Cannabis Social Clubs began appearing in 2001 in Spain as the brainchild of ENCOD, the European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies. ENCOD’s vision for Cannabis Social Clubs is that they will help bring about drug policy reform in Europe. Because the clubs operate completely legally and are only able to be used by registered members, they promote responsible cannabis use.
How to Start a Cannabis Club in Spain
Cannabis Social Clubs are “legal associations of adult cannabis consumers that facilitate the cultivation of cannabis for personal use.” ENCOD introduced the concept over a decade ago, and it has grown into “a closed network that offers a safe, regulated, and transparent alternative to the street market.” The idea of using legal cannabis clubs to discourage street drug use is quite revolutionary.
In order to start your own Cannabis Club in Spain, you must go through the appropriate channels and check off all legal requirements in order to ensure that your club is run properly. To cover all your bases, you must go through the following steps:
- Public Awareness of Intention
- Creation and Registration
- Membership Registration
- Consumption Estimate
There is a “Spanish Cannabis Social Club Model” that dictates how the clubs are meant to run. “The model consists of a, not for profit association, democratically operated by its members, officially registered as a legal entity, which collects and distributes cannabis to its members, on private premises licensed for the sole access of members.” This model must be followed at all costs.
Public Awareness of Intention
Your first step when starting your own Cannabis Social Club should be to make your intent to open a club known to the public. Most people create public awareness of their intention by making a public presentation about their proposed club while local media is present.
During your public presentation, you should:
- Offer a clearly outlined mission statement.
- Let everyone know that your club will only serve adult members.
- Let it be known that your club will be transparent with local authorities.
- Stress the fact that this is a safe and responsible way for adults to use cannabis without needing to turn to street drugs or organized crime.
- Get a prominent public figure to endorse your club and appear at your public presentation.
- This is a good idea because it can bring more media attention to your presentation.
- The public endorsement can help reduce the risk of a negative reaction to your proposal.
Once you’ve made your intentions aware to the public, it is a good idea to wait a bit to make sure that there is no negative reaction from local authorities.
Creation and Registration
After the initial intention is accepted, you proceed to the creation and registration stage of opening your cannabis club. This stage includes several steps.
- Hold a Constituent Assembly. To do this, you will need at least 3 founding board members that include a president, a secretary, and a treasurer.
- There must be articles of association and a foundation charter that were previously written, approved, signed, and ratified by all members.
- After the assembly is held, you must give your official documentation to the registry of your community to formalize your association.
- Join the Federation of Cannabis Associations (FAC) in order to legitimize your business operations and contribute to the association’s movement worldwide.
The next step in creating your club is gathering members. Those who wish to be members must fill out a registration request form, pay a membership fee, and provide proof of age. No minors can join Cannabis Social Clubs.
In addition, members must acknowledge the following:
- They regularly use cannabis.
- They want to join your association.
- They have no criminal record with crimes against public health.
Also called the “consumption forecast,” the estimate of consumption determines how much cannabis the club will need to cultivate in order to supply its members. During membership registration, members reveal an estimate of the amount of cannabis they will consume each month. This consumption estimate of all members is needed in order to make sure that the association can provide enough cannabis for its members.
There are two ways that a Cannabis Social Club can produce its cannabis for its members: it can grow its own cannabis, or it can use what is referred to as a joint purchase to get its members’ cannabis from a third party. The consumption estimate dictates the amount of cannabis that is either produced by the club or acquired by the joint purchase.
Each member is allotted 60 grams of cannabis per month. This is the maximum amount of cannabis that the club can produce or purchase. Additionally, all members must be told of the costs of the cannabis with complete transparency, and the final costs that they pay must be broken down and justified for them.
Once production has been set in motion, operation begins. Operation of a cannabis club includes the following:
- The club cannot promote cannabis use to those who are not members at any time.
- There must be a democratic organizational set-up within the club. Members should always be allowed to participate in decision making.
- Certain positions must be assigned to ensure the club functions properly – like production, administration, accounting, and management.
- Any members that work in the club must have a contract that clearly states their salary and all other legal matters, just like any job.
