Cannabis Social Clubs in Barcelona Are About to Get Shut Down, Possibly for Good

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Barcelona, Spain, is home to nearly 200 cannabis clubs, making it one of the hottest global pot destinations of the past half-decade. But the clubs are facing a mass-shut down after the supreme court amended a legal loophole — one that allowed them to proliferate in the first place, Stephen Burgen reports for the Guardian. The asociaciónes, as they’re commonly known, have faced a series of setbacks since they opened in 2017, but this is a whole new hurdle that might cause them to shutter for good. Or at least the foreseeable future.

Back in 2017, the court overruled a law passed by the Catalan parliament, which stated that the “private consumption of cannabis by adults … is part of the exercise of the fundamental right to free personal development and freedom of conscience.”

The ruling led to the opening of hundreds of cannabis clubs, drawing both tourists and locals into the city for a relatively safe, legal spot to purchase and consume cannabis. The facilities were protected under a Barcelona city bylaw, or a law established by a community to essentially govern itself, that regulated their existence. That bylaw, however, was also just overturned. The judges declared that city authorities were not competent enough to legislate on matters governed by the state.

“The majority of associations assume that sooner or later they will be forced to close down,” Eric Asensio, spokesman for the Federation of Catalan Cannabis Associations, told the Guardian. Nearly 140 of Spain’s cannabis clubs are in the northern coastal region of Catalonia, but the majority are in Barcelona.

Despite the city’s support of the asociaciónes quasi-legal status, officials just informed the clubs that the new ruling officially outlaws “sales, consumption, and promotion” of the plant. The clubs must now undergo inspections by the city to ensure none of them are breaking the law. The first storefronts subject to city examinations are “the ones with the most negative impacts and which are geared towards tourists and massive sales.”

The cafes are technically “private members’ clubs,” but many have opened up sales to tourists for a small “membership fee” around €10, or $11.85 USD. It should be noted that the associations started out as private clubs where members could buy and smoke cannabis on the premises — that’s what made it a celebrated global hot spot for weed. Recently, however, many clubs have moved away from that style of business in favor of the dispensary model. Why wouldn’t owners want to get in on selling a portion of the thousands of pounds of flower grown in Catalonia? That said, it’s rumored eastern European and other mafias are in control of the cultivation sites supplying the clubs. If that’s true, then (some of) the cannabis associations are essentially fronts for mafia drug money. Sigh.

But city officials, police, and the clubs all agree that the shops reduce street dealing and illegal consumption. The cops have even said they’re not opposed in principle to the clubs. 

“Once again the judiciary is attacking the associations without taking into account the reality of Barcelona, a city that has co-existed with these entities for more than 30 years,” the federation said in a statement. “The Barcelona associations are a pioneering model in Europe, exported internationally, the application of new drugs policies that focus on the individual and their health.”

The Federation of Catalan Cannabis Associations is working with the city council to hopefully come up with a solution to the issue. “What’s needed,” Asensio says, “is a legal framework that recognizes the existing reality and to obtain the necessary regulatory mechanisms in collaboration with the public authorities, with a clear emphasis on public health.”

The future of onsite consumption is hazy, considering Amsterdam plans to shut down its infamous cannabis cafés sometime in 2022, and now Barcelona shops and smoke lounges seem to be shuttering, too. That basically leaves few legal consumption locations throughout the US and Canada to accommodate pot smokers from around the world. Ugh. Do we even need to say it? Prohibition sucks! But as legalization continues to surge throughout the world, it’ll be interesting to see how the rollout of smoking lounges evolves.

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