By Aidan Kim
Typically, the private weed club is dimly-lit, lined with a few comfy couches, and filled with a plethora of interesting characters from all over the world. People come to smoke, but the club also serves as a place where people come to study, play board games, and socialize.
What is missing from these establishments is an indication on the exterior of the building of what actually differentiates them from other social clubs. Their secrecy and discreetness allow them to exist within the grey area of Spanish law.
Although it is illegal to possess or sell marijuana in a public area, weed club owners can obtain licenses to operate private associations to smoke and sell weed. But operating within this space creates a multitude of problems for club owners looking to advance their business.
“They came here and told me to take out all the weed and hash and put them on the table and they made me weigh all of it,” Juan*, the owner of Sons of Paradise, said. “I had a total of one kilo and 600 grams. And they took everything with them and they took us with them. They closed down the place that day.”
This was the first time Juan’s establishment, a private weed club in the La Latina neighborhood of Madrid, was raided by the police. In addition to the nearly two kilos of weed, the police confiscated some 5,000 euros from the club. Juan tells us he had all the necessary licenses. Neither the weed nor the money was ever returned to him. He was even fined for having a dog on the premises.
Not so long ago, the police raided Sons of Paradise again, this time on the grounds of “a misidentification” of locations. They took his dog away too.
Stories of clubs being raided are not common in Madrid as cops only target those that are operating outside the scope of the law, or “are being louder than others,” as Juan put it.
Alex, a patron of Paradise Island, another weed club in the capital, recounted his encounter with the police outside the club thus: “We left the club and were walking down the street when three undercover cops appeared from behind their van and stopped us. I think they were just waiting for someone to come out of the club because their van was posted there the whole time. They searched my bag and took my weed and went on their way. The whole thing was really suspicious, and I haven’t heard anything from them since.”
Tactics like this, and ambiguity as to where cannabis stands before the law, discourage people from going to the clubs or coming back. Alex says he hasn’t returned to Paradise Island since the incident and does not intend to.
However, it appears that authorities want to deny the existence of such clubs in Madrid. In response to a question about how the police deal with these clubs, a senior police officer had this to say: “We don’t have those here.”
Other cops declined to comment on the matter.
Private weed clubs in Madrid are supported by two constitutional provisions which have given rise to (1) liberal privacy protection laws. These laws state that whatever someone does in the privacy of their own home or private property is protected by the law . (2) The Right of Association, a law that permits people to organize as groups for specific causes or purposes so long as the association is non-for-profit and for members only, meaning all the revenue obtained within the club must be invested back into it. If they follow these two-decade-old Spanish laws, the clubs can operate mostly in peace.
To gain entrance into these private clubs, you must be sponsored by a member. Membership costs vary from club to club, but most offer one year memberships for 20-30 euros.
The hardest part for weed club owners is sourcing their stock which could brush with the law. No club owners would disclose the means of obtaining their supply, but many have said privately that they have special arrangements with cultivators or personal grow houses. Once inside the establishment, the weed is legal. But transporting it to the club is a punishable offense.
Despite their discreet exteriors, these clubs are not hard to find. On WeedMaps.com you can look up information on cannabis dispensaries. Almost all clubs require you to contact them before coming to apply for membership. As these clubs cannot advertise themselves, they rely on sites like this and word-of-mouth as their primary source of new membership.
“I come here because it’s safer than buying weed off the street and all my friends are members,” said Jorge, a patron of Paradise Island. “At least here I know what I’m getting,” he added.
Private weed clubs in Madrid are on the rise. Cannabis review site MarijuanaGames.com says that by 2020 Madrid will surpass Barcelona, where there are currently over 300 private clubs, as the weed capital of Spain.
Many say that Spain is not far from legalizing weed. In 2017, the government of Catalonia passed groundbreaking legislation regulating the cultivation, consumption, and distribution of cannabis within designated clubs, thereby effectively maneuvering them out of legal limbo. The legislation also addresses a major point of legal ambiguity, outlining specific practices the clubs must follow to lawfully bring the cannabis to the clubs.
The Catalonian legislation has set a significant precedent for the rest of Spain. In Madrid, Podemos, the far-left political party responsible for the election of the incumbent mayor Manuela Carmena, has reignited debates to legalize cannabis. Pablo Iglesias, the leader of Podemos, believes that legalization will halt the proliferation of black market sales and “generate enormous revenue that will lead to the best public healthcare in the world.”
“It’s absurd that you can buy tequila or gin from a supermarket but marijuana is illegal,” Iglesias said.
But the two major parties in Spain, the conservative Partido Popular and the Socialist Party (PSOE), aren’t taking up the cudgels. In fact, they have been giving the definitive debate on the legalization of the cannabis a wide berth.
For the weed clubs this means that Madrid is still years away from being as accepting as Barcelona. Nevertheless, these clubs continue to proliferate and their membership continues to grow. Spanish club-goers and owners alike can only hope that policymakers will someday follow the example of Catalonia and legalize weed.
*All the names are fictitious, to protect the privacy of the people concerned.
Featured image/Ander Burdain
Inside a weed club/Aidan Kim
Marijuana growing in private space/Cannabis Pictures/CCby2.0 via Flickr
Cannabis cuttings in plastic bag/Cannabis Pictures, CC BY2.0 via Flickr
Iglesias/Generalitat de Catalunya (cropped), PD
Spannabis poster/Fair use