The Death of the Barcelona Cannabis Club

The now-famous Barcelona cannabis club is being bludgeoned to death by the city’s council and lawmakers. In the last few days at least 49 cannabis clubs in Barcelona have been closed, and some have been shuttered forcefully by police after authorities encountered resistance from club owners. Armed with the political and practical upper hand, the latest round of attacks by authorities appears to be the beginning of the end for Barcelona’s cannabis clubs.

One Hot Summer

It seemed like business as usual in Barcelona after June’s attacks on the cannabis social club system and the period of calm tension that followed. But on Wednesday morning this author began receiving a sudden slew of complaints and requests for information from people who were concerned that many clubs around the city had been shuttered without warning.

Investigation showed that indeed, large numbers of clubs had been closed by city administrators and police. Board members, management and staff of various clubs suddenly went incognito; likely out of fear of another round of arrests.

The status of many clubs couldn’t be immediately determined; in the past some clubs have closed as a precautionary measure when police activity is high, making it difficult to analyze which clubs are being actively persecuted and which are acting preemptively. However, the orders from Barcelona City Hall called for the closure of an initial round of 20 clubs, followed by 29 more. All of these closures have been implemented. By some estimates, this represents approximately one third of the total clubs operating within the city.

Management and founding members of clubs that were not shuttered still expect the worst. Because of a lack of clear regulation, even legitimate clubs operating carefully within the most conservative interpretation of the laws are at risk of closure and seizure/forfeiture of assets.

But the order authorizing the closures includes a long list of violations; many of which were not violations of city policy or law, but violations of the club’s own guidelines, policies and operating principles.

Others say the motivation to close the cannabis clubs is purely political.

What’s the Problem?

The primary problem gnawing at the bones of city councilors is Barcelona’s burgeoning reputation as a top destination for cannabis tourism. Various media outlets reported earlier this year that Barcelona was becoming the “next Amsterdam;” a label that city officials are actively working to reject.

Because Barcelona’s cannabis clubs must be private in order to exist under the law, they cannot advertise or publicly recruit new members, among other restrictions. Therefore, the existence of a lucrative and increasingly publicized cannabis tourism sector in the city poses a serious problem for lawmakers; a point that even cannabis supporters admit requires action.

Of course, there’s much more to the issue than just marijuana tourism. The city council’s order closing this round of 49 clubs included a laundry list of other complaints, including;

  • Providing cannabis to members that was not produced directly by the club or collective, or being unable to prove the origins of the marijuana products present.
  • Selling to minors. Although this was on the list of complaints, at this time only 2 clubs (including one from the earlier closures in June 2014) were cited for this particular violation.
  • Poor ventilation. Because many of Barcelona’s cannabis clubs are located in large buildings shared by other commercial and residential spaces, ventilation of marijuana smoke has been a central issue of contention since the clubs began to appear 4 or 5 years ago.
  • Illegal Sale of Cannabis. The terms of this are ambiguous and likely include allowing foreigners to acquire marijuana, producing or selling cannabis concentrates, selling to non-members, and charges related to cannabis production both on and off premises of the social clubs.
  • Sanitation complaints.
  • Money laundering. While a few specific charges have been handed down, the majority of these violations are more likely to be related to issues of poor regulation than deliberate money laundering.
  • Improper licenses. Some of the city’s complaints are pettier in nature than would warrant a closure. For instance, this includes violations unrelated to the nature of the cannabis business. (Providing refreshments or snacks without a catering license, offering entertainment or social activities that are not licensed or licensed improperly, etc.)

Some Clubs Stand their GroundLas Ramblas in Barcelona hosts many cannabis clubs

When the city initially posted the closure orders, most clubs were provided 48 hours to comply by fully shutting down. However, more than a dozen clubs refused the order and stood firm, citing their rights under the Spanish laws of Association. These clubs remained open, serving members until police eventually arrived and forcefully shuttered them and chained the doors closed.

