Catalan cannabis club chiefs held for money laundering

At least four top members of marijuana association federation arrested in police probe

The Airam cannabis club in Barcelona.
The Airam cannabis club in Barcelona.CONSUELO BAUTISTA

The heads of Fedcac, an umbrella group for Catalonia’s numerous cannabis clubs, have been arrested on charges of money laundering.

The vast amounts of money made by these allegedly non-profit associations – in the order of €5 million a month between them – had raised the suspicions of police about the use of the funds.

Catalonia has around 400 cannabis clubs with 165,000 members – half of them in Barcelona – according to Fedcac’s own figures. Just two years ago, there were only 40 such clubs in the entire region.

Many of these member-only, not-for-profit clubs claim to use marijuana for medical purposes. In practice, many advertise online and offer a catalogue of products available to anyone once they have paid a registration fee, normally around €20. Some clubs actively seek out new members in the streets, and authorities are already talking about a new kind of drug tourism in Barcelona.

Until now, police raids had focused on finding out if self-consumption was being used as a cover for drug trafficking

The detainees include the president of Fedcac, Albert T., sources familiar with the investigation told EL PAÍS. There were at least four arrests.

Until now, police raids had focused on finding out whether self-consumption was used as a cover for drug trafficking. But law enforcement is now trying to find out where the profits from the sales go.

As non-profits, the clubs have the obligation to reinvest all money earnt back into the association. Part of the money they make goes into operation costs – paying rent, wages and so on.

The detainees were the regular representatives for the clubs and they had held dozens of meetings with public officials to convince them of the need to regulate the sector.

On Wednesday, the Mossos d’Esquadra Catalan police raided the headquarters of Airam, one of the clubs that has most actively demanded industry regulation. Its president, Albert T., is also president of the federation. Another raid was carried out on Kali, located in Sant Cugat whose head is the vice-president of Fedcac. No arrests were made there.

The federation’s treasurer, Albert Mayol, reported “a full-scale offensive” and expressed fear at being “next in line” for detention.

“We are seeing a contradictory message whereby we are asked to cooperate on the issue of regulation, yet at the same time we are prevented from conducting our activities normally through periodic police raids,” said Fedcac in a release.

“It’s the same old story: the health department wants to regulate it but the Mossos keep on making arrests,” said Martí Cànaves, a criminal lawyer who has defended members of several associations.

In June of this year, a court ordered a club shut down on the grounds that it was engaging in drug trafficking.