Legalization versus Cannabis Social Clubs

As worldwide attitudes regarding drug prohibition shift, questions increasingly become about ways to safely facilitate the production and consumption of cannabis. Suggestions range from full legalization of cannabis to cannabis social clubs which first appeared in Spain in 2002. By 2005 the European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies outlined an initial code of conduct for CSCs, which are increasingly becoming a viable alternative to full legalization across Europe.

Spanish cannabis clubs operate in a loophole existing within Spanish drug policies. It is illegal to publicly consume, possess, or transfer cannabis. However, the grey area lies in the word public. The law says nothing about private consumption which enables members-only, non commercial cannabis clubs to operate. Essentially, it is not illegal in Spain to consume illicit substances, it is simply illegal to consume in a public space.

The benefits of CSCs are innumerable including the elimination of a cannabis black market - a problem many countries still struggle with. The Netherlands, with a policy that ‘tolerates’ cannabis without legalization, faces a problem known as the “back door”. Dutch coffee shops are not legally allowed to produce cannabis even while costumers are allowed to purchase up to 5 grams. Thus, coffee shops must turn to the illegal market - the “back door” - in order to supply their costumers. In a CSC model there is a closed circuit existing between suppliers and consumers meaning that individuals are able to control the quality and origin of the product they consume thus eliminating a back door. 

There is also an increased emphasis on public health with a CSC model. Clubs insist on production methods which meet standards of organic agricultural cultivations. CSCs also promote responsible use among consumers including providing factual information regarding cannabis as well as prevention of problematic cannabis use. In addition, CSCs create taxable revenue and job opportunities in an otherwise struggling economy.

Spanish cannabis clubs are careful to emphasize that they do not make a profit from their members. The club fee is just enough to ensure the club stays up and running. Typically, members must have a medical doctor’s letter or a recommendation from someone who is already a member in order to join. Some higher-end cannabis clubs perform background checks and interviews before a potential member is allowed to join.

Many other European countries are considering gradually moving towards a cannabis social club model including, most recently, Belgium. Founded in 2006, Belgian ‘TUP’ club grew their first small crop in 2010 facing an uphill legal battle the entire way. TUP reports already having hundreds of members as well as a completely legal large scale grow underway.

Production of cannabis was, for a long time, a problem existing within the Spanish CSC model. Currently, growing cannabis for personal use is allowed as long as it is clear that the intent is not for profit. However, if a judge ruled the plants were not intended for personal use, an individual could face a prison sentence ranging from 1-3 years.

Spanish cannabis clubs offer a prime example of benefits CSCs can bring to society. A legalized cannabis market driven by profit would eventually lead to a market controlled by few with even less concern for the health of its users - in many ways a mirror of the illegal drug market in existence today. CSCs provide a viable, if not somewhat better, alternative to full legalization as they are socially responsible, economically beneficial drug regulations that facilitate adult access to cannabis.  An absence of profit, accented by a closed circle of supply and demand create a fairer, more balanced framework of drug policies.