Since democracy arrived in Spain in 1975, personal use and possession of cannabis has never been a crime.
“There is no law that says either you cannot use cannabis or you do not have the right to use it,” said Martin Barriuso, the president of Pannagh Cannabis Club and member of the Federation of Cannabis Clubs in Spain (FAC). However, a lack of national concrete drug policies frequently pits authorities against cannabis users.
The Pannagh Cannabis Club (PCC) was legally created by Barriuso and his partners in Bilbao in 2003. But once they launched they were subject to investigations on suspicion of involvement in a criminal organization.
“The club is a non-profit circuit for cannabis. It is not for commercial purposes. We are not making profit from it,” Barriuso declared.
The ambiguity in laws has also caused division in the authority of police forces.
“Basque police would tolerate us, but the local police wanted us to move to a neighboring town, accusing us of giving a bad image to the [people who lived there],” he added.
Another issue is, possession. If citizens are caught with a package of cannabis, police have the right to fine them from €300 up to €30,000 (approx $400 to $40,000 USD). Even if it is one’s intention is to smoke privately, which is allowed by law, he can still be punished for possession when transporting cannabis to a private residence.
In 2005, an anti-drug prosecutor accused PCC of being a part of a “criminal organization” and guilty of a ”drug trafficking offense with outstanding importance.” The prosecution called for fines of up to €1 million ($1.36 million USD) and six years in prison for club officials and four members, including Barriuso. The club was shut down, but the trial is ongoing.
“It is hard us to defend ourselves without formalized laws. Everything is crazy at the moment,” says Barriuso.
In the midst of all this, a new proposal, the Citizen Safety Law has made the atmosphere even more ominous. If the law passes, private use of cannabis will be criminalized.
“Government is open to debate, but still very traditional. We are fighting in the middle of the fire and quickly going back to Middle Age mentality,” Barriuso said.
Barriuso remains optimistic for the future of the cannabis associations.
“Who knows what will happen? Years ago no one thought it was achievable. Now we created such an impression that even the Uruguayan government wants to learn about our model because they see it has worked,” he added.