Catalonia, the home of Cannabis Social Club, has just had its legal regulation declared unconstitutional by Spain’s Court. The wasted opportunity for Cannabis policy is also a negative element in the context of Catalan’s intent of independence. But the non-profit and cooperative Cannabis supply micro-regulation model resists.
Suspended since October 2018, the Catalan law #LaRosaVerda that regulated the activity of Cannabis social clubs in the Spanish region of Catalonia has just been declared unconstitutional and canceled by the Spanish Constitutional Court. Yet the local law had been initiated by a broad civic platform and voted by almost all political parties.
The judgment arrives a couple of days after the South African Constitutional Court, to the contrary, recognized that the comprehensive prohibition of Cannabis constituted a gross violation of fundamental rights, thus putting on hold the law criminalizing personal activities related to Cannabis in South Africa.
“It is not a surprise, but it is an unbelievable strategical error” explains Kenzi Riboulet-Zemouli, researcher for the think-tank FAAAT based in Barcelona, and co-organizer of the International Cannabis Policy Conference 2018. “An important part of Catalans explain that they have been led to believe in the independence of the region as the only way forward, because of decades of progressive, social or environmental local laws and regulations being knocked down or canceled by Spanish central authorities.” He thinks this decision might “accentuate the divide and faith in the Spanish State’s ability to address political challenges and social expectations.”
Missed opportunity for countrywide reform.
But sticking to the field of Cannabis policy, the Court’s decision also represents a missed opportunity at country-level. Indeed Catalonia is not the only region of Spain that have intended to give legislative security to these non-profit growers and users groups that have overflowed Cannabis prohibition since the early 1990’s. Looked down by the Constitutional court, threatened by authorities and regularly raided by police, the Clubs are however resisting and expanding in two directions.
“We are talking about health and freedoms, we are talking about future and about responsibility.” – Press release of the Catalan Federation of Cannabis Clubs (CatFAC)
On one side, the Clubs following the “traditional model” and supplying local domestic demand (based on judicial doctrines expanding the non-criminalisation of personal consumption to collective use and cultivation) are nowadays deeply ingrained in local life. They have been integrated with harmony to villages and cities’ life. In parallel, this model has been diverted to answer the external demand linked to the important tourism industry – about 15% of the Country’s GDP. In some parts of Spain, essentially on the Mediterranean coast, an important number of thousands-members Cannabis clubs are appearing, targetting tourists previously supplied by the street market.
In both cases, Cannabis clubs are first and foremost run by people previously involved in illicit growth or distribution of Cannabis. As Clubs take the form of legally registered non-profit charities, these populations are currently legally employed to grow, transform or dispense Cannabis flowers and sub-products – thus paying social taxes and contributions. Along the years, this element has helped convince friends, families, and neighbors of the palpable merits and appropriateness of the Cannabis social clubs model. Researchers also pointed out the unprecedented opportunity to turn into legal jobs the important economic activity done by illegal Cannabis dealers, thus contributing to the Sustainable Development Agenda that calls the world governments and societies to implement “development-oriented policies that support productive activities, decent job creation, entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation, and encourage the formalization and growth of micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises” (target 8.3 of the Global Goals).
An unstoppable growth. A resilient model. But still work to do.
The larger and tourist-focused Clubs however are rapidly growing, taking advantage of the existing model to operate. Neighbors of the city center of Barcelona accuse these diverted clubs of “covering drug trafficking that implies violence and tension in the street”. Neighbors have been calling for the Clubs to respect rules of good practices (that several federations of Clubs have started to propose), and constantly call for increased regulations. But very little people ask for the closure of the Cannabis social clubs and nobody wishes a return to past situations of prohibition and widespread street trafficking.
All in all, this decision by the Constitutional Court will not to slow down the ongoing normalization of Cannabis in Spain. To the contrary will probably generate new and more thorough policy reform initiatives, building on the resilient model of Cannabis Social Clubs to supply locals, and adding new elements to complementarily supply for tourists’ demand.