You might have heard that Spain has become one of Europe’s hot spots for cannabis tourism. There was a huge boom in Cannabis Social Clubs in the country between 2010 and 2015. While many of those clubs are still open today, recent court cases have caused some clubs to change the way they operate.
Are there weed coffee shops in Spain? There aren’t any coffee shops in Spain. You will find something called Cannabis Social Clubs (CSCs). These are non-profit clubs where members grow cannabis collectively. It is possible to get a membership to a club. But it is important to understand how they differ from for-profit coffee shops and dispensaries.
If you’ve visited places like Amsterdam, Denver, or Las Vegas—you probably have an idea of what a coffee shop is like. If you take that idea with you on a trip to Spain, you’re probably going to run into some difficulties. Spanish laws mean that everything is going to be different from any dispensary or coffee shop you’ve visited before. How different depends on the CSC you visit.
How is a CSC Different from a Coffee Shop?
There are numerous ways that CSCs differ from the coffee shops of Amsterdam or the dispensaries that you’ll find in U.S. states where recreational use has been legalized. These differences range from how to find them and how to get inside to what you can expect once you’re in and what you should or shouldn’t say.
The reason that CSCs are the way they are has to do with the ways that Spanish law regards cannabis. It is legal to consume and even cultivate cannabis in private in Spain, but it is illegal to sell it or to possess or consume it in public.
Because they are private clubs, CSCs are considered private clubs rather than public places of business. Members don’t purchase cannabis; they pay dues to support the club’s operations – which includes growing or sourcing cannabis for members to consume. While most clubs permit members to withdraw cannabis to take home for personal use, transporting it outside the club is technically a crime.
So, while coffee shops in Amsterdam advertise with a green and white sticker in their window, CSCs in Spain might be unrecognizable from the street. Unlike Amsterdam, where anybody can walk in and purchase off the menu, in Spain, you’ll need to become a member of the club before you can consume the club’s cannabis or take any away with you.
Why Does Spain Have to Make Things Difficult?
If you take a close look at all of the sites on the internet that are promoting cannabis tourism in Spain, you’ll notice that the ones that have a date of publication are almost all from 2016 or earlier. That’s because CSCs exist within the gaps in existing Spanish law.
From 2010 to 2015, CSCs were popping up everywhere and pushing the limits of that legal loophole. Several high-profile court cases between 2014 and 2018 reigned in the proliferation of the clubs and imposed severe penalties for clubs that stray too far beyond the boundaries of what Spanish authorities will tolerate.
If you’re just looking to visit a club to enjoy what they have to offer, you don’t need to concern yourself too much with the legal battles that are being fought on that level. They won’t really impact you when you’re in the club. Where those legal decisions have made their impact is on the size of clubs, their ability to advertise, and the way they conduct their activities.
The big fancy clubs that you see advertising on the internet and promising either swanky luxury or a massive facility with a party-like atmosphere—well, they might not even be there anymore. If they are, there’s no guarantee that what you find will match what you saw on the internet. If what you get matches the advertising, chances are that the club is living on borrowed time.
The Ebers Association Supreme Court Decision and the La Mesa Barcelona Case
In 2015, three high profile cases against CSCs established the current state of affairs with regard to the Spanish government’s tolerance of cannabis clubs. One of those three cases was against an association in Bilbao called the Ebers Association. The language that the court used in its ruling is one of the clearest guidelines CSCs have for staying out of trouble.
The court’s ruling stated:
Cultivation and organized, institutionalized distribution of cannabis, on a long-term basis, among a collective consisting of 290 persons constituting an Association open to new members is a drug-trafficking crime
While the ruling doesn’t do much to tell CSCs what they can do, it says an awful lot about what they cannot do.
The size of the club, their practices for admitting new members, and their adherence to the democratic procedures of a non-profit organization are all things that, if not in-line with the court’s ruling, could lead to the prosecution of a club’s management board.
The case that was brought against La Mesa Barcelona is a good example of how this new state of affairs works. That CSC was raided and found to have over 2,400 plants. This called its non-profit operation into question. When none of the club’s members appeared to testify on behalf of the managers, the court ruled that the club was a smokescreen for a trafficking operation.
What This Means for You
As we said earlier, as someone who wants to visit a club, you don’t have to worry about being brought up on charges and appearing before the Spanish Supreme Court. Those are concerns of the club’s management board and operations staff. But, knowing what those folks have to worry about should help you understand if they’re sticklers for the rules when you visit.
Expect any club you visit to make you complete the application process and pay dues – even if they do what they can to make a same-day approval of your application happen. Expect any club you visit to have a limited selection on their menu. Expect any club you visit to be sensitive to the way you talk about paying for your membership dues.
Remember – you’re not buying their cannabis!
Since most clubs don’t advertise at all anymore, it can be hard to find them and even harder to comparison shop them before you decide which one you want to visit. There are some sites and forums on the internet that claim to help you get memberships set up in advance, but we would suggest that you use caution before transmitting personal information or releasing funds over the internet.
What Does It Take to Get a Membership?
You have to be at least 18 years old to get into any CSC, but most only admit members over the age of 21. In order to register for membership, you will need to provide a valid photo ID, and a regular physical address in Spain – hotels or hostels won’t work, but Air BnB addresses should. Some clubs will take your photograph for their records. We can help you join a cannabis club
You will have to complete a membership application for the club, and the club may require that you be sponsored by a current member to qualify for membership. When you fill out the application you will have to attest that you are a regular cannabis user and that you will not promote cannabis use outside the club. You will also have to estimate your monthly consumption.
