Comparing Barcelona cannabis social clubs to Amsterdam coffee shops isn’t easy. In fact, it’s not really a fair comparison to attempt, but since so many people insist that one is better than the other, this post is designed to set the record straight in the most even-handed way possible. I’ve lived in Amsterdam and I’ve lived in Barcelona. I’ve done professional reviews of cannabis social clubs and coffee shops and weed strains found at each within the last few months (2013-2014), and what I’ve found is that you cannot definitively state that one is better than the other.
In order to accurately judge this face-off between Barcelona cannabis social clubs and Amsterdam coffee shops, one will be declared a winner (or tie) from each of the following 8 critical evaluation points, which are not in any particular order of importance;
- Marijuana Prices
- Marijuana Quality
- Ease of Use
Marijuana Prices – Winner –
UPDATE: DECEMBER 2014: In the 12 months since I published this article, prices for marijuana in Amsterdam appear to have increased substantially at a majority of coffeeshops. I spent some time in Amsterdam this fall and was shocked to find that top shelf cannabis was generally priced at 14 to 15 Euro per gram. While there are still some shops where you can acquire weed for less, most places within the city seemed to have followed the trend to raise the price of top shelf pot. This means that for this category, Barcelona wins. Most cannabis clubs in Barcelona charge around 10 Euro for premium marijuana, and in nearly all cases it is fresher in the Spanish city.
When you get right down to it, the prices for weed in Barcelona are the same as the prices for weed in Amsterdam. On average in both cities you can find low grade marijuana for 5-6 Euros per gram, mid and high grade for 7-9 Euros per gram, and super premium from 10 Euro and up.
The price you pay doesn’t really depend on the city; it depends on the social club or coffee shop. In both Amsterdam and Barcelona you can find expensive weed and inexpensive weed, with some shops offering special pricing on specific or favorite strains, others just out to gouge tourists, and plenty of small, quiet places that offer less expensive marijuana than more popular places.
In the last few months I have personally compared strains from Barcelona social clubs and Amsterdam coffee shops, and the following is indicative of trends in the European marketplace:
AMS MK Ultra – 6 Euro
BCN MK Ultra – 6 Euro
AMS Cheese – 8 Euro
BCN Cheese – 8 Euro
AMS Amnesia – 8 Euro
BCN Amnesia – 8 Euro
AMS Lemon Haze – 10 Euro
BCN Lemon Haze – 10 Euro
AMS Northern Lights – 5 Euro
BCN Northern Lights – 5 Euro
In fact, the cost is similar on the global marketplace. Consider that right now in the US I am paying approximately 8.30 Euro per gram for Violator Kush, Blue Caramel Dream, Blueberry and some others. This is about what I would expect to pay for similar quality weed at a social club in Barcelona or a coffeeshop in Amsterdam.
So when it comes to prices between Barcelona’s social clubs or Amsterdam’s coffee shops, there’s very little difference unless you go to a shop or club that gouges customers anyway.
Marijuana Quality – Winner: Barcelona Social Clubs
Without question, the quality of marijuana is better in Barcelona than in Amsterdam. Barcelona’s weed is fresher, more potent and more fragrant. Amsterdam’s cannabis is close but it’s more commercialized and has more of the associated problems of commercialism. Generally, it’s hard to get very fresh weed in Amsterdam. It’s usually processed and over-dried by the time you get it, and you can be assured in most cases that a strain in AMS will smoke more harshly than the same strain in BCN.
I’ve lived in Amsterdam, Diemen, and last year outside of Nijmegen, and for the remainder of 2013 I lived in Barcelona and exited Europe through Amsterdam for a few days yet again, so I have had a sustained consistent sampling across the two cities. Although I love Amsterdam and it pains me to admit this, the weed is better in Barcelona.
Ambience – Winner – Barcelona Social Clubs
Amsterdam’s coffee shops are radically commercialized. They’ve been at this for decades, and during most of that time the world made the city its marijuana-tourist destination. If you’ve ever lived in a city that was largely dependent on tourism, then you’ll immediately know what I mean when I say that this tourist influx has led Amsterdam’s coffee shops to become commercialized.
Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. With commercialization has come safety and consistency. But imagine it like this: if you own a McDonald’s in a large international city, how personal with your guests will you really be able to be, when the sheer volume of traffic is heavy from open to close?
There are a few coffee shops here and there that are quiet and more personal, but the overall vibe of Amsterdam’s coffee shops is one of professionalism by necessity. I like this. Cannabis is a staple commodity for millions of people, and it’s nice to be able to pick up what you need and carry on with your day.
On the contrary, Barcelona’s cannabis social clubs are private in function and feel; you may only gain entry by being sponsored by a current member. Once inside, the atmosphere of these clubs is much more like your own living room than a commercial place. The seating is generally more comfortable, the club overall is usually more spacious and the traffic far lighter than in Amsterdam.
This vibe is also due to the fact that compared to Amsterdam’s coffee shops, the social club scene in Barcelona isn’t very well known yet. They’re not crowded with tourists and therefore the clubs are more personal and the staff is far more available. So Barcelona does have some unfair but legitimate advantages over the Dutch city in this regard.
Ease of Use – Winner – Amsterdam Coffee Shops
Barcelona social clubs are a pain in the ass because you must have a sponsor from a current member in order to get in. The registration process collects personal information, copies of your passports are taken, and documents must be filled out and signed. Additionally, some social clubs require you to have a photograph taken and stored. All clubs require you to hold a membership card, and in most cases you cannot enter the club if you don’t have this on you.
In Amsterdam, you walk into any coffee shop of your choice, order whatever weed or hash you want, pay for it in cash and walk back out the door. There’s no paperwork, no ID to show unless you look too young, no collection of any personal information whatsoever. So compared to Barcelona, the weed scene is far less regulated at the consumer level in Amsterdam, and it’s much easier to take a tour of clubs or shop around for lower prices or whatever you want to do.
Thankfully, if you don’t know someone who can sponsor you at a cannabis social club in Barcelona, I might be able to help you out; just hit me up in the comments below or on email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Consistency – Winner – Amsterdam Coffee Shops
Amsterdam coffee shops easily beat out Barcelona social clubs when it comes to consistency. Dutch marijuana supply lines are better organized and more mature than Spain’s. In most cases in Amsterdam I know exactly what to expect and exactly where I can go to get the strains that I need.
While both Amsterdam coffee shops and Barcelona social clubs change their menus up for variety, the fact of the matter is that in Barcelona, things can be inconsistent. Amsterdam has a veteran supply and marketplace and has developed a consistent service of demand over the last 40 years or so.
I know some of you will argue that consistency doesn’t matter; that things should be relaxed and you should try new strains all the time. I get that point, but here’s something; veteran smokers – people who have been smoking 20 years or more – know what they need for certain things. For instance, if you suffer from insomnia, you’ll probably want to go out looking for some Cheese or maybe some Blue Caramel Dream. If you injure yourself you might need the narcotic effects of strains like Amnesia or Sweet Afghani.
In Amsterdam I know I can get whatever strain I need, and I can just walk right in and get it. In Barcelona I can only get the strains that the clubs I am a member of have, and many of these strains overlap from club to club. So for now, Amsterdam wins on consistency. But with heavy regulation possibly coming to the Spanish cannabis industry in June 2014, this may change soon.
Legality – Winner – Amsterdam Coffee Shops
Despite persistent popular belief, marijuana is actually illegal in Amsterdam and throughout the Netherlands. I know there will be plenty of challengers to this claim, but before you make a fool of yourself in the comments I suggest doing some research first.
The fact of the matter is that the Netherlands practices a policy of Tolerance, whereby police and other authorities are tolerant of personal marijuana use and the coffee shops that safely supply this demand. This tolerance only extends to soft drugs like cannabis and hash and has been in effect for decades. If you visit a coffee shop in Amsterdam, there is virtually no chance that there will be police involvement strictly for the nature of the business.