If your cannabis club does not operate correctly, it can mess up all the other work you have done to open your club. So, it is important to make sure everything is set up the right way.
Rules Regarding Cannabis Clubs in Spain
Beginning in the 1970s, Spain’s Supreme Court began making rulings that decriminalized cannabis use and production. The Cannabis Social Club model was developed by activists that took notice of the Spanish law of cannabis cultivation and how it could be interpreted to allow for personal use and the fact that cannabis is usually tolerated well by Spanish law.
There are several rules that CSCs (or Cannabis Social Clubs) are expected to follow.
- They must register in a regional registry of associations, and the founding members must be willing to have background checks performed.
- They must promote responsible consumption to reduce harms that continue to be associated with the use of cannabis.
- They must only serve their official members. Membership can only be gained after registering, paying your fees, and proving your age. Current members can vouch for people that are trying to become members, and those with notes from their doctors that show they suffer from an illness that cannabis can treat can also join.
- They must enforce the limits on the amount of cannabis that can be consumed. There are daily and monthly personal allowances – typically 3 grams in a day and 60 grams in a month per member is allowed.
- They must encourage the immediate consumption of the cannabis that they distribute. Very small amounts can be taken home for personal use, but, for the most part, the clubs aim to keep most cannabis consumption within the club.
- They must run as non-profit organizations. Members pay their fees, which covers production and management. Any money they the club makes is expected to be invested back into the club’s operations.
The CSC Model: A Balance Between Commercialization and Regulation
Commercialized cannabis cultivation and use are made to bring in the most profit possible. This is usually done by increasing the consumption of cannabis by encouraging new people to begin using it. However, the CSC model is designed to stop, or at least to minimize, all newly initiated cannabis use designed for profit.
In a for-profit, commercialized cannabis market, public health issues are only a concern when they negatively impact sales. On the other hand, the CSC model takes in public health concerns from the beginning with their goal to limit availability in a non-profit, closed-membership system that stresses the immediate use of cannabis and reduces the chances of young people being enticed into cannabis use.
The Cannabis Social Club Model is meant to be a transitional model – one that promotes safe, regulated use of cannabis that is treated as part of cannabis decriminalization policies. It aims “to establish healthy social norms around cannabis consumption.”
CSCs are so determined to regulate what goes on inside of them that even they have called for more regulation of their associations. Still, there is a concern that the non-profit model of CSCs will be forgotten, especially in high tourism traffic areas like Barcelona, where some clubs have thousands of members and even allow tourists to become members.
But the CSC model remains strong, as evident in how it is growing:
- There are around 400 CSCs and similar clubs in Spain, mostly in Catalonia and Basque Country
- Uruguay uses CSCs as part of it’s nationally and legally regulated cannabis market.
- Informal CSCs have opened in Argentina, Colombia, and Chile.
- There are 5 CSCs in Belgium.
- The government of the Netherlands is trying to adopt the CSC model.
- Geneva is exploring the possibility of opening cannabis associations like CSCs.
Spanish Law Regarding Cannabis and its Use
In the article “Marijuana in Spain: Our on the Ground Report” by Nadja Vietz on the Canna Law Blog, Vietz states that “Spain is now one of the most cannabis-friendly countries in Europe.” Because the country is generally decentralized, the independent regions within it can make their own laws regarding the cultivation, consumption, and sale of cannabis.
However, there are some laws that are enforced throughout the entire country.
- Trafficking cannabis in Spain is illegal. If you are caught, you could face 1 to 3 years in jail and a hefty fine. For those who are repeat offenders or are caught trafficking large amounts of cannabis, the penalties can be even harsher.
- Smoking cannabis in public places in Spain is illegal. If you are caught smoking cannabis in a public place – like a park or public transport – you are fined 300 euros.
- Growing cannabis for personal use and smoking cannabis on private property in Spain is legal. However, you must make sure that it is never in public view.
- Buying and selling cannabis paraphernalia is legal in Spain. This includes seeds and hemp products, as well.
- Purchasing and consuming cannabis within the confines of a Cannabis Social Club is legal in Spain. You must make sure that you follow all guidelines and pay all fees to become a member.
