Catalonia Legalises Cannabis Cultivation and Distribution

The Parliament of Catalonia has approved the creation of a legal framework for regulating the cultivation, distribution, and consumption of cannabis.

On June 28, members of the Catalonia Parliament voted to approve the creation of a regulated framework for cannabis social clubs (CSCs) across the autonomous Spanish region, with 118 legislators supporting the measure, and only eight opposing it. CSCs are collectives in which cannabis is cultivated and distributed – not sold – among members who pay for the costs of running and maintaining the club. Selling cannabis remains illegal.

The new law - which originated as a citizens' legislative initiative that gained the requisite 50,000 signatures to be debated in parliament – aims to reduce potential risks of the trade and consumption of cannabis by introducing regulations on its production and distribution.

Catalonia is the third regional government in Spain to approve such a law, following similar reforms in the Navarra and Basque Country regions in the north of the country. Amber Marks, a barrister and academic who recently published a paper on Spanish cannabis law and human rights law on cannabis around the world, told TalkingDrugs that the vote in Catalonia was markedly different to cannabis reforms elsewhere in Spain.

“[Catalonia’s new] law is the first to justify the legislation as a means of protecting consumer rights and the constitutional rights to equality, personal autonomy, and development of the personality,” Marks described. “This law is different in that it makes specific provision for the transportation of cannabis cultivated, for its packaging and hygienic storage, and for the testing of the product.”

Among the many stipulations of the new framework is that CSCs must only grow enough cannabis to match the demand of their member base, and that each club is restricted to cultivating a maximum of 150 kilograms of cannabis each year. CSCs across Catalonia now have one year to adjust their practices to comply with the new regulations.

The battle for cannabis reform in Catalonia has been on-going for over 30 years. While possession of cannabis has never been a criminal offence anywhere in Spain, strict administrative fines were introduced nationwide in 1992 for anyone found consuming the drug in public. Partly as a response to this, CSCs began to emerge.

Up until now, CSCs had operated in a legally grey area because Spain's Supreme Court did not distinguish between the quantities and methods that denote social supply and criminal supply.

“[The Court] has repeatedly said that this is a task for the legislature and that it will decide guilt on a case by case basis, [but now] the legislature of Catalonia has taken action by stipulating the parameters for lawful social supply in the context of cannabis clubs,” Marks told us.

Marks lauded the parliament’s decision as “progressive in its attempt to achieve a good balance between the interests of public health and human rights”, welcoming a move that will “hopefully address the legal lacuna” that CSCs have resided in for decades.

The law also includes a stipulation to prevent people from elsewhere in Spain, or abroad, visiting Catalonia with the express purpose of acquiring cannabis (“cannabis tourism”). As the Huffington Post reports, anyone who applies to be a member of a CSC will have to wait for 15 days before being able to purchase cannabis.

Cannabis reformers are now setting their sights on nationwide regulation of CSCs, but that may prove trickier. Despite growing support among mainstream parties, Partido Popular (the People’s Party) – the largest party in the Spanish legislature – is firmly opposed to cannabis reform. Following the path of the Catalonia law, signatures are currently being collected for a national citizens' initiative; if 500,000 signatures are acquired within six months, the parliament will consider debating the matter.

Over time, as the effectiveness of Catalonia’s new legislation becomes evident, the national government – and perhaps even governments of other countries – may too consider the legal regulation of cannabis social clubs.

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