Marijuana in Spain: Our on the Ground Report
Spain’s cannabis laws have progressively liberalized to the point where Spain is now one of the most cannabis-friendly countries in Europe. Spain is a relatively decentralized country, with independent communities having a great deal of autonomy. Consequently, each region can for the most part set its own laws regarding marijuana. Catalonia, where I am based, has actually become Spain’s center for cannabis. In fact, Barcelona, Catalonia’s capital city, has more than two hundred cannabis clubs, whereas Madrid has far fewer.
I expect the cannabis economy and culture in Spain will continue to grow and develop. Nearly ten percent of the people in Spain consumed marijuana in the past year and much of the country has an ideal climate for cultivating cannabis. In addition to the many private cannabis clubs that have emerged here in Barcelona, it is not at all uncommon to see (or smell) cannabis being smoked in public on the streets or in the bars and clubs in many Spanish cities. Despite the illegality of consuming in public places, in many of Spain’s cities the police generally overlook public cannabis consumption and have made it a low enforcement priority. It is a rare Friday or Saturday night when I don’t smell cannabis somewhere in Barcelona.
In addition to the abundant marijuana crop produced nationwide, a significant amount of hashish comes into Spain from Morocco. In its annual report of 2015, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) of the United Nations noted that Spain is one of the main entry points for cannabis produced in Morocco.
Cannabis cultivation in Spain is actually subject to criminal penalties if done with the purpose of “trafficking” but small-scale cannabis cultivation in Spain rarely results in legal problems. However, larger grows are sometimes raided if there are indications the plantings have a commercial purpose. In contrast, growing marijuana for personal consumption is excluded from criminal prosecution. Perhaps most importantly, Spain’s Criminal Code prohibits the sale of marijuana, but it does not prohibit its consumption (hence the private consumer clubs). Selling cannabis seeds, cultivating cannabis for personal consumption, and consuming marijuana in private are all legal. Manufacturing and distributing cannabis paraphernalia or equipment used for consuming, cultivating or handling are also legal. Spain, and especially Barcelona, have many grow shops selling these ancillary goods.
During Spain’s 2015 general elections, some of the political parties declared their intention to legalize marijuana so as to control consumption and to eliminate or at least greatly reduce the illegal market. The political discussions have centered around increasing regulation so as to make more consumption “responsible,” by among other things, setting 21 as the minimum age for consumption and requiring more information about consumption. Many in Spain have already reached out to us for information and for our opinions on how the various states in the United States have handled their legalization.
One of the distinctive characteristics of cannabis in Spain is its cannabis clubs or associations, of which Spain has more than 800. A Spain Supreme Court decision essentially legalized these associations, and they are now pretty much everywhere — particularly in Catalonia and in the Basque Country. The idea is that consumption within these associations is “responsible” because the association controls the consumption and the age of its members. Nearly all of these associations set a minimum age for their members, restrict on-site consumption amounts, and require all consumption occur on association’s property. A notable difference from the U.S. is that Spain’s laws do not distinguish between recreational and medicinal use. Still, more people in Spain favor legalizing medical cannabis over recreational marijuana, and Spain’s criminal courts generally treat medical defendants more leniently than recreational defendants. For now though, people needing medicinal cannabis mostly go to cannabis clubs to obtain and use their medicine. Doctors in Spain are not allowed to prescribe cannabis to their patients, which is why patients who choose this route must join associations or seek out the illegal market.
These clubs got their start in Spain way back in 1993, when the pro-legalization group Asociación Ramón Santos de Estudios Sobre el Cannabis (based in Barcelona, of course) petitioned Barcelona’s drug prosecutor to confirm the legality of cannabis cultivation for consumption purposes by a collective of adults. The prosecutor opined that “collectives” are not illegal, and the group then began cultivating cannabis, oftentimes in front of the national media. Despite the prosecutor’s opinion, the police seized the group’s initial harvest and detained its members. A Court of Appeals acquitted those members but two years later, Spain’s Supreme Court ruled that though the cannabis the group produced was not intended for commercial purposes, cannabis cultivation by the collective was “undesirable” and should be penalized accordingly.
Other groups soon emerged to challenge this ruling and in 1997, Kalmudia Association, in Bilbao, successfully completed a marijuana harvest without facing any legal obstacles. In 2000, after completing three harvests without incident, the clubs began looking for a legal framework for their activities. Spain’s first cannabis social club, the Club de Catadores de Cannabis de Barcelona, was founded in 2001. From 2001 to 2003, Spain’s Supreme Court issued a number of rulings establishing that possession of even large amounts of cannabis was not a criminal offense unless there was an intent to traffic or sell the cannabis for profit. These Supreme Court rulings ultimately paved the way for Spain’s cannabis clubs.
On March 11, 12 and 13, Barcelona will for the thirteenth time be hosting Spannabis and along with that, the World Cannabis Conference. I will be attending both events and I hope to see you there.
NOTE: Nadja Vietz joined our firm back in 2005 practicing out of our Seattle office. At the beginning of this month, Nadja opened our Barcelona office, to enable us to better provide Spain and EU law services to our clients. Nadja is a licensed lawyer in Spain, Germany and the United States (Washington State) and she is fluent in English, Spanish, German, and French and she also speaks Catalan and Russian. With all that has been going on with cannabis in Europe and with our having just opened an office there, we will be covering Europe more and more here on the blog, with a particular focus on Spain.
Nadja also wrote this post in Spanish here.