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SPANISH LAW

EXPLAINED: Everything you need to know about cannabis clubs in Spain

Spain’s cannabis clubs are appealing for many foreign residents and tourists, but there are many misconceptions about them. Are they really legal? How do you find and join them? Here’s everything you need to know about cannabis clubs in Spain.

EXPLAINED: Everything you need to know about cannabis clubs in Spain
A member of le Private Cannabis club watches TV as she smokes marijuana: Photo: DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP

In the past, Amsterdam’s famous coffee shops attracted cannabis users from across the world.

But a recent crackdown in the Dutch capital has led many to search for new places to enjoy a smoke and some weed-themed tourism.

In the last few years, Spain has emerged as another destination for travelling ‘stoners’, as well as a place where foreign residents can indulge without fear of ending up in jail.

The existence of cannabis clubs, or rather, associations – asociaciones cannábicas as they’re known in Spanish – is a draw for many, although they are often as misunderstood as the law on cannabis in Spain more broadly.

These aren’t simply shops that sell cannabis, or bars you can stroll up to and buy a joint from.

Rather, they are highly regulated, often secretive places that exist in a legal grey area. If you are interested in visiting one, whether on holiday or if you already live in Spain, there’s some rules you should know about.

The Local has broken down everything you need to know about cannabis clubs in Spain.

The law

First things first, what’s the law on cannabis in Spain in a broad sense? 

Although there is some confusion among tourists, cannabis use in Spain is not legalised but decriminalised.

It is not illegal to smoke weed in your own home, or in other private property such as an association.

Attitudes to personal consumption are relatively lax in Spain, generally speaking, given that it is done on private property.

READ ALSO: What’s the law on cannabis in Spain?

Simply put: Spanish weed laws make the distinction between personal consumption in a public space and personal consumption in private.

Many foreigners don’t realise that it is illegal to smoke outdoors or in the street, as they may have seen locals or tourists smoking on a park bench, at a bar terrace or down at the beach. But this is illegal and, if you’re caught, punishable by fines. You’ll also have your stash seized by the police.

In fact, even possession in public is illegal. So, if you are stopped by the police for whatever reason and are carrying some cannabis with you, even if you’re not smoking it, you could be subject to a fine and will at the very least have your stash taken.

Cannabis clubs and associations

One legal loophole that exists in Spain is that of its famous ‘asociaciones cannábicas’. These are private member’s clubs where you can consume cannabis within the confines of the property.

Cannabis clubs are non-profit organisations created within the ‘right of association’ contained in Article 22 of the Spanish Constitution and the Organic Law 1/2002.

Cannabis clubs are usually set up to be like bars with music, and often have pool and foosball tables.

It is worth noting, however, that because of the legal ambiguity of these clubs, membership is not entirely risk-free and some are occasionally subject to seizure by police who try to exploit the legal grey area. 

In Catalonia – the capital of cannabis clubs in Spain, where 70 percent of Spain’s clubs are located – Catalonia’s Superior Court recently ruled against them.

A member of the Sibaratas Med Can Club rolling a joint in Mogán on the southwest coast of Gran Canaria. Photo: DESIREE MARTIN/AFP

How to find them

As they exist in a sort of legal loophole, cannabis clubs are understandably low-key. You won’t see them advertised as you walk down the street, and often you won’t even find an address online.

In order to find one, you’ll need to do a bit of research. Search online for clubs in your area and you should find some listed. Some will have a phone number you can call, others just an email address, and you’ll need to make an appointment in order to visit. 

In terms of physically finding the clubs, some are particularly secretive and refuse to give out the address via email or over the phone. In some cases, you’ll be given the name of a street and sent the exact address or building once you’ve arrived. The clubs can be discreet and hidden, so don’t expect a huge marijuana leaf or Bob Marley flag to guide you there.

READ ALSO: Pharmacies in Spain will be able to sell medical marijuana by the end of 2022

How to join

In order to join, often you’ll have to be introduced or referred by a current member. In some clubs, membership is by referral only, so if you’re just hoping to pop in on holiday it won’t be possible. Often these are the more local clubs for Spaniards and residents.

The clubs that do accept tourists will sometimes require you to make an appointment. Once you’ve found the place and arrived, you’ll need take the following documents to most clubs:

– Passport or ID

– Address (if you’re a tourist, the address of an AirBnB or friend’s house is often accepted, but not hotels)

– Membership fee (this depends on the club but is usually an annual fee of around €25 to €100)

It is worth noting that this membership fee, legally speaking, is not to pay for cannabis, but rather for your membership of the association and right to be a member – socio in Spanish.