The sum of the memberships’ estimates of their monthly consumption is how a club determines how much cannabis it is allowed to grow, purchase, or possess within the structures of Spanish law. By becoming a member, you turn your personal use limits over to the club’s collective quota. Paying dues helps the club grow or purchase enough cannabis to supply the members.
Once you’ve been approved as a member of the club, you will be able to partake in the club’s supply inside the club. You might be able to take a small amount with you for personal use at home, but remember that you’re taking a risk transporting it in public on your way home.
How Much Are Dues?
Dues vary greatly from club to club. Our advice is to remember that you will probably get what you pay for. What’s another €10 or €20 in the grand scheme of things? Especially if it means the difference between a good time and an experience that’s just okay.
A club that does everything it can to make the membership application quick and painless is probably going to have a different atmosphere than a club that paints inside the lines. A club with low membership dues will probably have a less impressive selection than one with a steeper cost of admission.
We recommend approaching application for membership seriously – even if your stay in Spain is going to be brief. When you follow the path of least resistance, you’ll get in quicker but might wind-up underwhelmed by what you get. If you aim a little bit higher, you’ll probably find yourself having a much better time in return for the extra effort.
What Should You Expect from a Visit to a Cannabis Social Club?
If you’ve ever been to a coffee shop in Amsterdam, you’d probably compare that experience to a visit to a pub, bar, or even a coffee house. The atmosphere in Spain’s CSCs used to cover a pretty broad spectrum, but even in the 2010-2015 era, there weren’t many that would have offered you that kind of atmosphere.
There aren’t many – if any – of the party palaces left. Since the Supreme Court’s ruling, they have all either closed down, been shut down, or re-organized to get on the right side of the law. There are still plenty of high-end, exclusive-type clubs out there. In most cases, you have to either know someone to get membership or have the resources to afford steep dues.
For the most part, a visit to a CSC will be an awful lot like hanging out in your own living room. Some are pretty cramped and a little bit run down, but others are spacious and comfortable. The thing that makes a good CSC are the members. If you find one with good people, you’ll have a better time.
What Should You Watch Out for When Visiting a Cannabis Social Club?
As we mentioned earlier, CSCs don’t do much to advertise – if they do anything at all. The CSCs that are looking to attract new members and tourists use “runners” to look for folks on the street who are looking for a club. Most of these “runners” are legit, but there have been reports of people getting mugged or into other bad situations.
Use common sense and remember that you’re following a stranger in an unfamiliar city. Don’t do anything to put yourself at risk. It’s also a good idea to remember that the runner is being paid to bring you to a particular club, not necessarily to give you good advice on finding a good club. Seek advice from someone who doesn’t have a financial stake in your decision.
When you get to the club, your ability to check it out before applying for membership might be limited. Do what you can to get an informed first-impression before signing-up or paying dues. Don’t be afraid to move on and look for another club if the one you’re at isn’t doing it for you.
If you decide to leave the premises with cannabis, remember that it is technically against the law to possess it in public. The fines for possession aren’t too steep, so it isn’t a big deal if you’re found in possession of an amount for personal use – but it’s still a hassle. We’re definitely not encouraging you to break the law—we’re just suggesting that you use common sense.
Are Cannabis Social Clubs Worth It for a Visitor?
If you find a good one, a cannabis club can be a great place to hang out and enjoy your down-time during a visit to Spain. At the same time, if your visit is too brief to allow you to find a good club and get approved as a member, you might be better off skipping it. If there is anything worse than going without for a day or two, it’s over-paying for poor quality cannabis that you have to consume in a dingy basement.
Things are a bit complicated in Spain these days. But they’re no less complicated than they were when things were running wide-open between 2010 and 2015. It’s just that now you’ll have to look harder and accept that most clubs are more modest and intimate. Before, you had to worry about navigating overwhelming numbers of slightly smarmy options.
If you’re spending a week or more in Spain, investing a full day to explore your options will allow you to find a good club and leave you with several days to enjoy the benefits. That should allow you to get your membership dues worth of enjoyment out of your membership. Don’t be afraid to ask locals for advice on how to make the most of your time in their town.
If you’re lucky enough to be spending an extended time in Spain, then we’re positive that you will find a CSC that feels like home. The social aspects of a CSC are more intimate than dispensaries or coffee houses. That can be a little bit uncomfortable at first. When you’ve gotten to know everyone, you’ll probably find that it’s the part you enjoy most.
If we were residents of Spain, we would love everything about the CSC arrangement. The commercialization of cannabis culture that you find in places like Amsterdam and Las Vegas makes them exciting places to visit, but we wouldn’t want to live there. CSCs feel much more like part of the community.
While CSCs make it harder for a visitor to find an outlet, compare different outlets to find the best option, and actually get inside to start enjoying themselves—there are some pretty good reasons behind that. Spain’s government sees the CSCs as a good way to be permissive to cannabis use without accepting drug abuse and drug trafficking as necessary evils.
Another nice thing about the CSC set-up has to do with medicinal marijuana users. Since Spain doesn’t distinguish between medicinal and recreational use, medicinal users rely on CSCs just like everybody else. How would you feel if you had to go to a smarmy club just to take your medicine?
We hope that you’ve found our advice on the CSC scene in Spain useful. It’s different enough from anything else that you’ve experienced that it’s worth doing some research on before your visit. Some of the things that make it so different are the things that you’ll enjoy the most about it – if you spend the time to find good options and take the time to enjoy it for what it is.