Furthermore, the laws in Spain regarding cannabis cultivation and consumption show no distinction between medicinal and recreational use. That said, courts tend to show leniency toward defendants that use cannabis medicinally because doctors in Spain are not allowed to prescribe cannabis. Therefore, those that need cannabis for medicine must go to CSCs in order to get it – or they turn to the street market.
It is no secret that the cannabis market in Spain has rapidly expanded and gained a profound acceptance throughout the country. In fact, Canzeo Media reports that “enthusiasts of [cannabis] now regard Barcelona as the second home of European cannabis and some would argue heir to Amsterdam’s throne.”
A History of Cannabis Social Clubs in Spain
Because the popularity of CSCs has just begun to surge in recent years, many people do not realize that they have more than 20 years of history. While the first official Cannabis Social Club, Cannabis Tasters Club of Barcelona (CCCB), opened in 2001 in Barcelona, Spain, the Ramόn Santos Association for Cannabis Studies (ARSEC) began the fight for CSCs in 1993.
ARSEC formed following a law that was passed in 1992 in Spain that stated that anyone who used or possessed drugs on public property would be fined. It was the first cannabis activism organization in Catalonia. They contacted the Antidrug Office in Spain to see if it was illegal to cultivate cannabis for the personal use of a group of adults. The office responded that it was, in fact, legal.
The following timeline explains the resulting events in order:
- ARSEC planted about 200 cannabis plants in order to supply a collective of 100 adults.
- Police seized the plants and arrested the members.
- The ARSEC members were acquitted by a Court of Appeals.
- A few years later, Spain’s Supreme Court ruled that “cannabis cultivation by the collective was ‘undesirable’ and should be penalized accordingly.”
- ARSEC members were given a suspended jail sentence of several months and fined a few thousand in euros.
- Other groups of people began challenging this ruling.
- The Kalmudia Association in Bilbao successfully harvested cannabis in 1997 without any legal issues. After three successful harvests, they started to look into a legal framework for their association in 2000.
- Cannabis Tasters of Barcelona opened in Barcelona, Spain, in 2001.
- Over the next few years, the Spanish Supreme Court passed a series of rulings that helped to establish that growth and possession of cannabis wasn’t a criminal offense unless the intent was to distribute it. These rulings allowed for CSCs to begin to open.
The Reality of Cannabis Social Clubs in Spain
Even though CSCs are gaining popularity and paving the way for honest conversations about cannabis use, they still face legal and political issues currently. The article “’New Amsterdam’ No More? Spain’s Cannabis Clubs Fight to Stay Open” by Tasha Smith describes a very different aspect of Spain’s Cannabis Social Clubs, revealing the obstacles they still face.
Smith writes that cannabis clubs began as a “political movement that sought to fight for the constitutional rights of cannabis users,” but they may have become their own enemy. Some clubs have exploited the CSC model for profit, and this has hurt the reputation of all CSCs. This self-sustained sabotage is most likely caused by the lack of formal regulation because all clubs can operate differently.
The original founders of CSCs were activists – they were fighting against cannabis prohibition. However, because the CSCs began to operate without a strict set of legal guidelines that they could all follow, some CSCs have gone the way of commercialism, which is directly against what they were formed for.
Now, there are “activists and lawyers [that] are fighting to establish clear regulations that protect clubs, as they see marijuana cultivation for personal use as a fundamental right. Their goal is not only to clarify the regulatory environment for the CSCs but also to challenge Spain’s harsh drug policies.”
Recent activism that has sought to outline official regulations for CSCs includes:
- The Navarra province introduced a legal framework for their CSCs in 2014 called the Navarra Law. It was originally approved but was then suspended by Spain’s Supreme Court in 2015 and annulled by the Constitution Court in 2017.
- La Rose Verde, which is a group of Barcelonan cannabis activists, collected 67,500 signatures in 2014 to petition their local government for CSC regulation. The Catalonian parliament accepted the petition in 2017.
- The Basque Law was an initiative proposed in 2016 by Basque Country’s regional government that would “provide comprehensive care for drug addicts, be they addicted to recreational or prescription drugs.” Within the Basque, Law was Article 83 which stated that CSCs are required to work with local health authorities to make sure they encourage responsible cannabis use.
