Spain Spain has been steadily relaxing its drug laws for many years, and has now become one of the most liberal countries in Europe, if not the world, with regards to drugs. Spain’s economy has suffered hugely throughout the global financial crisis and its aftershocks; as a result, the importance of cannabis has skyrocketed.
Spain has been steadily relaxing its drug laws for many years, and has now become one of the most liberal countries in Europe, if not the world, with regards to drugs. Spain’s economy has suffered hugely throughout the global financial crisis and its aftershocks; as a result, the importance of cannabis has skyrocketed.
The modern cannabis trade in Spain
Over the last ten years or so, Spain’s cannabis industry has thrived, on a scale previously seen only in the Netherlands in the 1980s. Cultivation is widespread in every area of the country, and a rich culture associated with its use is becoming established. Several important events are held in various Spanish cities every year, particularly Barcelona, and there are thousands of grow shops, seed banks and even private members’ clubs that supply their customers with up to sixty grams per month.
Spain is a decentralised state that affords a great deal of autonomy to its various regions. When it comes to drugs, each region has its own policies and its own commissioners. Catalonia, of which Barcelona is the regional capital, has over two hundred cannabis clubs, while in Madrid, clubs are more discreet and fewer in number.
As well as abundant domestic cultivation, every year a vast quantity of hashish is trafficked from Morocco, which lies across the Strait of Gibraltar, just 14.3km at its narrowest point. The Spanish authorities are actively involved in combatting the flow of hashish from Morocco, and have also made several high-profile arrests for domestic cultivation, but have done little to halt the inexorable rise of the industry.
Cannabis law in Spain
According to Spanish law, it is illegal to traffic cannabis or to cultivate it for commercial supply. In fact, according to article 368 of the Spanish penal code, even possession of cannabis is technically illegal. However, as private residences are considered inviolable under Spanish law, cultivation and consumption of personal quantities of cannabis (or any other drug) in the privacy of one’s own home is decriminalised. It is also legal to sell and buy seeds and hemp goods.
Possession or use of drugs in public places is against the Law on the Protection of Citizens but is not a criminal or arrestable offence; fines of €300 or more are not uncommon. It is still possible to be arrested for cultivating cannabis, if police believe the amounts under cultivation are too excessive to be classed as personal use. If the courts cannot be persuaded that the cultivation is for personal use, a jail sentence of between one and three years is likely.
If convicted of selling or trafficking cannabis, between one and three years’ imprisonment is the typical sentence. If the quantity in question is particularly large, or if the defendant has previous convictions, the jail sentence may be considerably longer—up to twenty years is generally the maximum.
Spanish cannabis policy
While drug trafficking is considered a crime and is punished quite harshly, personal use is not viewed as critically, and addiction is seen as a problem to be treated rather than criminalised. Spain’s prevention policy—the National Drug Strategy—is run by the Public Health Ministry, and its main foci are reducing demand, reducing supply, improving scientific research and educating the populace.
The National Drug Strategy also aims to improve coordination between the media, schools, healthcare centres, and the security forces. As well as this, it emphasises the need for international cooperation on drug policy enforcement. Spain adopted its present liberal attitude after the widespread social issues caused by heroin use and HIV in the 1980s. Spanish society began to view addicts as in need of treatment and not penalisation, and courts began to offer reduced penalties if defendants agreed to undergo rehabilitation.
Cannabis is seen as particularly benign: in September 2013, the ex-director of the National Drug Strategy, Araceli Manjón, commented that cannabis was ‘not a drug’ and that it should not be classed the same as other, more dangerous drugs. She also advocated for legalisation and regulation of the cannabis industry, and stated that prohibition was ‘not the solution’.
Cannabis arrests & sentences in Spain
Spanish authorities routinely seize vast, multi-ton shipments of hashish arriving from Morocco; furthermore, in recent years the quantities of domestically-produced herbal cannabis seized has risen sharply. In April 2013, the biggest haul to date in Europe—of fifty-two metric tons (MT) of hashish—was intercepted in a warehouse in the southern city of Córdoba. Just days later in Córdoba, another haul of 32 MT was found in a truck transporting melons from Morocco.
In October 2013, Spanish customs officers intercepted a haul of eighteen tons of hashish in Almeria, a major sea port in southeastern Andalusia. It was the biggest bust to date in the history of the city, which has long been a major entry-point for Moroccan hashish into Europe.
Many of the traffickers arrested and imprisoned in Spain are foreign nationals. In February 2014, four Turkish men were arrested 100km off the coast of Almeria when their fishing boat was found to be carrying 12 MT of hashish. In 2012, a huge operation that enacted raids in several major Spanish cities and resulted in 1.6 MT of seizures saw fifty-one arrests made, with Spanish, Moroccan, Russian, British, German, Dutch and Romanian nationalities all represented.
Cultivation of cannabis in Spain
The climate in much of Spain is ideal for cultivation of cannabis. Most growers grow outdoors from seed, and are able to take advantage of the climate and low risk of arrest to grow huge bushes, each capable of producing several kilograms of dry cannabis every year.
The majority of Spanish-produced cannabis is destined for personal use or for the local market. Large-scale commercial harvests intended for export are much rarer, as trafficking gangs are more focused on transporting Moroccan hashish to Europe. However, commercial cultivation sites do exist: in August 2013, police in Murcia uncovered the nation’s largest cannabis plantation to date, a site of 5,000m² which had 14,000 plants under cultivation.
For the most part, small-scale cultivation occurs unhindered, but from time to time, busts of small-scale growers do occur. Even if few plants are cultivated, presence of paraphernalia that indicates intent to sell the harvest can seriously affect chances of arguing personal use.
