DRUG REGULATION

Court ruling casts doubt on future of Barcelona’s cannabis clubs

The 225 associations in the Catalan capital may be forced to close after a tribunal banned these spaces from promoting the consumption, sale and cultivation of marijuana

A person lights a joint.
A person lights a joint.Sáshenka Gutiérrez / EFE

The future of Barcelona’s cannabis clubs is hanging in the balance following a court ruling from the Catalan High Court. The regional tribunal ruled this week that these spaces cannot “promote the consumption, sale or cultivation” of marijuana, and annulled the local rules issued by the city of Barcelona that regulate them.

The first cannabis club in Barcelona opened 12 years ago, and 225 have emerged since then. In response to the growing numbers, the city of Barcelona introduced regulations in 2016 that prevented cannabis clubs from opening within a minimum distance – between 100 and 150 meters – of schools and children’s playgrounds. Under the rules, these centers also had to have double doors to ensure that what was happening inside could not be seen from the outside, and they needed to have smoke extractors and chimneys installed directly in the building’s roof.

Associations are prohibited from promoting the consumption, cultivation and sale of cannabis
Barcelona City Hall spokesperson

The requirement on extractors sparked a court case that ultimately overturned the municipal government’s regulations on cannabis clubs. When a cannabis association that could only extract smoke from the façade – not the roof of the building – because it was a ground-floor business appealed the rules in 2016, the Catalan High Court ruled that all the regulations must be annulled. The city of Barcelona appealed the decision, but the region’s top tribunal found that the local government did not have the authority to regulate cannabis clubs, which the court considered to be “spaces susceptible to the commission of crime,” and therefore under the purview of police and criminal authorities.

Unable to appeal the sentence, the Barcelona local government has asked its municipal legal services how it must handle the situation. According to a spokesperson from Barcelona City Hall, the response has been direct: “Associations are prohibited from promoting the consumption, cultivation and sale of cannabis. Now we will send a letter to all the clubs to inform them of the new situation, and later, we will carry out safety and inspection campaigns. We will see what happens in each case.”

The Federation of Cannabis Associations of Catalonia (CATFAC), however, believes its members can continue to smoke marijuana in their clubs, despite the change in the local government’s strategy. Barcelona City Hall is not so sure this is permitted – under its interpretation of the court ruling, cannabis can neither be bought nor consumed in these spaces. But the CATFAC argues that the court has only banned the “promotion” of cannabis, not its consumption.

“What happens inside a cannabis club is not promotion, but rather an economic contribution of members in exchange for a service,” said Eric Asensio, the spokesperson for CATFAC.

A semantic battle has now begun to clarify how to interpret the change, which according to those in favor of prohibition, will put an end to the Catalan city’s 225 cannabis clubs.

English version by Melissa Kitson.


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