One such club was the 4:20 club on Notariat (not to be confused with the 4:20 club on Esudellers). The club’s president refused the city’s orders and remained open past the deadline. Meanwhile, the club’s board and its lawyer filed a formal complaint against the city, naming several of its officers in the official documents.

4:20 attempted to legally out-maneuver Barcelona’s city council by filing a complaint that its Association rights (essentially a “right to organize”) had been violated, thereby insisting that a stay be issued and the club be allowed to remain open. However, after a rapid review a local judge declined to act on the complaint.

Meanwhile, other clubs have escaped from this onslaught unscathed, despite the fact that they engage in similar or identical practices as their counterparts simply because of unclear (and previously unenforced) regulations. This has led to a state of confusion in the industry where clubs that have been operating peacefully for years now fear for the survival of their associations.

For some of the clubs that have survived to this point, the worst is yet to come in the form of tight restrictions that will radically alter the way the clubs operate and will generally address the clubs in a manner that is significantly more restrictive than establishments that sell or serve alcohol.

The Solution is Part of the Problem

Barcelona’s city council is an intelligent group. They know that they don’t have to physically close down every cannabis club in Barcelona with the use of boots-on-the-ground force; the passing and enforcement of tight new regulations will thin the herd drastically, with some measures attacking the very morale and free spirit nature of the industry:

  • Access to the clubs will be exclusive to Spanish residents
  • Access will not be permitted to people less than 21 years of age
  • New members must be sponsored in person by a current member in good standing
  • Once inscribed, new members cannot acquire or consume any cannabis products for at least 15 days
  • Clubs will be limited to a maximum number of members (proposals reported at 500)
  • Members must order and pay for their cannabis once per month only
  • Members cannot acquire more than 60 grams per month (down from the current 100 grams/month)

These are just some of the regulations that are being drafted by the Ministry of Health for presentation during lawmaking sessions in the regional parliament next month. Other laws being written into the draft seek to regulate and oversee nearly every step of the processes that remain after the clubs have been effectively weeded out. From production to transport to packaging to sales, the Catalonian government is seeking unrepentant control of the industry. And based upon the aggressive actions of the city thus far, any bills presented will likely be considered with priority status.

What Happens Now?

The orders closing the clubs contain a list of specific conditions that must be met in order for the club to reopen. For many, these requirements will be impossible to meet. Those that do meet the conditions and are permitted to reopen will be subject to whatever new regulations are passed based on the Ministry of Health’s recommendations.

Overall this means that the waters ahead will be extremely rough for Barcelona’s cannabis clubs.

For people who are currently members of a club, you will likely be permitted to remain a member if your club is still open. However, it is possible that the board of directors of your club could retroactively apply the new conditions and thereby strip anyone of membership who doesn’t qualify. Clubs that choose this course of action should expect to refund membership fees to those affected.

For people who want to become a member of a Barcelona cannabis club, at this stage it seems that if you aren’t a Spanish resident above the age of 21 with a legitimate, in-person sponsor from a current member of a club, then there’s essentially no chance that you’ll be able to join; even if you have a medical marijuana prescription.

This means that for the thousands of tourists that visit Barcelona each month, it’s back to the street dealers and the risk of theft, violence and arrest.

For the street dealers, this is all very good news.

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Author: Russ Hudson View all posts by
Russ Hudson is the CannaBizConsultant and founder and editor of MarijuanaGames.org. A professional writer, certified search marketer and web developer, Russ is an avid supporter of transparency in marijuana research, truth in cannabis activism, and full repeal of prohibition. Russ also advocates for the immediate development of a cooperative international economic and agricultural marijuana strategy.

Having lived, worked and traveled extensively throughout The Netherlands, Spain and the United States, Russ is intimately familiar with cannabis culture. But one of the coolest things about Russ is that he actually responds to emails personally. Find out for yourself by getting in touch with him now:

Email Russ: russ@marijuanagames.org

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Leave A Response

28 Comments on "The Death of the Barcelona Cannabis Club"

  1. Martin January 27, 2015 at 15:10 - Reply

    Hi
    thanks for article. Can you tell me how looks the situation now ? How many clubs are open?