However, in Barcelona things are a little different. Marijuana use/possession has been decriminalized for small amounts, but the de facto policy is one of illegality. Instead, liberal privacy laws generally do not dictate what you do in your home or other private places. This has given rise to the private cannabis club or social club. Essentially these clubs exist under the idea that a few friends can get together and share private space to grow their own marijuana – up to 6 plants per person under Spanish law.
So what’s happened is that these clubs slowly grow to dozens, then hundreds, then thousands of members. Then the club is suddenly operating in grey areas of the law, and coming legislation is intended to bring them in line, or possibly close some of them. This means that there is some inherent risk when visiting a cannabis social club in Barcelona – especially if you are not a legitimate Spanish resident. On occasion some clubs have been raided, and in other instances members have been questioned and searched by police when leaving the club.
However, this is extremely rare. I my 4 months in Barcelona this past fall and winter I never experienced any problems, but a
reliable source connected to the industry warned me about two separate instances that occurred in late 2013. In one case a club was raided and shuttered, and in another case members were harassed by police after leaving the club.
One thing that I have personally witnessed is extremely shady club promoters in Barcelona, including one who, during an interview with me in November, admitted to stabbing a man with a knife during a fight in Barceloneta. The same club promoter talked about shooting up a “rival” club while arguing with a man who was also a rival club promoter. Interestingly, these guys were promoting the same clubs at the same time.
Other promoters build websites or Facebook pages masquerading as a specific Barcelona cannabis social club, when in fact Spanish law dictates that private clubs cannot advertise and still be considered “private.” These websites connect tourists and other people to club promoters who may or may not have your best interests in mind.
This is all nonsense and is the result of confusion about existing laws, bending of laws by some clubs and promoters, and the fact that Spain’s attitude toward cannabis has relegated this useful plant to the shadows and back alleys. In fact, clubs must be so discreet that in many cases you’ll walk right by them repeatedly without knowing they’re there at all.
You don’t have to worry about any of this at an Amsterdam coffee shop, so when it comes to legality, Amsterdam takes the [space] cake.
Staff – Winner – BARCELONA SOCIAL CLUBS
Sorry Amsterdam, but you guys are too busy to provide the level of service that the staff of Barcelona’s social clubs can offer. And this isn’t something to blame the Dutch city for; most coffee shops are busy places that cater to many people throughout the day; the same as any busy corner deli or drug store or news stand.
Of course, you will find gems like Bulldog Coffee Shop where somehow the staff still finds time whilst they serve hundreds of people each day to say hello and have a chat, and sometimes they’ll even buy your coffee.
But in Barcelona, you’re a member of a private association, and the atmosphere is different. Clubs often host special events where staff members get involved right alongside members. Why? Because they’re members too. You can spend hours hanging out at a club, and the staff sort of chill along with you. I have spent many long afternoons and evenings consumed just by talking to the staff and founding members of clubs. Sweet Dreams and Jammin’ come to mind, where I spent a long day at each chatting with the respective presidents.
So if you’re looking for a more personal experience where the staff is accessible and you can talk with them largely in peace from a plush leather couch without worrying about a steady stream of bodies interrupting, Barcelona is the place to be.
Accessories – TIE
This category is a dead tie because cannabis social clubs in Barcelona and Amsterdam coffee shops all carry the same junk. From rolling papers and filters to pipes, bongs, lighters, screens and more, whatever you need you can find just as easily in either city. I personally don’t think either city carries anything of quality in this regard – you’re generally talking cheap bongs and pipes, grinders and so on, but they’re not head shops so they obviously can’t be faulted in this regard.
- Barcelona Social Clubs – 3
- Amsterdam Coffee Shops – 3
Ultimately, what’s “best” really depends on how much you value/prioritize what each city brings to the table. If you primarily care about high-quality cannabis, the answer is Barcelona. If you care about ease of use and consistency, Amsterdam is the best choice. But either way, both cities are undeniably awesome, and the cannabis social clubs in Barcelona are just as much fun to hang out at as the coffee shops of Amsterdam. But I want to hear your opinion – what do you think? If you could only take a cannabis-themed holiday in one city, would it be Amsterdam or Barcelona, and why?