Cannabis Reform in Spain Remains in Limbo

Spain Cannabis LawyerIn Marijuana in Spain: Our on the Ground Report, I wrote how Spain is one of (if not THE) the most marijuana-friendly countries in Europe. We have more than 800 private cannabis clubs here, most of which are concentrated in the northern autonomous regions of Catalonia (where I am based) and the Basque Country. In Barcelona alone, Catalonia’s capitol city and where I am located, we have more than 200 cannabis clubs. The regional governments of Catalonia and the Basque Country generally tolerate the existence of such clubs, and cities including Barcelona and Bilbao have taken steps towards sanctioning legal cannabis.

But Spain’s national laws are not so permissive as the central government does not want to allow autonomous regions to enact regulations invading its legislative powers. This limits the capacity of an autonomous region such as Catalonia to enact cannabis laws contradicting a law enacted by the central government.

On the national level, Spanish law currently permits private cannabis consumption and cultivation for personal use, but prohibits selling or cultivating marijuana for the purpose of “trafficking.” Private cannabis clubs are ostensibly allowed because they charge a membership fee but do not directly sell marijuana to their members or to the public. That, however, has not stopped authorities from arresting club operators with large scale cultivation operations who were deemed to be “trafficking.”  Spain’s fuzzy legal framework and the conflict between its national and local policies has created significant legal uncertainty for the cannabis community and has inspired a movement towards legislative reform.

To this end, advocates for change to Spain’s marijuana laws united under the banner of the Responsible Regulation platform in 2014. Made up of multiple Spanish political parties and interest groups, this coalition advocates for reforms that would allow adults 21 years and older to obtain and consume cannabis safely and legally. Unfortunately, efforts have stalled due to the governing party being hostile to such regulation, and deep political gridlock that has persisted in Spain for nearly a year. Spain’s 2015 general elections failed to produce a majority sufficient to form a coalition government. There was still no final outcome even many months later and after a second round of elections in June 2016, and many feared a third round of elections would be necessary in December of this year to end the electoral impasse.

In the meantime Spain was ruled by acting President Mariano Rajoy of the center-right People’s Party. Both Rajoy (who was initially sworn in as Prime Minister in 2011) and his party oppose progressive marijuana reforms. Indeterminate election results in 2016 caused much confusion and brought into play the potential of a third round of elections. An October poll showed that an alliance with the pro-cannabis reform Ciudadanos party was the easiest way for the People’s Party to obtain the votes needed to form a coalition government in the third round. Contemporary reports predicted the Socialists party (PSOE) would preemptively throw its support behind the People’s Party to keep its seat at the table in the Spanish Parliament. PSOE does not advocate marijuana legalization but it does at least support reopening debate on the issue. Either party’s increased political clout could have created an opening for the Responsible Regulation platform to make headway or at least prevent national encroachment on regional progress.

Eventually, however, PSOE stood down and allowed Rajoy to form a governing coalition. On October 29, Rajoy became President.

It remains to be seen what ultimate impact this new political panorama will have on the autonomous regions, their political and regulatory aspirations, and the future of cannabis in Spain. We remain optimistic about the potential of the Catalonia and Basque cannabis markets and we will bring you any further cannabis updates as they develop.