Since it’s illegal to sell marijuana in Spain, cannabis clubs have worked around the law by having people sign up as “members”, rather than shop as “customers”. Each club charges its members a fee to join.
When people talk about European cannabis tourism, the first place that typically comes to mind is Amsterdam. Since the Netherlands decriminalized marijuana decades ago, Amsterdam has become to go-to location for tourists seeking a safe and legal way to mellow out. The image of people puffing away in one of the hundreds of cannabis bars and coffee shops that are licensed to sell hashish and marijuana has become legendary, spurring many travel fantasies about the ultimate THC-infused vacation.
Another destination is getting lost in the purple haze, however. When Spain chose to decriminalize possession and private consumption of marijuana, weed smokers rejoiced. However, the Spanish government still chose to ban the sale of cannabis, making it a bit sketchy to navigate the ins and outs of acquiring good-quality bud. Given these laws, business owners throughout Spain got creative. Their solution was the establishment of private “cannabis clubs” – an industry that is causing many people to give cities like Barcelona the moniker of “the new Amsterdam”.
Spain’s Cannabis Clubs: The 411
Since it’s illegal to sell marijuana in Spain, cannabis clubs have worked around the law by having people sign up as “members”, rather than shop as “customers”. Each club charges its members a fee to join. This fee is considered a “contribution” towards the cost of running the facility and growing the weed that is owned by all of the members of the club. Because of this, it’s important to check your mindset and your language while you’re there, as it’s very much frowned upon to talk about “buying” cannabis while you’re at a club.
The one sticking point for tourists who are eagerly booking travel to visit Spain: you’re going to need a friend to get you into a cannabis club. You see, cannabis clubs in Spain need to see a valid form of identification… and they also need proof of a residential address in Spain. An address at a hotel or hostel won’t do; you must actually reside in the country. You can get around this restriction if you have a buddy who is already a member. They can introduce you to the club and score a membership for you. This is required by law, but it also helps keep club membership more exclusive. Age limits differ from club to club, with some requiring members to be at least 21 years of age and others allowing people who are 18 and up to join.
The Cannabis Club Vibe
One interesting factor that differentiates Amsterdam’s cannabis coffeehouses from Spain’s cannabis clubs is that the latter are incredibly low-key. While people smoke bud in an Amsterdam coffee shop in an open and very public environment, you’ll note a different vibe around many of the cannabis clubs in Barcelona. Privacy is their number one priority. They never send mail or flyers to any address they have on file. Clubs aren’t allowed to openly advertise. Because privacy around cannabis consumption is so valued, strangers on the street will be hesitant to discuss clubs with you if you ask them any questions. For those who have recently moved to Spain, the internet is the best place to find clubs in their area.
Another item of note is how one club can differ wildly from the next. You’ll find that a number of cannabis clubs have a small, dark and intimate feel – much like hanging out and getting high in someone’s living room or basement. Some of these clubs are unimpressive and have rather seedy energy surrounding them. Meanwhile, others are light and airy, sleek and upscale. You’ll find beer, tea, coffee and snacks at a number of establishments. Selection of product differs from club to club, as well. Enter one and you’ll find a modest assortment of various strains, while others may branch out into hash, resin and other smokables. More upscale clubs offer a huge variety of products beyond weed for smoking medicated creams, CBD pills and cannabis infused edible treats, for example.
Despite the growing number of these clubs, a huge stigma still exists around consumption of cannabis. This causes tension between the owners and patrons of clubs and government leaders who are bent on cracking down on marijuana in their cities and districts. As a result of this, most clubs emphasize education, moderation and a mature attitude. Some even take new members through a short presentation, teaching them about responsible consumption and the laws governing cannabis in Spain.
Be Smart; Keep It Legal
With a bit of education and a certain amount of caution, it’s not hard to avoid running afoul of the law as a cannabis user in Spain. Beware people selling weed on the street if they claim they work for a cannabis club. This is a scam. Also beware anyone who is passing out leaflets that are supposedly from a nearby cannabis club. As open advertising is strictly forbidden, any business doing this is not operating within the boundaries of law and should be avoided.
It’s important to remember that while you can legally consume cannabis in a private home or club, your protection ends there. Openly carrying cannabis out of a club is foolish (and many clubs provide a deposit service for members to store unsmoked weed acquired at the club). If you get caught with cannabis in a public place or are seen consuming it in any public area, you run the risk of real trouble. First, your weed will be confiscated. Penalties range from a fine to being arrested and put in jail (depending on the amount of cannabis in your possession). No matter what, it amounts to a truly bad way to spend your vacation – especially when there are legal options available to you.
Remember that rules governing cannabis clubs vary in different locales throughout Spain, so educate yourself and frequent clubs in places where laws are more clearly defined. Make friends, hang out and enjoy the experience. Many people have memberships to several different clubs for variety, so there will be plenty for you to explore. Have fun and bon viatge!