The Barcelona City Council is considering shutting down all Cannabis Clubs, marking a significant policy shift from their previous stance as it ups inspection frequency. This is raising concerns among clubs and activists who, despite facing regulatory challenges in Barcelona, also serve as an international model, inspiring other countries like Germany, the Czech Republic, and Malta.
The Barcelona City Council, led by Jaume Collboni, is seriously considering the closure of all Cannabis Clubs. These establishments, which have flourished over the last decade, have become the main access route to cannabis in the city.
The recent change in stance by the Council, which had been quite protective until now, has triggered a series of inspections and caused concern among Club administrators and activists who have long defended Barcelona’s unique Cannabis Club model.
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Legal Uncertainty and Political Change in Barcelona
The Council’s newfound determination to close the cannabis social clubs marks a significant shift from its previous position of tolerance and defense of regulation. Albert Batlle, third deputy mayor and councilor for security, recently declared the Council’s intention to “put an end” to these clubs, emphasizing the need for a meticulous approach “with legal certainty, rigor, and without the disruptions caused by haste”.
In 2021, the High Court of Justice of Catalonia annulled the Council’s 2016 regulations, leaving these establishments without a legal basis.
The recent inspection campaigns, different from previous ones, aim to verify whether the consumption of cannabis is actively encouraged within these clubs. Club administrators reveal an increased intensity during these inspections, suggesting a potential crackdown on cannabis-related activities. The Council, while remaining discreet on the issue, asserts that it is striving to “ensure the legality of these establishments”.
Cannabis Clubs Face Rising Inspection Intensity
The controversy surrounding Barcelona’s cannabis social clubs has generated confusion and frustration among activists who have long defended this model as a means of diverting cannabis consumption from the streets, thereby reducing associated risks.
However, the lack of clear regulation has allowed a subset of unscrupulous establishments to operate, blurring the lines between legitimate clubs and those facilitating illicit activities. Activists lament being unjustly grouped with traffickers by the City Council and insist on the need for nuanced regulation that distinguishes between responsible cannabis consumption and illicit trade.
As Barcelona contemplates the closure of Cannabis Social Clubs, other countries are adopting similar models. Germany is set to open such places in April 2024, while the Czech Republic recently scaled back its ambitions for full legalization to focus on establishing Cannabis Social Clubs. Malta has also bet on Clubs while different models of associations exist in South America.
In December, Barcelona experts met with the president of Malta to share their insights on the functioning of these spaces, highlighting international interest and recognition of this model.
Despite the regulatory challenges faced in Barcelona, the city’s cannabis social clubs continue to be a source of inspiration for countries navigating the complex terrain of cannabis legalization and regulation. An international delegation visited Barcelona’s clubs last March, including parliamentarians from various European countries, officials from the United States, and representatives from South American countries.
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