news

Barcelona's First Female Mayor Grants Amnesty to Cannabis Clubs, but Will It Stick?

Barcelona’s first-ever female mayor has just accomplished another first: proposing to keep the city’s famous Cannabis Social Clubs in business by implementing workable official regulations.

Last summer, Ada Colau became mayor in the historic Catalan capital. This week, she granted amnesty to existing clubs, allowing more than a hundred that were slated for permanent closure to remain open and continue shared cannabis cultivation and distribution.

But it’s an open question as to whether Mayor Colau’s move will allow the city to keep the title of Europe’s New Amsterdam, as the rules seem to change with each new municipal government.

The cannabis social clubs had their first golden years in the last decade. But lack of regulation led to bad operating procedures and conflicts with neighbors, and many locations were forced to shut down. 

But the independent spirit of Catalan, it seems, can’t be kept down.

Catalonia is a state of Spain, but has its own language, a thriving economy, and its own way of doing things. Barcelona is traditionally cannabis-friendly and welcoming to small-scale grow ops, even as Spain's criminal code strictly forbids cannabis cultivation, transportation, and public consumption. This means that, like Dutch coffeeshops, Barcelona’s clubs have had to break the law to operate.

Last summer, Ada Colau became mayor in the historic Catalan capital. This week, she granted amnesty to existing clubs, allowing more than a hundred that were slated for permanent closure to remain open and continue shared cannabis cultivation and distribution.

But it’s an open question as to whether Mayor Colau’s move will allow the city to keep the title of Europe’s New Amsterdam, as the rules seem to change with each new municipal government.

The cannabis social clubs had their first golden years in the last decade. But lack of regulation led to bad operating procedures and conflicts with neighbors, and many locations were forced to shut down. 

But the independent spirit of Catalan, it seems, can’t be kept down.

Catalonia is a state of Spain, but has its own language, a thriving economy, and its own way of doing things. Barcelona is traditionally cannabis-friendly and welcoming to small-scale grow ops, even as Spain's criminal code strictly forbids cannabis cultivation, transportation, and public consumption. This means that, like Dutch coffeeshops, Barcelona’s clubs have had to break the law to operate.

But authorities are also concerned by canna-tourism. Most Barcelona clubs cater mostly to tourists despite existing, from a legal perspective, to serve locals. Such clubs clearly violate the basic principles of the Cannabis Social Clubs, in which the members form a real club and should know each other at least casually. Some clubs in Barcelona have well over 10,000 members and operate like big, coffeeshop-style businesses, generating social unrest and controversy, especially in popular neighborhoods.

Whether politicians like it or not, Spain has become a new paradise for cannabis enthusiasts, including growers and patients, growshops and seedbanks, and clubs.

Colau’s move may simply be recognition that if Catalonia is to promote economic growth and contain youth unemployment — which in Spain is over 40 percent and among the highest in Europe — accepting cannabis businesses may be inevitable.

But time is of the essence. If the new plan is not approved by June 13, the city will return to the previous moratorium on new licenses. If that happens, more than a hundred clubs will be shut down, leaving the city to pay 14.4 million euros in compensation to club operators, according to Deputy Mayor Janet Sanz.