Is Spain living up to its nickname?
Spain’s infamous party scene is a cultural influence for locals and tourists alike. From clubs in Barcelona to the dusk-to-dawn partying on the island of Ibiza, party-goers are drawn to Spain’s party-culture. But, with popular nightlife, comes a deep-rooted drug community operating behind the scenes. While marijuana is limited legal in Spain, harder party drugs such as MDMA, cocaine, and ketamine run rampant through the bloodstreams of the clubbers.
The legalization of marijuana in Spain is best described as a legal/illegal substance. Marijuana is permitted for personal consumption in a private setting. It is legal to cultivate your own cannabis as long as it is not sold for monetary gain. Your business is your own, as long as your business remains not easily accessible to public view. It is illegal to traffic/sell marijuana and smoke in public places. If caught, it is a 300 euro fine, this includes if someone smokes in their own car on a public road. Locals, however, are aware that certain cities are more lenient with public smoking than others. Barcelona and Granada are known for the street-selling of marijuana. Therefore, public smoking is socially acceptable there, yet still illegal.
As of 2015, cannabis has been legal for recreational and medicinal use. In a document regarding the legal aspects of the decriminalization of marijuana, Spain’s Ministry of Health found that:
“There are many doctors, especially oncologists, pain units, rheumatologists, neurosurgeons and other specialists, who recommend out of consultation the use of cannabis. But these patients are still in the same legal category as recreational users, meaning that patients are exposed to being fined for possession and to suffer the risks of a product lacking a minimum guarantee of quality.”
There are substantial studies done about the practical effects marijuana has on mental health and pain mediation. Thus, decriminalizing yet not fully legalizing, is Spain’s way of testing the waters. Allowing their citizens to use smartly and privately will enable Spain to not be glorified by its drug acceptance and drug tests. Unlike The Netherlands, which are notorious for their drug acceptance. It is not part of Spain’s culture, more-so a step in a new direction.
Cannabis Clubs, also called Cannabis Social Clubs, are private companies that allow patrons to smoke marijuana while in conjunction with Spain’s legalization laws. Popular in big cities, Cannabis Clubs have been around since 1991 and have yet to really cement their legal standing within the government. The private clubs must operate on a non-profit basis. At the same time, they are allowed to sell “homegrown” marijuana on their private property. Making a profit is deemed criminal by law; hence, these clubs try to make a profit through food and drinks. Though these clubs seem like an easy “loophole” to Spain’s awkward decriminalization laws, it is not as easy to get into these cannabis clubs as you might think. You cannot simply walk in and expect to be served. These clubs often require their patrons to join via a Cannabis Association Registration Application. To apply, you must be 21 years or older, and either have proof of residency in Spain or have a frequent member vouch for you to apply. These applications require you to pay an annual fee, submit a statement of personal marijuana usage. This is so the club can grow and sell the amount of marijuana needed for their clients. With over 700 locations, Cannabis Clubs are why Spain is now being considered the “new Amsterdam.”
Spannabis is the largest Cannabis event in Europe. It started in 2001, Spannabis is largely based on cannabis and hemp innovation, brands, and culture. The three-day-long convention draws in thousands of weed-enthusiasts from around the world. The festival is always held in Fira de Cornellá, Barcelona and the tickets are as cheap as 50 euros. Spanish Anti-Smoking Laws prohibit smoking/ marijuana usage inside the venue; however, some exhibits sell paraphernalia, including: innovative electronic pens and vaporizers.
Ibiza is home to one of Europe’s highest grossing party/nightclub scene for all travelers. Party-goers travel to experience the nightlife, and with that comes the copious amounts of drugs accessible to clubbers. According to The Ibizan, British Tourism makes up ¼ of Ibiza’s Yearly Tourist income, roughly amounting to 245 million euros in 2018; that is not counting the millions of euros spent on illegal drugs. The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction found an “increase in MDMA/ecstasy, amphetamine, and methamphetamine residues between 2011 and 2018” for Spain. Some of the most popular drugs taken in night clubs include cannabis, ketamine, MDMA, GHB, cocaine, and ecstasy. A study was done around British tourists, drug use and sexual behavior cited Ibiza as a “heavily drug-influenced environment… can act as a catalyst to the development of behaviors out of the ordinary” and that 85.7% of British tourists engage in drug use while vacationing at the Spanish island. Due to Ibiza’s notorious drug trafficking community, raids are something of a yearly occurrence. At the time of writing, the latest drug raid happened in June of 2020, involving “100,000 pills of ecstasy, 353 pounds of marijuana, 157 pounds of hash, 2 pounds of ketamine, and 13 pounds of methamphetamine.” The raid, conducted in Barcelona, found that the drugs seized were meant to be shipped and sold in Ibiza, yet this is not anything out of the ordinary for party-drug trafficking in Spain.
Like most of legalized Europe, Spain is home to hundreds of private consumption rooms dedicated to keeping those addicted to harder drugs safe. Consumption Rooms, or Drug Consumption Rooms (DCR), has been funded by Spain’s Ministry of Health since 2000, the first DCR being located in Madrid. The rooms have now been introduced in Barcelona, St. Adrià del Besòs, Bilbao, and Lleida. The DCRs are set in place to give addicts a safe space, access to clean needles, overdose counter-drugs like Narcan, and a way to keep drugs and drug usage off public streets. According to drugconsumptionroom-international.org, Spain’s consumption rooms have been the reason for Spain’s decrease in overdose deaths, from 1,833 in 1991 to 773 in 2008, as well as a decrease in HIV infections among DCR users going from 19.9% in 2004 to 8.2 in 2008
With every passing year, Spain grows more and more accepting of legalization in the public sphere. The Podemos political party, Spain’s left-wing party, is trying to take recreational marijuana into a more lenient scale. Pablo Iglesias, leader of the Podemos party, stated that marijuana should be as easily accessible as “gin or tequila from the supermarket.” As cannabis becomes more accepted in Spain, only time will tell if they will live up to the nickname “new Amsterdam.”