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Sensi Magazine

Barcelona Unbound

May 20, 2019 08:44PM ● By Robyn Lawrence
Looking to enjoy fine locally grown cannabis in a spectacular setting with palm trees and beaches? California's note your only option. A quick hop across the Strait of Gibraltar from Morocco, where some of the world's best hashish has been made for centuries, Spain has been a natural port of entry for cannabis into Europe since the trade began. 

The country was generally tolerant of its use until the UN Single Convention on Narcotics pressured it (along with the rest of the world) to outlaw the plant in 1967. Even so, for the hippies and other pilgrims who rebelled against the iron fist of global prohibition throughout the next couple decades, Spain remained a pot of gold at the end of the Hashish Trail.

Never happy with prohibition, Spaniards have done what they could to dance around it. In the 1980s, the Supreme Court ruled that cannabis possession for self consumption couldn’t be prosecuted, and the government decriminalized all drug use. Then, alarmed by the amount of Moroccan hashish flooding Spanish streets, the government cracked down in 1992 with a decree that anyone carrying cannabis in public could be searched and fined (from €350 on up to €30,000), leading to the arrest of 300,000 people and a new name for Spanish stoners: “kangaroos,” because they stashed joints in their underpants where the police couldn’t search.

Unwilling to risk being harassed on the street, Spaniards turned to home cultivation in a huge way. In 1994, activists planted 200 cannabis plants in Catalonia, and five years later, legendary Australian breeder Scott Blakey, aka Shantibaba, sprinkled Spain with 25,000 seeds of strains he had created for a Dutch company, forever changing the gene pool for the better.

Today, Spain, where cannabis may or may not be legal (depending on where you are and who you ask), is a grower’s mecca and by default, an imbiber’s mecca as well. A healthy domestic crop that flourishes in abandoned urban warehouses and once-fallow farms along Spain’s Mediterranean coast has long since usurped Moroccan imports and, in fact, makes up much of the stocks on the shelves of Amsterdam’s infamous coffeehouses. “We could have Europe’s main plantation here and be the California of the south,” Pedro Perez, president of the La Santa Cannabis Association in Madrid, told El Pais. “We know how to do it, we have the sun, the tradition, and the best seed banks.”

Spanish citizens are allowed to cultivate and consume their own cannabis as long as they do it on private property, and it’s legal to buy and sell seeds, paraphernalia, and hemp products. In tourist areas like Barcelona’s Las Ramblas, stores selling CBD products and cannabis seeds are as common as tapas bars. Though home growers are technically supposed to keep their plants away from public view, it’s not uncommon to catch a glimpse of one or two on a Barcelona balcony.

Today’s freedom is the result of an active cannabis rights movement that grew up in the 1990s and saw opportunity in provisions of Spanish law that allowed for private cultivation and shared consumption. The group used those as the basis for founding the country’s first cannabis club, Club de Catadores de Cannabis de Barcelona, a collective that pooled its resources to grow cannabis for members’ personal consumption in members-only establishments, in 2001. Immediately slapped with lawsuits that went all the way to the Supreme Court which ruled in the club’s favor Club de Catadores paved the way for cannabis social clubs to start popping up throughout Spain.

And pop up they did. Ranging in style from hippie living rooms to sleek wellness centers to a famous Barcelona collective open only to women in their 80s, the clubs offer cannabis flower, hashish, concentrates, and edibles for members’ shared consumption on the premises. In 2017, consumers were estimated to have spent about €1 billion in Spain’s more than 700 cannabis clubs, clustered largely in Catalonia, where rules are most lenient. With 300 clubs within its limits, Barcelona has become known as the Amsterdam of southern Europe. Some call it New Amsterdam.

Not Just Another Amsterdam…
To be sure, the scent of cannabis hangs over Barcelona, wafting above the streets and sidewalks and out from under doorways in less-expensive hotels. Cannabis is readily available from street dealers if you’re paying any attention (and don’t have a problem with breaking the law a terrible idea even when you’re not in a foreign country), and social clubs are easy to find online. Entrance to the clubs, reserved for Spanish citizens with a local address (a technicality that’s easy to get around, if the club even asks), can be obtained by following and contacting a club on social media, then paying a yearly membership fee of anywhere from €5 to €80 (for your share of the harvest) to gain access. Inside the club, cannabis is “shared” rather than sold and can be procured through “donations.”

Even if you’ve spent time in Amsterdam, Colorado, or California, Barcelona’s social clubs are revelatory in that their products compete. Though the edibles selection isn’t as robust as you’ll find in other places, the homegrown flower and concentrates, from blingy Moroccan dry sift to pungent rosin, can’t be beat. Some menus include California imports and no one seemed concerned about the legality of that but there’s really no need to go down that road, because the flower grown in Spain is out of this world.

In 2017, the Catalonian government voted overwhelmingly to regulate cannabis clubs, and it now oversees transportation, packaging, hygienic storage, testing, and distribution of the cannabis that clubs cultivate. Though the industry is legitimizing and even has an agreed-upon code of ethics and set of rules (such as limiting members to receiving three grams per day and 25 grams per week), the responsibility for enforcing cannabis laws falls to police agencies and the courts. This can be inconsistent, and the threat of police raids has forced many clubs to stop growing their own and buy products from the black market (which explains the California connection).

A serious effort to legalize is under way throughout Spain, but until that happens, social clubs operate in a legal vacuum which is a shame. A study by Autonomous University of Barcelona
found that the cannabis industry could put €3.3 billion in taxes and Social Security into Spain’s coffers, and lord knows the country could use it. With spectacular seed banks and legendary growers, psychedelic architecture and palm trees, the Mediterranean Sea and nightlife that never ends, Barcelona is much more than just another Amsterdam. This place is paradise, and the homegrown makes it even more so.

Spaniards celebrate their love for the leaf (Spain is behind only the United States and Iceland in per capita consumption) during Spannabis and the World Cannabis Conference, which brings more than 30,000 aficionados from Europe and around the world to Barcelona during the second weekend of every March for an expo that rivals Northern California’s famed Emerald Cup as the world’s largest.

Reflecting Spaniards’ preference for smoking flower over vaping and edibles, the show is a deep dive into the serious genetics that have landed in the country as well as the tools and inputs necessary to grow them. It’s a plant lover’s paradise and if you’re into CBD, even better. CBD is being heavily marketed as a wellness product and tobacco substitute throughout Europe, and Spaniards’ appetite for CBD and hemp products has soared.

When you’re in Barcelona, make sure to visit the Hash Marihuana & Hemp Museum, a fascinating collection chronicling cannabis’s rich history as well as its promising future.

Located in a stunning 15th-century building in central Barcelona, the museum features a permanent exhibition that shows how the plant has been and continues to be used for industrial, nutritional, medicinal, sacramental, and recreational purposes and how modern citizens have fought against repressive government measures and prohibition.