The first public event for the European Cannabis Advocacy Network will take place on the 17th of December, which will be focusing on cannabis reform in Ireland and Spain. Each month we will be inviting advocates from two European countries to discuss the current state of cannabis reform in their country, and shine a light on both adult-use and medical cannabis reform across Europe. 

In an article last month Natalie O’Regan and Nicole (CCAN) got us up to speed with the current situation in Ireland; where cannabis remains illegal for adult-use, but is permitted for medicinal use, though through strict regulations. We are pleased that Natalie will be joining us at the first ECAN event to discuss the current status of cannabis reform in Ireland in greater detail. 

Also joining us for a discussion on cannabis reform in Spain will be Queralt Prat-i-Pubill. In the run up to Thursday’s event we thought it would be useful for Queralt to share some background information around the current state of cannabis reform in Spain.

“Cannabis reform is not happening in Spain, and we are not clear what the issue is, we suspect there are interests that are hidden from the public.” 

How is cannabis currently controlled, is it regulated?

In Spain cannabis has been decriminalised for adult-use, possession and personal cultivation. However, the commercial sale of cannabis remains illegal. Cannabis has yet to be legalised for adult-use and regulated due to its control under domestic law, which is in compliance with obligations to the 1961 United Nations Convention. Cannabis is also permitted for medical use, however, only products which have passed clinical trials, and met pharmaceutical standards, can be prescribed to patients; for example: Sativex and Epydiolex. 

The cultivation of cannabis is in accordance with international treaties. Spanish legislation permits the cultivation and production of cannabis for medical and research purposes, with the administrative authorisation of the Spanish Agency for Medicines and Health Products (AEMPS). Private cultivation for personal use, and collective cultivation for collective use is allowed through the Organic Law 4/2015, but it is subject to legal insecurity.

Where does the Cannabis Social Clubs (CSC) fit into this legal framework?

The consumption of cannabis for recreational purposes remains in a legal vacuum. This is due to the exception promoted by the Cannabis Social Clubs in the beginning of the 90’s. Public consumption of cannabis remains illegal, but cannabis consumption in private is decriminalised, therefore the CSC are able to operate through a legal loophole, or grey area. 

There are currently around 2000 Cannabis Social Clubs, half of them in Catalonia. Catalonia is a nation in it’s own right, and therefore legislation differs to that of Spain. But the situation there is precarious and subject to complex legal issues. The CSC are frequently raided by the police, operations which are best characterised as a “burn first, then ask questions” strategy. These raids even take place in seed banks, for example one of the biggest seed companies in Europe, Dinafem, is currently under judicial review in Spain. Moreover, Albert Tió who is an activist, and the President of the Federation of Self-Regulated Cannabis Associations of Catalonia has recently been sentenced to 5 years in prison. 

Are there any reform initiatives?

“It’s difficult to imagine that anything will be approved currently, and it will likely be delayed to the next legislative cycle.”

In Spain 84% of the population is in favour of regulating cannabis for medical uses. There are more than 5 million consumers of cannabis, and it’s estimated that at least 300,000 people are using it for medical purposes. The current government is a coalition of two socilaist parties, PSOE and Podemos. Podemos are the main party pushing reform, and they highlight the economic benefits as their rationale for regulation. Podemos has been preparing a “anteproyecto de ley”, which is a bill that proposes cannabis legalisation, but PSOE has little interest in these reform initiatives. All other parties are in favour of cannabis regulation except PP and VOX, which are both right wing parties. 

“It is clear that there is a lack of understanding of how science works, those who are against regulation demand more scientific research, aimed to protect patients”.

What are the benefits of reform and regulation?

In 2018, it was estimated by the Drug Policy Unit of the Faculty of Psychology of the Autonomous University of Barcelona that regulation of cannabis would amount to tax and social contributions of €3,312 million annually. Moreover, they predict that regulation would create 101,569 jobs, a figure which is based on the size of the workforce required to meet the estimated demand of 820,597 kilograms of cannabis. 

One thing that is apparent when examining cannabis reform across Europe is every country is on it’s own journey, faced with a unique set of barriers and drivers to effective reform. These barriers and drivers seem to manifest as particular models of cannabis control and regulation. To some extent these models are incomparable, because the legal and regulatory frameworks are so divergent, but it’s also clear when examining the environments in which reform is taking place there are also some similarities. It’s beyond the purpose of this article to dive into a comparative analysis of cannabis reform and regulation in Spain and Ireland, nonetheless it’s interesting to see the contrast. 

We look forward to discussing all these points in depth with Queralt on Thursday, tickets are available here. 

Ella Walsh is Content Officer at Volteface, Tweets @snoop_ella

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