How does it work?

So, you’re registered and now a socio. How does it work?

Cannabis clubs operate somewhat similarly to coffee shops in Amsterdam, or dispensaries in the United States, in that you enter and there’s staff working who can explain and recommend the different strains, types, and prices on offer.

You are then free to relax and smoke in the club, and make use of whatever facilities this club has. Most have a bar, TV screens, some of have pool tables and games consoles.

SPAIN-CANNABIS-CLUBS

A cannabis club worker displays different varieties of marijuana that she sells. (Photo by ROBYN BECK / AFP)

The rules

Often the rules depend on each individual club. 

Generally speaking, the rules are as follows:

  • Photos aren’t allowed.
  • Guests are allowed, but usually have to be signed in with photo ID, and members have limits on how many and how often they can bring non-member guests.
  • No underage guests.
  • Limits on how much you can take from the dispensary (daily/weekly/monthly).
  • You can’t take your cannabis with you when you leave, technically speaking (more on that below).

Leaving the premises 

Now, here’s where things can get a little complicated. Remember the law on cannabis in Spain? Legal to smoke in private, but illegal to smoke (or even have on your person) in public?

Often when you join a club, the staff will tell you that you can only smoke your cannabis in the club and that you mustn’t take it outside the premises. Some are a little more relaxed, and say if you want to do that it is your decision – meaning basically that you’re on your own once you have left.

That means that, thanks to quirks of the Spanish legal system, you can legally smoke cannabis inside the association and in your own home, but walking between the two places with cannabis (possession alone, not smoking) is illegal.

Does it make sense? Not entirely. Is it the law? Yes. Cannabis clubs exist to try and create safe, legal spaces for people to enjoy smoking cannabis together, so it is recommended you use your discretion not to attract attention to the club or cause undue legal problems for it. 

Simply put, the moment you step foot outside the association with cannabis on your person you are breaking Spanish law and putting the association at risk. In Spain the founders of some clubs have even gone to prison.

Note, it has also been known that plain-clothes police officers at times hang around outside popular associations and stop people coming and going in order to fine them. In Spain, fines (multas) for cannabis possession in public can cost you up to €600.

In any case, weigh up your options depending on where you are in Spain, ask yourself how likely is it that you will be stopped by police on your way home, and consider carrying a bag or Tupperware in a rucksack which will make the smell of the cannabis you’ve bought less pungent and noticeable.

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SPANISH LAW

IN DEPTH: What is Spain’s ‘Trans Law’ and why is it controversial?

The Spanish government's new gender self-identification legislation is facing widespread criticism from across the country and political spectrum. What is the new 'Trans Law' and why is it proving to be so divisive in Spanish society?

IN DEPTH: What is Spain's 'Trans Law' and why is it controversial?

Spain has long been a world leader when it comes to recognising and protecting the rights of the LGBT community. It was the world’s fourth country to legalise gay marriage with full adoption rights back in 2005, after all.

A couple of years later, in 2007, the same Zapatero government followed it up by passing a pioneering law that allowed people to change their name and sex assigned to them at birth, without having to undergo a full sex change.

A condition of the law, however, was that those wishing to legally change their gender must support their application with a psychological evaluation that diagnosed ‘gender dysphoria’ – that is, the perceived mismatch between someone’s biological sex and their gender identity.

But now, in 2022, the Spanish government has found itself mired in controversy over its proposed updates and expansion of the law.

Protesters wearing face masks wave trans flags during a demonstration calling for more rights for transgender people at La Puerta del Sol in Madrid in 2020. (Photo by PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP)

The government’s junior coalition partner, Unidas Podemos, has pushed a new ‘Trans Law’ (La Ley Trans as it’s known in Spain) that is quickly becoming a major political sticking point and causing rifts not only within Spanish feminism but the government coalition itself.

And it’s not the first legal controversy this government has caused recently with what was intended to be progressive legislation. In fact, due to the political fallout over the recent ‘Only Yes Means Yes’ sexual consent law that has accidentally reduced sentences for convicted rapists, amendments to the Trans Law have been delayed and the controversy rumbles on.

READ ALSO: Why is Spain reducing prison sentences for rapists?

What is Spain’s new Trans Law?

