Slightly over a year ago, in October of 2018, the Spanish far-left political party Podemos proposed measures that would completely legalise cannabis throughout the entirety of Spain. However, even if Podemos’ plan to completely legalise cannabis would end up succeeding, the changes wouldn’t be implemented immediately and it would still be a long way until Spain would actually be legalising marijuana.
Still, many cannabis enthusiasts who are interested in tourism have started to regard Barcelona as the ‘new Amsterdam’, with more beautiful nature, better weather and cheaper prices to boot. And these cannabis tourists aren’t the only people in Spain with an interest in marijuana. Even though cannabis is still illegal in Spain, it was decriminalised for personal use on private property in 2014, meaning that you are allowed to cultivate and use marijuana on private property.
This has led to a huge number of so-called cannabis ‘social clubs’ popping up. These social clubs are basically the Spanish pendants to the coffeeshops in Amsterdam, and they offer a variety of different strains and entertainment facilities. That being said, the possession and consumption of cannabis in public are punishable with a fine of €601 to €30,000.
Because of Spain’s proximity to North Africa and the inevitable cultural and economic exchanges that are tied to this proximity, some areas of Spain not only had earlier but also more knowledge of the medicinal and intoxicating effects of cannabis than other European regions. Even today, Spain has some of the world’s best research teams looking into cannabis.
Cannabis seeds and cannabidiol (CBD) products that have a tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentration of less than 0.2 percent can also be purchased legally in Spain, as long as you don’t use them in public. The Spanish CBD market is active, and large players, such as the Canadian corporation Canopy Growth, are already taking over local businesses.
If you combine all of this information with the fact that the European cannabis landscape is predicted to be worth about €123 billion by 2028, there is a question that arises: How far is Spain from legalising marijuana?
Why Spain could legalise marijuana soon
At the moment, it’s completely legal to buy and sell hemp products as well as hemp seeds in Spain. Additionally, you are allowed to use and cultivate marijuana for personal use on private property. That being said, the import, trade or sale of cannabis is still a criminal offence in Spain and is punishable with one to three years imprisonment.
However, with 32.6 percent of the Spanish population admitting to having consumed cannabis in the past and enormous amounts of tax money being left on the table, cannabis legalisation might be the only logical step for Spain to take.
A report by David Pere Martínez Oró, coordinator of the Drugs Policy Unit at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, estimated that Spain could make about €3.3 billion in taxes and social security payments from the cannabis industry, which is more than the health budget of the entire Castilla-La Mancha region.
In spite of facts like these, and despite the rising interest in cannabis, the Spanish Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, has very little interest in legalising marijuana and said the following: ‘I’m focused on what I’m doing now. I have enough problems as it is.’
While it is still very much illegal to consume, possess, produce or sell recreational marijuana, the situation is not as simple as that. It is true that if you get caught with cannabis that has more than 0.2 percent of THC, which is the psychoactive compound that is responsible for the high that is associated with marijuana, you will have to pay a hefty fine or may even end up in jail.
However, THC is not the only cannabinoid that has many beneficial effects. Another cannabinoid that has become very popular in the past few years is CBD, and, unlike THC, cannabidiol is completely legal. Well, in cosmetic products, anyway.
So, without further ado, let’s shine a light on why Spain could soon legalise marijuana.
Spanish marijuana exports
Allegedly, around 90 percent of the marijuana that is sold in coffeeshops in the Netherlands comes from Granada, Murcia, Almería and Catalonia. Cannabis that is sold in Uruguay is apparently also developed in Spain. There are vast illegal marijuana plantations in Spain, and they range from about a dozen hectares in some places to 30,000 plants on hillsides or in abandoned warehouses.
If these illegal Spanish cannabis plantations could be turned into legal marijuana businesses, this would result in a massively boosted tax income as well as a significantly lower crime rate.
Eight out of 10 drug charges in Spain are related to cannabis
According to the Spain Country Drug Report 2017 that was published by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), the overwhelming majority of drug charges in Spain are cannabis possession-related offences, with eight out of 10 cases being related to marijuana.
Cannabis is the most commonly used drug in Spain by far. Moreover, even though the latest available data, which is from the 2015 general population study, confirms that the prevalence of cannabis use has declined in the past 10 years, the levels of cannabis use in Spain remain higher than in other European Union member countries.
Further, the programme of State Surveys on Drug Use in Secondary Schools (ESTUDES) from 2014, which has been conducted in Spain every second year since 1994, found that cannabis is the most commonly used illicit substance, with about three out of 10 students admitting to having used it in the past.
Cannabis social clubs in Spain
Since the decriminalisation of cannabis use and cultivation for personal use on private property, social clubs have been on a constant upswing in popularity. At the moment, there are well over 700 social clubs in Spain.
However, in 2015, with regard to ‘cannabis social clubs’, the Spanish Supreme Court clearly stated that ‘organised, institutionalised and persistent cultivation and distribution of cannabis among an association open to new members is considered drug trafficking’.Further, attempts to regulate these social clubs have been declared to be unconstitutional.
To get around this, and since it is illegal to cultivate cannabis for commercial use, social clubs often have very cheap prices, e.g. €4 per gram. What’s more, to maintain their status as non-profit organisations, what you pay for the cannabis covers the expenses of growing the plants.
For legal reasons, you also can’t actually buy cannabis from a club. Instead, by joining a club, you become part of a group that grows and disperses marijuana among its members. This means that you don’t pay for the marijuana itself but for the costs of growing and maintaining the plants as well as the club facilities.