- The law was appealed and suspended, but, in 2018, Article 83 was declared to be in line with the Constitution and was upheld.
- There are three different CSCs that have been key players in the framework development of CSCs.
- Pannagh Association in Bilbao – raided in 2005 and acquitted in 2007
- Evers Association in Bilbao
- Three Monkeys in Barcelona
- These three CSCs were raided in 2011. Their plants were seized, and the founding members were arrested. The case took 7 years to reach a verdict and went all the way to Spain’s Constitutional Court.
- In 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that the clubs were to be charged under the criminal code. They would receive 4 and a half years of jail time and another 1 and a half years for being “criminal gangs.” Pannagh Association was even fined 250,000 euros.
- In the appeal in the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court’s decision was originally upheld, and this deemed all CSCs illegal.
- Then, in March of 2018, the Constitutional Court annulled the case and sent it back to the Supreme Court to “give the founders the chance of a fair hearing in the lower court.”
- An activist group called No Somos Delito (which means We’re Not Criminals) reported that “between 2015 and 2016, there were 189,947 fines for possession of marijuana in Spain, which is 346 fines per day, and adds up to 93 million euros a year in revenue for the police administration.”
All these legal issues have brought CSCs under fire and subject to random police raids and criminal prosecution. ConFAC, Spain’s national Federation of Cannabis Associations, states the following:
“The problem is all the bureaucracy has turned the tables on us. Whereas in the past, opening a cannabis club was a reflection of a person’s political values, now, it’s about money. The cost of opening a club is so high today, the priorities of the founders have changed. Getting a return on their investment is more important than the political fight.”
Opening a Cannabis Social Club in Spain can be a rewarding and positive experience; however, there are both legal and political risks that you will face opening one today. So, make sure to consider both the positives and the negatives of opening a CSC before starting the process.
Cannabis Social Clubs in Spain FAQs
What are the best Cannabis Social Clubs to visit?
Barcelona Weed Guide reports that the top 5 Cannabis Clubs in Barcelona for 2019 are:
What do you do in a Cannabis Social Club?
You don’t only smoke weed inside a CSC. It is an entire community. People get together to watch movies, listen to music, and play games. You can also eat and drink in the club. You’re able to consume your cannabis safely with other like-minded individuals.
What should I avoid in a Cannabis Social Club?
Always make sure you are legally purchasing your cannabis in the club. One of the biggest things to avoid is buying cannabis illegally inside a club. Two specific things to avoid are buying weed for someone outside of the club or buying cannabis from anyone inside the club.
Are there any legal provisions I should know about before joining a CSC?
Before joining a Cannabis Social Club, it’s important to know the following things:
- There is a limit of cannabis supplied to each member. Usually, the amount is about 2 ounces per month. Once you reach the limit, you won’t be given any more.
- Find a club that is transparent about where their cannabis comes from. When a club is honest about its cannabis strains, it’s definitely a club to consider.
- You must have an invitation to join. Contact the club first before showing up.
What should I avoid when it comes to finding cannabis in Spain as a tourist?
Tourists are not always aware of all the laws regarding cannabis in foreign countries. There are some tips for tourists when it comes to finding cannabis in Spain:
- Never ask to buy cannabis, especially on the streets.
- Always bring your ID to any club.
- Don’t assume that cannabis is legal everywhere.
- Don’t consume cannabis outside of a club.
- Avoid picking a touristy cannabis club because the cannabis is usually subpar.
How do I join a Cannabis Social Club in Spain as a tourist?
You need the following four things in order to join a Spanish CSC:
- Be over the legal age limit for the club. It could be 18 or 21, depending on the CSC you are joining.
- Have legal identification like an ID or a passport.
- Be able to provide a Spanish address. This can be a hotel or Airbnb for tourists.
- Have a referral from either a sponsor or another member of the club you are joining.
Cannabis Social Clubs have revolutionized the way that cannabis is viewed and consumed in Spain. There are many positive aspects of opening a CSC, and it can become very successful. However, remember to follow proper protocol when opening your cannabis club in order to ensure that your club is operating legally.