vomiting in cancer chemotherapy, and Sativex for the treatment of several diseases. However, despite the availability of these cannabis-based medicines, Spain does not support any medical cannabis programmes. Catalonia’s legislation, however, allows medical patients to purchase an unlimited amount of medical cannabis, whereas recreational users have a monthly limit.
By providing patients with the option to tailor their dosage amounts, Catalonia resolved the challenge patients face in other countries with weekly or monthly limits. In these countries, patients with severe conditions or symptoms may be unable to find relief due to their restricted dosage. Cannabis social clubs register as non-profits and charge a “membership fee” to cover the price for the cannabis.
The country’s cannabis industry operates in a grey area, giving rise to private cannabis clubs and a thriving micro production industry. Historically, these businesses have influenced policy writing through cooperatives that lobby local government, and it appeared that this might deter international companies. However, the partnership between Canadian cannabis producer, Canopy Growth, and Spanish morphine producer, Alcaliber, for a reported €200 million in March 2018 signals an international interest in the Spanish market.
In order to understand the complexity of Spain’s cannabis system we spoke to Kenzi Riboulet Zemouli, Head of Research at FAAAT Think & Do Tank in Barcelona.
The Spanish central government is caught in complicated structural difficulties arising from the post-dictatorship democratic transition initiated in the late 1970’s. Territorial questions, as evidenced by recent events in Catalonia, add complexity to cannabis policies. The common tendency of the central government has been to allow the autonomous communities to organise their own local drug policies, which govern the health and law enforcement response to use, possession, distribution, production and processing of cannabis. However, the power of regional reforms is becoming increasingly limited as the centralised Spanish government looks to tighten its control on the governance of regional and municipal institutions.
The hundreds of existing and new cannabis social clubs maintain an important level of social pressure in the country, and feed a number of umbrella organisations that analyse changing political and public opinions. However, there is unlikely to be any major change to the cannabis club system in Spain in the near future.