Barcelona's High Society: Inside The Hidden World Of Spain's Cannabis Clubs

Zinger Key Points
  • Non-profit associations, the clubs allow members to consume cannabis though it is illegal in Spain to remove marijuana from the premises.
  • Despite the constant battle with shifting legal interpretations, Spain's cannabis clubs are a safe alternative to the unregulated market.

Barcelona is renowned for its vibrant tourism, yet there’s a lesser-known attraction: cannabis clubs. Despite the allure, these clubs exist in a legal gray area, oscillating between regulation and the threat of closure.

“People come here to relax, sometimes to work, or to unwind after work, to play games,” says Tamara Bernal. “Clubs inevitably absorb you.”

Non-profit associations, the clubs allow members to legally consume cannabis though it is illegal in Spain to remove the marijuana from the premises. While intended primarily for locals, many clubs also cater to tourists.

Members pay a fee ranging from 20 to 50 euros, which provides them access to a wide variety of strains and brands, not unlike Amsterdam’s coffee shops. Though still illegal in Spain, Bernal says the clubs thrive on tourism.

Regulatory Pressures And Challenges

The regulatory environment for Barcelona’s cannabis clubs is marked by turbulence. In 2024, the city government intensified efforts to close the clubs down, using secret police to monitor people leaving the clubs and to inspect premises for cannabis. “If they didn’t find anything, they would claim ‘this fridge is not adequate’ and other pretexts to close or distress the activity of the club,” Bernal explained.

The legal status of these clubs has been precarious over the years. Initially regulated with municipal licenses in 2016, a court later deemed that the municipal government lacked the authority to issue them. By 2017, a law regulating them was passed by the Catalan Congress but was overturned by Spain’s Constitutional Court following efforts by the conservative Partido Popular.

Economic Impact And Jobs

Despite challenges, cannabis clubs create significant economic opportunities. Bernal, now involved in her third, says clubs often hire undocumented workers without contracts due to regulatory gaps. “It’s a consequence of them being unregulated. They are not allowed to have formal workers, so they take you without a contract.”

In early 2024, protests by medical patients and club users led to decreased closures. “There’s a two-sided convenience for the Ayuntamiento [local government] since they charge tourists with a fine if they want to collect,” Bernal told Benzinga.

Clubs Under Scrutiny

Bernal’s role in these clubs extends beyond day-to-day operations. “I was handling the social media and got advice from the lawyers [each club has one] on what to do or not, what sort of pictures to use and what not,” she explains. 

Cannabis clubs provide safe spaces, away from conservative morality and police enforcement. They also serve as community hubs. “A club should have cultural events, participation, should provide a space for people to get to know each other,” Bernal said, explaining that they vary in size with medium-sized clubs hosting between 300 to 500 active members, though thousands may be registered. Members must be referred to a club, be over 18 or 21 and use their ID to join.

Secret Police Get Involved

Following a recent change in government, authorities cracked down on the clubs. “They used secret police and stopped people in the streets while leaving the clubs. If they found something on them, then they would enter the club to try to find illicit activities,” Bernal said. The crackdown at the beginning of 2024 led to months of mobilizations and legal disputes. Although the tension has eased, the clubs remain under scrutiny.

(Tamara Bernal. Credit: Benzinga Cannabis)

Future Of Cannabis Clubs

Despite the challenges, the community remains resilient, advocating for a clearer legal framework that supports both the clubs and their members. Bernal acknowledges that some clubs don’t follow the rules.

“The government did give a lot of permits in the past. Now they are trying to go back to the way things were before, and they realize it’s not easy,” she says. “But the government’s inconsistent approach to regulation makes it difficult for clubs to operate smoothly.”

Despite the constant battle with shifting legal interpretations and enforcement practices, Spain’s cannabis clubs have been central in creating a safer alternative to the unregulated market and have influenced international drug policy reform discussions. For example, Germany looked to Spains’ clubs as examples for developing its future cannabis establishments.

Though for now the struggle for legalization and proper regulation of cannabis clubs in Barcelona continues. “The difference now is that there are no new licenses for clubs,” says Bernal.

"So if you want to get into the business, you will need to find a club… and buy it." 

Lead photo by Roland Garcia

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Posted In: CannabisNewsEurozoneExclusivesBarcelonaCannabis ClubsEuroperegulationspain
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