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Why Is Regulating Cannabis in Spain So Difficult?

cannabis regulations in Spain
PHOTO Michal Jarmoluk


Why Is Regulating Cannabis in Spain So Difficult?

Spain is in a unique situation when it comes to cannabis.

At a time when many parts of the world are experiencing an acceleration in cannabis policy reform, Spain has moved at its own pace. Legally speaking, cannabis is illegal (decriminalized) in Spain, however, enforcement is inconsistent, and private cannabis activity is permitted. That combination has fostered an environment that’s very favorable for cannabis consumers, but it poses challenges for advocates seeking to regulate cannabis in Spain. This is because it creates an enthusiasm gap for reform efforts of sorts.

It’s no secret that Spain is bursting with cannabis commerce activity. Any cannabis consumer who has traveled to Spain, particularly Barcelona, will likely be quick to tell you that marijuana is easy to acquire there. They will also probably tell you that the cannabis is of outstanding quality—all of that creates a double-edged sword.

Why Regulate Cannabis In Spain?

Why pass regulations if things are so great for consumers? This is a logical question that points to the heart of the unique situation Spain finds itself in. After all, cannabis clubs are common in Spain, and cannabis is largely tolerated, particularly on a personal level. So why rock the boat? It’s a popular discussion point that comes up early and often at the International Cannabis Business Conference event in Barcelona every year.

As good as things are in Spain, believe it or not, they could be even better in multiple ways via a regulated industry. Before people get heartburn, I am not advocating for overburdensome regulations. What I am advocating for are things like cannabis product testing. Ensuring that cannabis products are tested and free from harmful contaminants alone would be a great improvement, brought about by regulation. This would be particularly true for medicial marijuana patients.

For entrepreneurs and investors, implementing sensible regulations would eliminate the uncertainty that goes hand-in-hand with an industry largely operating in a gray area. Sure, there would be licensing fees and other costs associated with regulation. However, those additional costs would be well worth it in the long run, both from the perspective of raising the revenue potential of the overall industry as well as eliminating the risk of businesses being shut down and the owners and/or staffers being arrested.

Is Help On The Way?

Back in June lawmakers in Spain approved medical cannabis recommendations for the first time, although it was unclear what, if any, traction the recommendations would receive with the Ministry of Health. That question was finally answered this month when Spain’s Ministry of Health announced that they’re currently working on medical cannabis regulations.

In a published response to Spain’s Congress, the Ministry of Health indicated that it’s “preparing a roadmap for the appropriate regulatory fit and the viability of these recommendations” (translated to English) with a heavy emphasis on guaranteeing the quality of medical cannabis products. The Ministry of Health didn’t seem to touch on other components of lawmakers’ recommendations, including qualifying conditions, prescription protocols and product development.

Given how established Spain’s unregulated cannabis market is, it will be interesting to see not only what regulations are ultimately implemented, but also how effective they will be. In older unregulated markets it can prove to be a major task getting patients to make their purchases from regulated outlets versus the unregulated sources they’ve purchased from for years. The largest determining factor will obviously be price, and ensuring regulations are sensible and fair is vital to keeping prices down.

What About Germany?

A major political factor when it comes to cannabis reform efforts in Europe is, of course, Germany. The current governing coalition in Germany is pursuing a nationwide adult-use legalization plan which includes the launch of a regulated adult-use industry. Given Germany’s political standing on the continent and the size of its economy, it’s a massive cannabis prohibition domino that many countries are waiting to fall before pursuing their own reforms.

It’s quite likely that Spain will be on a completely different timeline compared to Germany, and that reform will look much different in Spain. For starters, what’s currently being considered in Spain is medical cannabis only—not adult use, which is what’s being considered in Germany. Furthermore, Germany doesn’t have the gray-area-cannabis-club riddle to solve via regulations like Spain does. Most patients in Spain source their cannabis from private clubs, so presumably there will be some regulations geared towards those access models. Legalization in Germany will undoubtedly have a butterfly effect across the continent, and to some extent, the world. However, Spain is a rare exception in that there’s a domestic ball of cannabis yarn that’s going to take longer to unravel compared to most, if not all, other European countries. As always, Spain will move at its own pace when it comes to cannabis policy.

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