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Reading time - 7 minutes - December 21, 2021
‘Any reasonable, sentient person who looks at Spain, comes to Spain, eats in Spain, drinks in Spain, they’re going to fall in love. Otherwise, there’s something deeply wrong with you. This is the dream of all the world.’ – Anthony Bourdain
Spain. The land of paella, the first global empire, and the second most spoken language in the world. Described as a whale washed up on the European continent, this beautiful country has a rich history, interesting present and exciting future. With the amount of countries Anthony Bourdain has explored, it’s a huge compliment that he places Spain at the top. But is cannabis legal in Spain? In recent years, Spain has been leading the charge for cannabis progression in Europe. In fact, they are supposedly the 13th country in the world for the most cannabis consumed. Their progressive drug policy is one to be admired, and shows good intent for the future. However, there are some contractions and issues. But let’s take a look. Let’s delve into the cannabis laws of Spain.
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In Spain, there are many terms for cannabis. Some of these include: mota, maria and hierba. Cannabis is thoroughly enjoyed by the Spanish people, with 11% of the population using cannabis between 2015 and 2017 according to a statista survey. This is joint highest in Europe, alongside France. With a population of 47 million, that’s almost 5 million cannabis users. This is no surprise when you look at the cannabis progression that has been made in Spain in the last decade. In fact, some would say that Spain is a close second - beaten only by the Netherlands - when it comes to weed legalization.
Before delving into the cannabis laws in Spain, it’s first important to understand the varying properties of the marijuana plant and the different attitudes to them. The cannabis plant is made up of 400 components and 100 cannabinoids. Cannabinoids are what gives weed its aromas, flavours and effects. The cannabinoids that are most spoken about are CBD and THC.
CBD is not a psychoactive substance, which means it does not alter the state of the mind. This means it is seen to be, by the majority of governments, as a safe and non controversial substance. CBD is legal in the majority of European countries and is easily bought. CBD does have some relaxing effects, alongside helping with some mental and physical issues. However, it’s not really used for recreational purposes, which is why it’s not seen as a threat.
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THC, on the other hand, is a psychoactive substance and it does alter the state of the mind. This means it has effects of euphoria, sensory enhancement and potentially some negative effects for certain people. THC is known for the common high effect that people get from weed. It’s this reason that cannabis has been made illegal in the majority of countries around the world. THC is a touchy subject for many governments.
Spain was the first global super power. Spain - under Habsburg rule - in the 16th century had an empire stretching all the way from Europe, to the Philippines, to India and even the Americas. Due to this, they were some of the first Europeans to witness cannabis and then spread it around the world, and eventually to Mexico where the term ‘marijuana’ came from. This also led to a great deal of hemp production at home and abroad, which was a highly lucrative business for Spain. And now, Spain was one of the first countries in Europe to decriminalize drug use in 2001. After this, they allowed for cannabis to be consumed in private places, which then led to the cannabis club culture that now ensues. Businesses that identify as a ‘private place’ are able to sell cannabis to their members. As you can see, Spain has always kept a reasonably welcoming stance in regards to weed.
Cannabis in Spain is not fully legal, but it’s definitely more accepted than in places like France or the UK. In fact, personal use and cultivation of cannabis is decriminalized, but it is illegal to sell it. The fact that recreational weed is decriminalized is a giant leap for cannabis advocated out there. In addition, due to the fact that there’s a loophole which allows for people to use recreational cannabis in private places, it allows for a healthy weed culture. But let’s take a look at more of the specifics.
Possession or use of cannabis in Spain is decriminalized if done in a private place. This means it is not prosecutable. However, if cannabis is consumed in a public place, then it is illegal and can be dealt with through confiscation and a fine. So, the question is, what constitutes a private place and what constitutes a public place? Well, your own home would count as a private place. But outside on the streets would be a public place. Conversely, around 1600 cannabis clubs have now opened up in Spain, which all claim to be ‘private’ places. This means that members can join these clubs and consume weed inside. The private club cultivates the cannabis on site, gives it on site, and consumes it on side.
However, there are a few important rules that members must obey. For example, the weed they purchase cannot and must not be consumed outside the premises on the street.
Selling cannabis in Spain is illegal. The nature of the punishment is determined by the seriousness of the offence. For example, due to the fact that cannabis isn’t considered a hard drug, prison sentences range from 1 to 3 years. For harder drugs, it’s usually up to 6 years. Of course, cannabis clubs can get away with it because you pay a membership fee and then receive the cannabis once you’re in there, which means they aren’t technically selling anything to you. It’s a loophole. Due to the fact Spain is divided in varying autonomous communities, according to Sensi Seeds:
“In 2017, the Catalan government tried to regulate cannabis use, cultivation, and distribution for licensed clubs. However, after the law passed in the Catalan Parliament, it was quickly overturned by the Constitutional Court on the grounds that it encroached on the powers of the Spanish government.”
In Spain, you can legally grow up to five plants if they are being used solely for personal use and that the cannabis won’t be grown in a public place. This is regardless of whether it’s medicinal or recreational cannabis. If these conditions are not met, then cultivation will be considered an offence and will lead to a fine and potentially jail time depending on the extremity of the situation. Again, Spain seems to have a consistent approach. This approach is that cannabis - if used personally, not in public spaces and not in a way to convince others to use it - then it’s okay. If only more countries in Europe gave trust to the people like that.
Whilst Spain seems to be ahead of the game in their approach to recreational cannabis, their medical cannabis plans surprisingly seem to fall short. The truth is, medical cannbais products are limited on the Spanish health care system. The only medicinal weed product available is Sativex, but it’s extremely costly and difficult to access. Due to this, people are forced to collect their cannabis from cannabis clubs or grow it themselves. This is all well and good, but unless the research is done, the patient may never truly know which cannabis strain is best for their mental or physical illness. This means that whilst they can grow or get cannabis easier than other places, they may never know the true potential of the plant. Understanding the cannabis plant comes from medical research, and is usually done best by health care professionals. Unfortunately, currently, Spain is not prioritising this.
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In 2021, cannabis clubs in Barcelona were threatened to be closed down due to the fact that the model of the clubs were beginning to sway away from what the government desired. Led by tourism, many of the clubs had begun promoting cannabis far more than just being a private area for people to enjoy it. This does not bode well for the future of cannabis in Spain. However, with new guidelines, as long as cannabis clubs are able to fulfil these then the culture should be able to remain the same. The truth is, many predict Spain to be the next country to legalize recreational cannabis. They’ve already decriminalized it, so realistically, making it legal should only be around the corner.
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