The law, known at the draft stage as the ‘Real and Effective Equality of Transexual People and for the Guarantee of the rights of LGBTI people’, is seen as the ideological brainchild of Irene Montero, Spain’s Equality Minister who also guided the backfiring ‘Yes means Yes’ sexual consent law through Congress.

In a sentence, the new Trans Law simplifies the gender self-identification process. As currently proposed, the law states that any person over 16 years old will be able to legally change their name and gender on official ID documents by simply completing a basic administrative procedure.

According to Montero, the law is a recognition of “trans people’s right to be who they are, without witnesses, without any obligation to undergo hormone treatment… and without a medical report that must say that they are sick.”

As of yet, the law does not specify any limits on how many times a person would be legally able to change their gender, though the Spanish press has reported in recent weeks that the senior partner in government, Pedro Sánchez’s PSOE, may try to force further amendments to the legislation.

A woman holds up a placard reading “Families proud of their trans children” during a gathering marking the “International Transgender Day of Visibility” (TDOV) in Madrid on March 31, 2021. (Photo by PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP)

Crucially, the new law removes the requirements from the 2007 bill of a gender dysphoria diagnosis – essentially making gender self-identification, and changing your legal gender, far easier.

If the new law is approved in its current form, children between the age of 16 and 18 will be allowed to legally change their sex without their parent’s consent, though those between 14 and 16 years will still need parental authorisation.

Gender self-identification will also be available to children between 12 and 14 years old, and children under the age of 12 will have the right to change the name on their formal identification documents.

READ ALSO: Teens in Spain can change gender on paper without medical evaluation

This aspect of the law – that of self-identification among children – is causing particular outrage, and has been subject to criticism from both Spain’s Council of State and its Judiciary, the latter of which has demanded that gender self-identification must, from a purely legal perspective, begin from the age of 18.

The Trans law also allows the use of hormone blockers on children from the beginning of puberty, and recognises the legal status of non-binary people, that is, those who do not identify with any gender. Under the proposed Trans Law, no letter signifying gender would appear on their ID documents.

It also bans conversion therapy, the pseudoscientific practice of changing a person’s sexual or gender identity.

Why is the Trans Law so controversial?

As you may have heard or read in Spain in recent weeks, this groundbreaking law has been met with considerable controversy. Sociocultural issues like those of sexuality and gender are always politically charged, and often become battlegrounds on culture war fighting between left and right.

But this draft law hasn’t just been attacked along traditional left versus right lines. It has been attacked by the Spanish judiciary and State Council, divided Spaniards across the country, including Spain’s feminist community and the government coalition itself.

As is the case around the world, much of the debate around gender self-identification has manifested itself in debates over sport.

Protesters wear masks during a rally to mark Transgender Day of Remembrance, in Madrid, on November 20, 2022. (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

Spain’s Trans Law, in its current form, would allow trans people to compete in sports events according to their self-identified gender. This means plausibly maintaining physical and biological advantages over their cisgender counterparts, something that has led many to suggest self-identification in this instance would serve to be anti-feminist and bring into question fairness and competitiveness. It has also caused controversy with regards to toilets and changing rooms, a debate seen the world over.

In fact, the Trans Law has also divided Spain’s feminist community, with many suggesting that the implementation of gender self-identification serves to unpick decades of feminist attempts to move away from a gender-based view of the world. Some Spanish feminists have argued that the Trans Law takes Spain backwards as it elevates gender above other issues and adheres to traditional stereotypes.

Similarly, the Trans Law as it is currently conceived could, critics say, cause backwards steps in terms of women’s equality and legal rights. By allowing any man to change his legal sex by simply completing an administrative procedure, critics fear this could mean “legalising” sexual discrimination and facilitate gender violence.

Critics are demanding assurances that what they view as potentially fraudulent or opportunistic instances of gender self-identification be avoided, such as if a man legally becomes a woman to, for example, avoid legal consequences under gender violence legislation.

Supporters of the law say that gender self-identification is a human right, and that the state should not require medical or psychological proof for someone to be able to change their own gender.

As one might expect, the proposed law has been attacked by the Spanish right, with tensions also flaring from within the government coalition. PSOE have requested extensions to the deadline in order to “to give legal certainty to the law,” likely because it is certain that the law in its current form would be appealed by PP and Vox in the courts.

As the government continues to deal with the political fallout of its botched ‘Only Yes Means Yes’ law, expect controversy over the Trans Law – and gender self-identification in particular – to continue in 2023.

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