Cultural use of cannabis in Spain
Cannabis, most often in the form of hashish, is by far the most commonly consumed drug in Spain. Spain’s proximity to Morocco is a major factor explaining the prevalence of cannabis use. Absolute numbers of regular cannabis users continue to increase as availability and societal acceptance increase, although the total percentage of the Spanish population that have tried cannabis at least once dropped from a high of 31.2% in 2009 to its present rate of 27.4%.
The Spanish are exceptionally tolerant of the use of cannabis and other drugs; cocaine is another hugely popular drug, and Spain is the entry point to Europe for South American cocaine trafficking both due to its location and its cultural and linguistic ties.
As well as in the many private members clubs that have popped up in Spain in recent years, cannabis is smoked publicly, on squares and outside bars and clubs, in many Spanish cities. For the most part, and despite the illegality of public consumption, such flagrant use of cannabis usually goes unnoticed.
Arrests of cannabis club owners
The Spanish authorities have been faced with a unique set of challenges, both in combatting the flood of hashish from Morocco and in establishing how best to approach the newly-emerging phenomenon of the cannabis clubs. Attitudes towards the clubs vary between regions, and in some of the less-liberal areas, arrests of cannabis club members—and seizures of products kept on the premises—have been known to occur.
One of Spain’s oldest cannabis social clubs, Pannagh, founded in 2003 in Bilbao was forced to close in 2005 after being raided by local police and five of its members arrested. During the operation, around 3,000 plants were seized, but were ordered to be returned by a judge at the Provincial Court in 2007, as the raid was deemed illegal.
Pannagh has since reopened; however, the prosecution refused to drop the case, and are pushing for a total of twenty-two years’ imprisonment and fines of almost €2.5 million for the five members of the club, who were charged with trafficking and being part of an organised criminal enterprise. A movement protesting the charges and ongoing legal issues has sprung up, and is seeking support throughout Europe.
The history behind Spain’s cannabis clubs
In 1993, the pro-legalisation group Asociación Ramón Santos de Estudios Sobre el Cannabis (ARSEC), based in Barcelona, broke new ground when they wrote to the anti-drug public prosecutor and questioned the legality of cultivating cannabis for use by a collective of adults members. The prosecutor’s response stated that the concept was not illegal in principle, so the group embarked on a cultivation experiment, which was publicised by the media.
The crop was seized by the police and members of the group were arrested; however, they were later acquitted by the Provincial Court, although the case was subsequently taken to the Supreme Court. Two years later, the Supreme Court ruled that while the cannabis was not intended for commercial supply, cultivation of cannabis by collectives was undesirable and should be subject to punishment.
However, other collectives soon sprang up to challenge the ruling, and the Kalmudia association from Bilbao was the first to successfully complete a crop without legal obstacle. In 2000, after completing three harvests without incident, the collectives began to seek a legal framework for their operations.
The first cannabis clubs appear
The first cannabis social club in Spain, the Barcelona Catadores Cannabis Club (CCCB), was founded in 2001. In October 2001 and July 2003, the Supreme Court passed rulings stating that possession of even large quantities of cannabis was not a criminal offence if no intent of trafficking or sale-for-profit could be established. These landmarks rulings paved the way for the explosion in cannabis clubs.
In 2012, a new test of the Spanish legal system emerged. The council of the small Catalonian town of Rasquera voted in favour of leasing land for the purpose of cultivating cannabis to a Barcelona social club known as ABCDA; when the issue was put to the public referendum, 56% voted in favour.
Rasquera’s council argued that the move would create employment and bring much-needed rental income to the town; some €1.3 million over two years, roughly equivalent to the town’s external debt. They also argued that the move was legal as the crop was intended only for members of the club. However, in April 2013, the Provincial Court in Tarragona rejected the plan, stating that cultivation of cannabis was ‘not in the public interest’. Rasquera now has the right to appeal against the decision, but has apparently not done so.
Purchasing cannabis in Spain
Cannabis and hashish are ubiquitous throughout Spain, and are extremely easy to source in most locations. In many cities, particularly hubs of cultivation or sea ports such as Barcelona, Granada and Bilbao, hashish and cannabis are openly sold on public squares and street corners. People can also be commonly seen smoking cannabis in public, despite the illegality of public consumption, and usually without hindrance.
It is important to remember that public consumption is illegal, and police are known to occasionally cause problems for individuals or groups found smoking in public, particularly if they are noisy or unruly, or if police see some other reason to target them. For this reason, seeking membership of a social club is a good idea, and discreet enquiries around local residents should yield rapid introductions.
In Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, Las Ramblas region of the city is well-known as a hot-spot for street dealing. Near the waterfront, where throngs of locals gather around the many public benches, groups of young, often Arab or African men selling hashish and cannabis are a common sight. Prices vary enormously according to quality, with 28g (1oz) typically selling for anywhere between €55 and €180. In the cannabis clubs, cannabis is typically sold to medical patients for €3 per gram, and to recreational consumers for €4 per gram.
What next for cannabis in Spain
The cannabis industry in Spain is set to keep on expanding, and it is arguably already very close to replacing the Netherlands as the ‘cannabis capital’ of Europe. The level of social acceptance of cannabis use—along with the sensible approach to policy and planning—is without precedent, and provides an excellent example to other countries as to how policy should be put in place.
It is important to document the history and current events of the ongoing drug war that continues to affect the lives of so many people throughout the world. For this reason, Sensi Seeds and the Hash Marijuana & Hemp Museum in Amsterdam aim to provide the most accurate, up-to-date and unbiased information on the present situation, country by country. We welcome your comments, feedback and corrections.