Cannabis social club activists in Spain liberated

22 November 2011

Cultivation and consumption of cannabis is decriminalised to an extent but lack of guidelines causes rogue social clubs to undermine the success of self-regulated social clubs. The result; an unwarranted arrest of three Pannagh activists. 

Martin Barriuso, the president of of Pannagh and the Federation of Cannabis Associations (FAC) in Spain and two fellow activists from the Pannagh cannabis social club have been released. They had been erroneously arrested for drug trafficking in Bilbao on Monday, November 14. Cannabis social clubs are registered, non-profit associations that are formed by adult people who consume cannabis.

The problem is the lack of regulation of cannabis social clubs that operate in a legal grey zone. Representatives of the clubs have asked the Basque Parliament to regulate the cultivation and personal use of marijuana to end the legal uncertainty. They are duly authorized entities (even pay taxes) and the associations do not break the law, yet they suffer the confiscation of their plants and arrests of its members.

According to Barriuso in the briefing on Cannabis social clubs in Spain, "cannabis social clubs provide a viable alternative to the dominant illegal market, one which is compatible with upholding treaties on drugs that currently appear untouchable. This model makes it difficult for minors to access the substance, limits so-called 'psychoactive tourism' and weakens the black market by removing potential clients from it. What is more, members of a club are able to control the origin, quality and composition of what they are consuming, whilst generating legal economic activity and tax collection." Barriuso also presented the model before the European Commission (see the image of Dana Spinant, Head of the Anti-Drugs Unit of the European Commission, discussing with Martin Barriuso).

In Spain drug consumption and possession for consumption are not criminal offences. Various Supreme Court decisions stated that cultivation for personal use is not a crime when not intended for trafficking. Shared consumption, giving drugs for compassionate reasons, and joint purchase by a group of users - as long as it does not involve profit-seeking - are not crimes either. However, this decriminalisation did not lead to clear rules on production and possession for personal consumption. Public Prosecutor guidelines in Spain on the quantity of cannabis for personal use are 200 grams of cannabis; the quantity required for an average individual consumption during a period of 5 days.

With regard to plants cultivated for personal consumption, there are no guidelines, which means that interventions vary greatly depending on the region and on the personal and ideological attitude of the police or judges involved. This causes considerable legal insecurity, which results in many police interventions for small cultivations that nearly always end up with the prosecution being closed and the perpetrators acquitted.

However, due to the success of the clubs, rogue clubs have appeared that are only interested in dealing to third persons, which undermines the self-regulated social clubs that are authorized. That is what happened in Bilbao. In the same building where Pannagh is located, a rogue club was dealing cannabis. The raid on Monday by the police, however, did not make the distinction and also arrested the members of Pannagh and confiscated their cannabis stock by overzealous – or ideologically motived ? – police officers.

Cannabis social clubs are registered, non-profit associations that could be set up legally in any country where the cultivation of personal amounts of cannabis has been decriminalised. In order to regulate the clubs, the European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies (Encod) has presented a draft version of a code of conduct for cannabis social clubs at a European level. The code of conduct should help to regulate clubs in Europe. Clubs now also exist in Belgium and the Dutch city Utrecht announced they are willing to experiment with a regulated club. Policy makers should encourage and embrace this bottom-up approach to create a regulated cannabis market to replace the criminal black market.

About the authors

Tom Blickman

Tom Blickman (1957) is an independant researcher and journalist, based in Amsterdam. Before coming to TNI he was active in the squatters and solidarity movements in Amsterdam. He worked for Bureau Jansen & Janssen, a research institute on intelligence and police matters. Now he specialises in International Drug Control Policy and Organised Crime as a researcher at TNI's Drugs & Democracy Programme.

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