The government of the autonomous Spanish region of Catalonia has joined other countries that have loosened their restrictions on cannabis. The region has legalized cannabis cultivation, distribution, and consumption following a campaign that gathered more than 67,000 petition signatures, and which had urged for a government debate with regard to the matter.
Cultivation, distribution, and consumption of marijuana will now be permitted for members of designated cannabis clubs after the parliament agreed to regulate them. These clubs have previously existed in a state of oblivion after they emerged as a response to the strict fines set in place by the Catalan government against offenders who are caught using cannabis in public.
A significant majority of ministers (118 of 127) have voted in favor of the regulation of these cannabis clubs. The ministers voted favorably after receiving a report that contained contributions from both professionals and passionate citizens, including several cannabis experts like pharmacologists, sociologists, and psychologists. Due to these pro-cannabis efforts, Catalonia will be the first region in Spain to implement comprehensive cannabis regulatory standards.
Clubs will be required to be self-sufficient and non-profit associations distributing marijuana to adult members – members who are 18 years old and above. These clubs will be allowed to produce 150kg of dried cannabis each year and are subject to rules that are in place to discourage drug tourism. Moreover, under the region’s new legal framework, members won’t be permitted to acquire marijuana for 15 days after they join a club.
This means that cannabis users from outside Catalonia cannot just book a trip there for the purpose of visiting a cannabis club. The 15-day wait period and the 150-kg limit have been designed to stop cannabis tourism right in its tracks.
It can be recalled that the move towards the regulation of cannabis started in 2014, when officials were requested to regulate the clubs. This move was stalled until 2015 after a cannabis advocacy group called La Rosa Verda gathered over 55,000 signatures supporting legal protections for marijuana users and democratically operated cannabis clubs.
Officials in Barcelona, Catalonia’s capital, tried to curb the cannabis boom in 2014 over fear that the city would rival The Netherland’s capital, Amsterdam, as a marijuana hub. It is worth noting, however, that the new law will set Catalonia apart from Amsterdam, where sale of cannabis is legal but not its cultivation. This particular loophole in Amsterdam’s law has opened the doors to cultivation via black market, where sellers are put in a tough spot because they have to obtain cannabis illegally in order to sell it legally.
According to Alba Verges, chair of the parliamentary health commission, they will approve a law that is very advanced and that will give a clear message. She said that it is high time for a paradigm shift where legislating drugs is concerned.
Amber Marks, a barrister who co-authored a briefing on the need for cannabis club regulation in Catalonia together with Oriol Casals Madrid, stated that Catalonia’s new legislation will justify the new law as a way protecting consumer rights, as well as constitutional rights to equality, development of the personality, and personal autonomy. According to her, the new law will be different in that it will include specific provision for the cannabis transportation, as well as for its packaging, product testing, and hygienic storage.
The Spanish federal government, however, can look to challenge the region’s legalization down the road. To illustrate, in 2016, Spain’s highest court had overturned Catalonia’s move to ban bullfighting after the ruling party in Madrid argued that the ban harms cultural heritage and artistic freedom.
The People’s Party – Partido Popular – is the Spanish legislature’s largest party and it is decisively against cannabis reform. This is why the Catalan region’s cannabis supporters are currently gathering signatures for national reform. This time around, the threshold required for the petition to reach Parliament is at 500,000. However, if the Catalan government can successfully implement the new regulations, this number of signatures will not be that difficult to obtain.