Barcelona orders closure of a third of city’s 145 “cannabis clubs”

Barcelona City Hall has ordered the closure of almost 50 cannabis clubs in a bid to stem an industry that has the Catalan capital rivalling Amsterdam as a “potheads’ paradise”   Barcelona City Hall has ordered the closure of almost 50 cannabis clubs in a bid to stem an industry that has the Catalan capital rivalling Amsterdam as a “potheads’ paradise”.

Authorities, concerned about Barcelona’s fast-growing reputation as a weed smokers’ haven, ordered the closures after an inspection of 145 cannabis clubs in the city found a third of them had “deficiencies” in their management.  The clubs facing closure are accused of various violations, among them selling cannabis illegally, attempting to attract non-members onto the premises and poor ventilation.   The number of cannabis clubs in Spain has soared over the past few years, ballooning from an estimated 40 associations in 2010 to more than 700 across the nation, according to estimates by smokers’ groups.

Barcelona is home to more than half of these clubs, which vary from elegant cocktail-style bars to sparsely furnished basement rooms in apartment blocks.   They have sprung into existence because of a legal loophole which allows marijuana to be cultivated and distributed among members forming a not-for-profit association. Members must pay an annual subscription plus a variable fee to cover the cost of cultivating the cannabis they consume.

Without clear regulations in place, however, some clubs have ventured beyond the spirit of the law and actively encourage tourists by allowing them to sign up for club membership online ahead of their arrival in the city and to buy drugs when they visit.   Barcelona now tops the rankings on WeBeHigh, a travel advice website for soft drug users, beating traditional stoners’ favourite Amsterdam.

Earlier this year Barcelona’s city hall imposed a year moratorium on associations opening premises for smoking the drug and regional authorities also want new rules on cannabis.  Recent figures show that in Catalonia alone there are 165,000 registered members of cannabis clubs bringing in an estimated 5 million euros (£4 million) in revenue each month.

City Hall announced plans in June to tighten control of the cannabis clubs, which include ensuring that they do not open premises near schools and that they are well ventilated. Authorities are also seeking to control opening hours of club premises and set maximum membership numbers.

The associations themselves have also called for better regulations to be introduced to avoid malpractice such as leafleting on the street to lure in new members and dealing in black market cannabis rather than produce homegrown specifically for use by the association.

Martin Barriuso, the spokesman for the Spanish Federation of Cannabis Associations, acknowledged that some “bad practices” have emerged.  “We have reported them,” he told AFP last month. “But it is hard to control without a clear regulation that separates the wheat from the chaff.”

Following the closures on Wednesday, the Catalan federation of cannabis associations, CatFAC, appealed for dialogue between the authorities and the clubs.  “We are aware that the administration does its job well and ensures the common good but this situation would be easier if, before it acts, it set clear rules for all cannabis associations,” it said in a statement.

The more reputable clubs have doctors on hand to advise those who may be using marijuana for medicinal purposes, such as easing the side effects of chemotherapy.

Catalonia’s Ministry of Health will in September present a draft law to the regional parliament calling for the regulation of cannabis consumption.

Source:  14.08.2014 

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