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Is 2023 Spain’s Year for Cannabis Reform?

Castilla la Mancha in Spain
Toledo, Spain. PHOTO Ecstk22 / Adobe Stock

Current Events

Is 2023 Spain’s Year for Cannabis Reform?

Cannabis policy in Spain is in desperate need of an update.

It’s likely a safe bet that 2023 will be a significant year for cannabis reform efforts and the emerging cannabis industry, particularly in Europe. It’s no secret that a legalization measure is expected to be formally introduced in Germany in 2023, and if/when that happens, it will have a domino effect throughout most of the continent. But Spain’s cannabis reform measures move at their own pace.

As discussed in my last article for Cannabis Now, Spain tends to move at its own pace when it comes to cannabis policy reform. This is due in part to an enthusiasm gap among cannabis supporters for reform efforts within the country. As touched on in the last article, life is good for many consumers in Spain. Cannabis is easy to acquire in many parts of the country; there are tons of options to choose from; and there’s no shortage of cannabis clubs. Yet, the status quo still leaves a lot of patients on the outside looking in, creating a breeding ground for selective enforcement.

Are Medical Cannabis Regulations on the Way?

Palacio de las Cortes is a building in Madrid where the Spanish Congress of Deputies meets. PHOTO Courtesy of Madrid Destino

Spain’s Health and Consumption Commission of the Congress of Deputies previously approved an opinion of the Medical Cannabis Subcommittee back in June 2022 that called for medical cannabis regulations. Part of that opinion approval tasked the Spanish Agency for Medicines and Health Products (AEMPS) to develop a plan within 6 months regarding how it would implement the related recommendations of the opinion. That six-month deadline expired in December 2022.

A regulatory “roadmap” is reportedly already crafted, although firm details have yet to emerge. For that matter, even when every detail does emerge, it’s quite likely that things could still evolve in some areas. However, at the macro level, a regulated medical cannabis industry that’s accessible to Spain’s patients does seem to be on the way, and that’s good news for patients seeking tested medicine. Whether medical industry licenses will roll out in 2023 is still unclear, and it’s sure to be a popular topic at the upcoming International Cannabis Business Conference in Barcelona in March.

What About Cannabis Clubs?

Barcelona cannabis club
Circulo is a cannabis club in Barcelona’s El Born neighborhood. PHOTO Jackie Bryant

The stated goal of officials in Spain is to move medical cannabis patients away from the unregulated market and instead provide them with the ability to acquire their medicine from a regulated industry. Purchasing medical cannabis from regulated sources provides several benefits that aren’t present in the unregulated market, not the least of which is the elimination of potential criminal penalties for participating in the transaction.

The most common way that most patients currently acquire their cannabis in Spain is to source it from one or more of the country’s hundreds of private cannabis clubs. Unregulated cannabis clubs have filled the void for many years, which is largely due to lawmakers in Spain having dragged their feet on cannabis reform for so long. Many patients find cannabis clubs to be accessible—plus, they’re familiar with current offerings.

If all medical cannabis is to go through pharmacies, where does that leave current cannabis clubs? Will there be increased enforcement as part of a strategy to eliminate competition? It seems like failing to incorporate clubs into the current regulatory push would be a missed opportunity.

What Are the Chances of Spain Legalizing Adult-Use in 2023?

PHOTO Kyle / Adobe Stock

Germany isn’t the only country in Europe that’s currently pursuing adult-use cannabis legalization. Leaders in the Czech Republic indicated that they’ll proceed with adult-use legalization alongside Germany, and it’s likely that leaders in other nations are considering doing the same. Negotiations and discussions are currently taking place behind the scenes across the continent as well as at the European Union level. And just because a country isn’t at the table right now doesn’t mean they won’t join eventually.

Unfortunately, Spain isn’t likely to be one of those countries, at least not in 2023. Given how much of the medical cannabis regulation discussion remains unsettled, it’s nearly guaranteed that lawmakers and regulators won’t leap past medical cannabis regulations all the way to adult-use.

A bit of a wild card that could possibly affect chances of reform in Spain can be found in a different European country: In the island nation of Malta, located just south of Sicily, applications for nonprofit cannabis club licenses will start being accepted early this year. Given how central cannabis clubs are to Spain’s cannabis culture, it will be interesting to see if a successful launch of regulated clubs in Malta could help convince lawmakers in Spain that they could also make it happen. Only time will tell.

What Spain has right now is both beautiful and flawed. For the nation’s industry to reach its full potential, for all suffering patients to get safe access to much needed tested medicine, and for Spain to take its rightful spot as an international leader, a strong system must be put in place. Hopefully 2023 proves to be the year that happens.

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