Podemos opens debate on legalizing marijuana in Spain

The same week that the drug became legal in Canada, the anti-austerity party organized a forum to support decriminalizing cultivation, sale and consumption

Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias.
Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias.Juan Carlos Hidalgo / EFE

Spain’s anti-austerity Podemos party has reignited the debate over legalizing marijuana. On Thursday, the group organized a congressional forum on cannabis regulation to propose legalizing the drug, following in the footsteps of Uruguay, nine states in the United States and ,most recently, Canada.

“It’s absurd that you can buy tequila or gin from a supermarket but marijuana is illegal,” Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias has said on several occasions.

Marijuana cannot be prescribed as medicine in Spain

Under Podemos’ plan, farmers would be able to plant the crop if they have problems with their regular harvest. In order to “stop big businesses from creating monopolies and oligopolies and promote a dynamic economy that leads to social wealth,” the proposal would also support private crops, farming cooperatives and small and medium-sized agricultural operations.

The aim of the proposal is to change the current law on drugs, which defines the sale and cultivation of cannabis as illegal and restricts consumption and possession to private spaces.

Under Podemos’ plan, the state would be in charge of handing out licenses to plant, harvest and sell the crop. The Spanish Medical Agency (AEMPS) is currently responsible for authorizing cannabis products, but only for clients in countries where it is prescribed as medication, as in Canada, Colombia and Uruguay.

“Spain could be a leader in Europe if it legalizes cannabis”

Michael Collins, director of the Drug Policy Alliance"s Office of National Affairs, in Washington, D.C. was one of the guests at the Podemos-sponsored forum on Thursday. He believes "the debate is not whether it will be legalized, but when and how. Spain could be a leader in Europe if it does."

The expert, who previously worked with former US president Barack Obama, argues marijuana should be legalized completely – not in stages. "If you begin with the therapeutic market so that you can later legalize recreational use, the black market continues to grow. Also, this system does not stop police persecution on the street."

“The legalization must be implemented mainly for medical use and research,” says Podemos. Under Spanish law, cannabis can be consumed for therapeutic purposes but the plant itself is not considered medicine and cannot be smoked for medical purposes; instead, only cannabis derivatives can be prescribed by a doctor.

Podemos believes that legalizing marijuana will allow institutions to replace the black market, claiming the proposal will reduce drug trafficking and encourage young people to access the drug legally. Its plan includes a “strong punitive policy for those who break the law” as well as measures to withdraw products being sold to minors or that fail to meet standards from the legal market. According to data from the National Plan on Drugs, 90% of young people say they have easy or very easy access to cannabis in Spain.

Podemos has not yet outlined how much tax revenue is expected to be generated by legalizing marijuana. But based on the outcomes in the United States, Iglesias says “a state production industry could generate enormous revenue that would lead to the best public healthcare in the world.”

Between 2016 and 2017, the state of Washington collected $315 million (€373,522) in taxes from the sector. And Colorado invested nearly $300 million from these tax revenues in building schools.

Little consensus

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez of the Socialist Party (PSOE) has refused to enter the debate on legalizing marijuana. Asked about the issue during his latest visit to Canada, the PM replied, “I’m focused on what I’m doing now. I have enough problems as it is.”

It’s absurd that you can buy tequila or gin from a supermarket but marijuana is illegal

Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias

Center-right party Ciudadanos has put forward a proposal to legalize marijuana for medical purposes, but the plan was blocked by both the PSOE and the Popular Party (PP).

“Aiming to legalize marijuana without a legal framework or a serene debate is to enter a legal black hole, and to put the cart before the horse,” said sources from Ciudadanos.

A year ago, the PP and PSOE supported the creation of a congressional subcommitee where all parliamentary groups could discuss the future of cannabis in Spain. “It is like any other drug,” says PP senator Jesús Ramón Aguirre. “Don’t tell me about its therapeutic effects because this substance is harmful to our health.”

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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