Spain is the only country in the world right now where it is legal to buy and then consume marijuana recreationally, however this can only be done within the confines of a private members social club. There are thousands of these marijuana social clubs in Spain, but they are unevenly spread across the country with the most well known hotspot being Barcelona.
In Barcelona marijuana social clubs are thriving, but there are hardly any in Madrid, because Spain is a collection of semi-autonomous regions, the marijuana laws and tolerance levels change depending on where you are in the country.
These social clubs live in the space between the law allowing for the legal cultivation of marijuana at home (where you are legally allowed to grow up to six plants) and what seems to be an incredibly tolerant attitude towards shared consumption from the Spanish authorities. There is no law against what consuming marijuana collectively as a social members club, but the authorities eye them suspiciously and deeply suspect them of being commercial enterprises in disguise.
The club I belong to is owned by the members and we are legally responsible for the upkeep of the club, as well as the cost of the growing the cannabis we consume. The club is not a commercial enterprise because selling marijuana commercially in Spain is illegal and any profits that we accidentally make as a club are invested back into the club to improve its facilities.
Clubs are not allowed to promote themselves or advertise, mine does not even have a sign outside its discreet front door and if you walked by without knowing, there would be know way of telling that a marijuana social club was inside. Even if you did know, you cannot just walk in off the street and join, most private clubs stipulate that in order to become a member you must be introduced by another member who vouches for you.
You also have to apply and then come back a week later, meant to discourage the perception that our club is a place you can come and buy marijuana commercially. This is not to say that there are not places like that and in Barcelona there are lots of social clubs that cater to tourists, partly why Barcelona is considered to be the 'new Amsterdam'.
Members can legally 'buy' marijuana in the club by choosing off the extensive menu, but are not allowed to take cannabis off the premises. We each have a little draw with our membership number on it that we stash our marijuana in. My club is pretty strict on this, from time to time the police like to harass our members by searching them when they come out of the club and we do not like to give them excuses. We do this to protect our own club and preserve what we have, one of the quickest ways to get closed down is to start behaving like a marijuana sales outlet and a lot of the clubs that have been operating in this way are quickly closed down.
To us discretion is key and we want to avoid complaints from the surrounding community, even though we are in a fairly commercial thoroughfare, we still have residential buildings around us and its important to us that the locals do not feel like we have opened a drug den in their neighborhood. This really doesn't matter that much because its cheaper to buy high quality weed outside of the club. Our members do not really treat the club as a place to go and buy weed, instead they treat the club as a place where they can go to socialize with other members, meet new friends and smoke great weed with them.
I am going to be discreet in this article and not publish the name of my club or its location, I am also careful not to post pictures of other members as cannabis consumption is still frowned upon in Spanish society generally and we like to preserve our privacy if possible. My club prides itself on having the finest selection of organic marijuana in the city, we almost always have at least five different sativas, five different indicas, hashish and lots of hybrids at any given time and all of it is grown organically with love, as opposed to chemically for commercial purposes.
You can taste, see and smell the difference in the weed grown in this way, its an absolute pleasure to choose your weed off a menu and then smoke it in a social setting. Prices on our menu range from approximately 5 EUR a gram to 9 EUR a gram depending on the strain and we have specials on specific strains all the time, right now the Cannelope Haze (Sativa dominant) is on fire at 6 EUR a gram. Its worth noting here than even though were have a menu with prices on it, we don't consider it buying marijuana, we view it as paying for our share of the clubs upkeep and marijuana production costs.
We are a private not-for-profit members club and not a commercial enterprise, an important legal distinction.
Because we don't charge membership fees and sustain the club by selling ourselves our own marijuana, we sometimes make a profit and this gets spent on things like new comfortable leather armchairs and sofas, movie projectors, speakers, a DJ booth and comfortable sofas, chairs and tables. We have a state of the art air extraction and conditioning system installed on both floors of our club, even when its full of people smoking in there, there is never smoke in the air and you don't have to worry about second hand smoke.
We have lots of boardgames and regular movie screenings on the big screen which is awesome, its like being at the cinema, but with weed. The other members are mostly clean and tidy people, we exclude shitbags who would bring our club into disrepute and our members tend to be the nicest, friendliest bunch of people you could ever meet.
We don't ever get tourists in my club, I am one of the few foreigners and the other members tend to be a real mix of society. I am a smartly dressed for work and there are others like me in our club, but we have our hippies too and people from almost every walk of life, there really is no such thing as a stereotypical marijuana smoker. Everybody is really friendly, we sit together and talk together, play together even when we don't know each other, its like a normal social club in almost every respect, except we happen to have legal marijuana on a menu and a really cute girl dispensing it.
You don't see this sort of marijuana social club model in any other country, even in those where its legal to congregate and smoke weed and its the reason that our club is so special. The closest thing to Spanish legal marijuana social clubs can be found in Canada on the west coast in Vancouver where you can find lots of public cafes and spaces to congregate and smoke weed, but they are still technically bound by medical marijuana laws.
Being a member of a club like ours means that you no longer have to buy your weed from illegal sources. Even if you never really cared about marijuana laws in the first place, its still a really good feeling to know that what you are doing is legal and that you cannot be criminalized for doing it. For now legal marijuana clubs in Spain are thriving and apart from bad actors who have helped turn Barcelona into the new Amsterdam for tourists, causing the local government to clamp down, most of the major clubs are respectable and law abiding clubs like ours.
We don't really know what the future holds for us, right now we survive in a legal loophole and because our members are easy to demonize it makes us an easy target for politicians who want to prove that they are tough on crime and drugs. The Spanish government is one of the most conservative governments in Western society and because the laws and statues surrounding our existence are confusingly unclear right now, we are literally at the mercy of local government.
The more liberal local governments are working out how to license and control the marijuana club scene, the more conservative are wondering if they really should be allowing it in the first place and closing them down. The genie is out of the bottle now in Spain and its going to be difficult to put it back in, especially as the trend globally is leaning towards legalization. Local government is mostly eyeing the industry as a potentially lucrative source of tax revenues and looking to the US as a model.
Spanish cannabis social clubs even have their own 'industry group' in the form of La Federación de Asociaciones Cannábicas de España, roughly translated as the Spanish Federation of Cannabis Associations. The FAC represents clubs like ours and works with local and national government to help frame legislation, lobby for industry support and educate the media on our activities. Beyond representing ourselves in an organized fashion and conducting ourselves in a responsible and respectful way, there is not much else we can do to move things forward, unlike other industries that are run on a commercial basis, ours simply does not have the funds to engage in political lobbying in any substantial way.
I love being a member of a legal social marijuana club and I know the others members do too, it would be a terrible thing if we were pushed back underground again by the more conservative elements in Spanish society after getting used to having so much freedom. I also want to take this opportunity to deeply apologize to my Catalan friends, I refer to the country as Spain and the members club as Spanish only because I am writing for a foreign audience who may not know about Catalunya.