    My thing is that I wanna move to Barcelona and cure myself with Cannabis. I won´t impede with details about my journey and illness. And i think that start workin with weed in cannabis club will be great opportunity… 🙁

    • Russ Hudson January 27, 2015 at 16:39 - Reply

      Hi Martin; if you move to Barcelona (Spain in general) it will be no problem for you to easily and legally acquire cannabis in a professional club, or you can grow your own. Let me know when you are getting close to arriving here and I will try to help. Peace -Russ

  2. Tomb November 5, 2014 at 19:26 - Reply

    Hope all is well and hope this awesome site gets some further updates soon.
    FYI – Kush will be re-opening this Friday! 🙂

  3. alex September 14, 2014 at 10:04 - Reply

    Hi Russ,
    Is Kush stll open? Going there this week, became a member while on holiday last year.

    • Russ Hudson September 15, 2014 at 00:00 - Reply

      Hi Alex; I have heard that it was closed from several people, but possibly only temporarily. I am out of the country right now so I will not know for sure until next week. Peace -Russ

  4. martin September 7, 2014 at 16:48 - Reply

    Greenage club still open?

    • Russ Hudson September 7, 2014 at 20:53 - Reply

      Hi Martin; yes, Green Age is still open. 😉 Peace -Russ

  5. John August 31, 2014 at 11:50 - Reply

    I was just planning a trip to Barcelona. Shows the lack of gumption of the EU legislature that they cant arrange something jointly since most EU countries agree that it should be decriminalised but noone wants to be the “The New Amsterdam”.

    • Russ Hudson August 31, 2014 at 12:22 - Reply

      You’re absolutely right, John; especially in the case of Barcelona. Based on my professional and personal experience with the cannabis social club industry in Barcelona, most of the problem is the fact that the media has continually referred to the city as “The New Amsterdam” this year, and for some reason this is seen as a wild insult worthy of aggressive attacks by city administrators and police.

      Why wouldn’t Barcelona – or any city, for that matter – want to be thought of in the same vein as Amsterdam, which has enjoyed hundreds of millions of dollars in tourism and earned a respected reputation as a progressive, thoughtful and humane city? There really isn’t any good reason for this except the maintenance of the rigid and draconian status quo that has been forced upon us for more than 80 years.

  6. E from NY August 28, 2014 at 16:39 - Reply

    Hi Russ,

    1st of all I wanna say thank you so much for this site. I will be visiting Barcelona tomorrow and have been reading your site for about 3 months now and it’s gotta be the most informative and detailed site covering all this. This really sucks 🙁 I was hoping you could help me out while I’m there but I guess I’ll have to find another way.

    • Russ Hudson August 28, 2014 at 17:42 - Reply

      Hi E; Thank you for your kind words. We still don’t really know what’s going to happen yet, so things could turn out for the better. For now though, it’s a strange and sometimes intimidating scene in Barcelona. Let’s keep our fingers crossed and our activism activities relentless, and maybe we’ll win this thing. Peace -Russ

  7. Riddler August 26, 2014 at 19:25 - Reply

    This is a really bad situation. I only recently had the very real pleasure of spending some time in the La Mesa club. I was so impressed by such an enlightened approach to the use of cannabis. And here we are only a few weeks later witnessing the repression of this eminently sensible model. I do so very hope the people of Barcelona react to and eventually put a stop to this retrograde action. Keep the faith Russ. Peace

  8. raens August 25, 2014 at 10:32 - Reply

    Thanks for the Article. I’m living in Barcelona right now. I’m pretty upset abut the closure of all the clubs.

    • Russ Hudson August 25, 2014 at 18:21 - Reply

      It is sad my friend, but if you are a Barcelona resident it shouldn’t be too much of a problem as you can still easily get membership…

      • raens August 26, 2014 at 09:37 -

        Well, every association is very careful now and they feel very insecure. It seems like many clubs closed for non-spanish people because they fear to be arrested. Eventhough I have a spanish address, without spanish ID it seems difficult.