Once you are a member, you’re typically restricted to five grams per day and can’t exceed a certain amount per month. Seeing as this isn’t regulated by any law, the exact number varies by club. Furthermore, social clubs raise a small annual membership fee (usually about €25).
Although memberships are officially limited to Spanish residents, many of those social clubs distribute flyers to attract cannabis tourists. Under Spanish law, members must be above 21 years old and have to be a club member for at least 15 days before they are allowed to buy or consume marijuana.
It is important to realise that the sale of cannabis is strictly prohibited. The cultivation in the social clubs takes place on behalf of its members, and the members contribute money to cover the expenses of the process. A sale, on the contrary, is a criminal offence.
Why Spain won’t legalise marijuana in the near future
So, all of that being said, what are the potential reasons for Spain not legalising cannabis in the near future?
Spain’s legal industrial hemp and CBD markets are lacking
In Spain, the cultivation of industrial hemp has been permitted for more than 20 years. The main condition is that the hemp plants’ THC content must be below 0.2 percent. This might sound simple in theory since industrial hemp is used for CBD and not for THC, however, the reality is far from simple.
Today, the only region in Spain that has continued to grow industrial hemp is Catalonia with some 900 hectares of hemp under cultivation. These hemp plants are mainly cultivated for textile and seed production.
Further, the cultivation of cannabis, regardless of its THC content, must be authorised by the Spanish Agency for Medicines and Medical Products (AEMPS) if the hemp flowers are being cultivated to extract cannabinoids. Additionally, the sale of cannabis seeds is only permitted if the seeds are sourced from the Approved European Hemp Seed Catalogue.
According to Miguel Torres, a Spanish lawyer, ‘[…] CBD may be used as an ingredient in the manufacture of cosmetics.’ He also says that ‘cannabis seed oil is already used as a cosmetic, and several companies have launched product lines based on this seed oil. With regard to CBD, there is a legal vacuum given that the European regulation prohibits the use of narcotic drugs as an ingredient but does not expressly prohibit CBD, which is neither narcotic nor psychotropic.’
No legal framework and infrastructure for medical marijuana in Spain
Even though medicinal marijuana is already legal in the form of products like Sativex, Spain doesn’t have any medical marijuana programs.
Across Spain, there is only one medical marijuana program. It was launched in Catalonia in 2005 and involves 60 drugstores, 40 researchers and 600 patients. The goal of this program is to research the medical benefits and side effects of cannabis.
Although the Spanish government is cutting corners when it comes to medical marijuana, medical cannabis is, fortunately, widely accessible to patients through social clubs.
Where Spain’s most important political parties stand on cannabis
While Spain has some of the world’s best research teams looking into cannabis, marijuana is still illegal for medicinal and recreational purposes in Spain. Neither the current government of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) with Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez nor any of its predecessors have shown even the slightest inclination to regulate cannabis. This is hardly surprising, considering that there has never really been any significant pressure on politicians to do so.
That being said, there are still parties in Spain that want to legalise and regulate cannabis, such as Podemos, which is being led by Pablo Iglesias, as well as Citizens, which is being led by Albert Rivera. Following is an overview of the four most important Spanish political parties and their stances on cannabis.
Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) – Pedro Sánchez
Election results: 28.7% (April 2019)
The current PSOE government, with Prime Minister Sánchez at its helm, has not featured marijuana legalisation in its agenda at all. When Citizens asked about the prospect of cannabis legalisation for medicinal purposes in Spain, the parliament’s answer was that the scientific evidence is apparently insufficient. What’s more, Sánchez has refused to enter the debate on marijuana legalisation and, when he was asked about the issue during his last visit to Canada, the Sánchez replied, ‘I’m focused on what I’m doing now. I have enough problems as it is.’
People’s Party/Popular Party (PP) – Pablo Casado
Position: centre-right to right-wing
Election results: 16.7% (April 2019)
The People’s Party does not support cannabis regulation and has, in fact, blocked a proposal to legalise medical marijuana in Spain.
Ciudadanos/Citizens (Cs) – Albert Rivera
Position: centre to centre-right
Election results: 15.9% (April 2019)
Citizens is in favour of marijuana regulation and has put forward a proposal to legalise cannabis for medical purposes. However, this plan was blocked by both the PSOE as well as the Popular Party.
Unidas Podemos/United We Can – Pablo Iglesias
Election results: 14.3% (April 2019)
Podemos is one of the only political parties that is in favour of marijuana legalisation as well as medicinal and recreational cannabis regulation. Its leader, Pablo Iglesias, has said on numerous occasions that ‘it’s absurd that you can buy tequila or gin from a supermarket but marijuana is illegal.’ However, this does not mean that Iglesias is a fan of marijuana. In fact, the opposite is the case. Apparently, Iglesias tried cannabis in his youth and ‘it didn’t make [him] feel good’.
Iglesias wants to legalise cannabis for other reasons and went on to say, ‘I prefer a couple of beers. But I’m not proud of that. People who prefer alcohol have no lessons to teach those who prefer marijuana. Smoking a joint is like going to a bar and having a drink. It’s the same thing.’
Source for election results: Historia Electoral
When can we realistically expect cannabis legalisation in Spain?
With the Spanish general election being held this Sunday, the 10th of November, 2019, the future of cannabis legalisation in Spain is written in the stars. However, what is certain is that the global cannabis market is going to boom even more in the next years.
And with Spain being in a prime position, both geographically speaking as well as socially speaking, to profit from this boom, the only thing that is left is for the Spanish governing parties to find a consensus on the matter.
There are a number of reasons that speak for marijuana legalisation. More tax revenue, lower crime rates, economic growth and, last but not least, a headstart in the cannabis market.