      • Russ Hudson August 26, 2014 at 11:29 -

        Sorry mate, when you say “living in Barcelona,” that insinuates that you are there for longer than a tourist visa, which means that you should have an NIE. If you don’t then no, you probably won’t be able to get a legitimate membership. If you do have an NIE, then you should be able to get membership in any club as long as you have a current member to sponsor you…

  9. Thomas August 20, 2014 at 18:37 - Reply

    I was about to Go to BCN next week, and this happens now,,,, 🙁
    Its a very sad situation, for everyone that will need to end up in the streets, if anyone know about, or can help me Get hooked up, i would apriciate very highly.

    T from Norway.

    • Russ Hudson August 21, 2014 at 11:00 - Reply

      Hi Thomas; yes, it is indeed a sad situation. However, I would not let the current situation deter you from visiting Barcelona. There are always the standard options on the Ramblas and of course on the beaches in Barceloneta. But things are beginning to settle in BCN, so please send me an email at russ@marijuanagames.org and I will see what I can do…

  10. Dave August 17, 2014 at 23:53 - Reply

    Are they just clamping down in Barcelona? Or are these measures affecting clubs in other areas of Girona?

    • Russ Hudson August 18, 2014 at 00:19 - Reply

      Hi Dave; so far as I know, the clampdown will eventually affect all of Spain, but right now is almost exclusively focused in Barcelona. Peace -Russ

  11. Andrew August 17, 2014 at 20:00 - Reply

    It’s a great shame that the city has taken this course of action, but even with all these restrictions I would still encourage anyone to find a local who is a member of a club in order to acquire. Please try to avoid street dealers.

    • Russ Hudson August 17, 2014 at 20:18 - Reply

      By asking local club members to procure cannabis, you turn them into “street dealers.” It is just as against the law for a legitimate member of a club to acquire a small amount of cannabis on behalf of a non-member as it is to sell openly on La Rambla. So while it might be safer for people to acquire from local club members, it exposes those members to risk; a point the people you are advising would do well to take to heart. Peace -Russ

  12. Julie August 16, 2014 at 16:47 - Reply

    Hey russ u associated to any clubs that are still open? I have residency here in Spain. You think you could sponsor me?

    • Russ Hudson August 16, 2014 at 17:03 - Reply

      Hi Julie; I could if I were in Barcelona, but at the moment I just finished up a hiking trip in the US and will be here a bit longer, and when I return to Europe I will head to the Netherlands for a while before making my way back to Barcelona. So it would be best if you found another local person to sponsor you. Good luck! Peace -Russ

  13. mia August 16, 2014 at 13:03 - Reply

    Hey Russ!
    I wrote you an email wednesday about Alhambra closing down, and now I see why. I know there are still some open clubs in Barcelona, do you think those clubs are still willing to accept new members without counting the new regulations?

    Thank you!!
    Mia

    • Russ Hudson August 16, 2014 at 13:26 - Reply

      Hi Mia; I highly doubt it. As of this moment all remaining open clubs that I am in contact with have closed their doors to people who do not meet the regulations suggested by the Ministry of Health. If you find a club that is still willing to break the “rules” at this stage, I would be surprised but if you do please let us know here if possible. Peace -Russ

      • Wammy August 21, 2014 at 08:46 -

        Hey Russ, what dates are you going to be in the Netherlands?

      • Russ Hudson August 21, 2014 at 11:02 -

        Hey Wammy; I am not 100% certain yet because I have not booked my flights, but I intend to arrive in Amsterdam on September 8th or the 15th. I’ll stay in Amsterdam for a few days before heading south to cover some clubs in Arnhem and Nijmegen before making my way to report on the 2 clubs that have now successfully opened in Belgium.

        Are you going to be around on those dates? Very shortly after I will return to Barcelona. Peace -Russ