Barcelona Social Clubs – A certain future

Last week, one news item in particular was all over the global cannabis media: The unclear future of social clubs in Barcelona. This was prompted by the decision of the Spanish government in Madrid that Catalonia did not have the authority to decide on its own, one might dare to say independently, to regulate its social clubs.

Often, the wording was deliberately vague, stirring up uncertainty and panic: “What’s the deal with the ban? Should I rather not fly to Barcelona this year or now more than ever? Is this perhaps the last opportunity? Will it ever be the same again?” The fatal prediction of the speaker of the Association of Catalan Cannabis Clubs, Eric Arsenio, that a large part of today’s clubs can expect to close eventually, was also often quoted.

This certainly goes back to the lack of information, the unclear legal situation, as well as the divergent interpretation and implementation of the regulations, from which it is impossible to estimate the real impact on tourists. What actually happened and how are the individual clubs reacting to the worrying news so far?

We visited many clubs last week, talked to the operators about the more or less good old days, asked what they have done in their case and how they face future developments.

First changes are already (in)visible

When I enter the GWA Social Club for my interview appointment, after the usual warm welcome in the lobby, that I will come back to later, through the second door into the interior, I immediately notice that the showcase, where dabbing equipment, glass art, basecaps, masks, and other parafinalia are usually presented, had been completely cleared out to counter the accusation of advertising cannabis.

These are the three critical factors that the Spanish government criminalizes: The sale, the promotion and even the consumption. Therefore, according to the Growers With Attitude Club founder Sandro, known as DJ Konfa, they have decided to anticipate a possible control and even completely clear the sales counter and also remove all visible evidence of cannabis consumption. They independently take a step back, in order not to be pushed back by the authorities and, even if no one here would admit it, to signal a certain degree of willingness to cooperate and adaptability.

During his explanations, I let my gaze wander over the walls, which are seamlessly decorated with the breathtaking cannabis themed paintings by the artist Tera Drop, to the only filled display case at the counter, which, on the other hand, is shockingly empty. Here, countless cups, certificates and trophies stand so densely packed that it almost threatens to burst. Even without having to use one of the four languages of our conversation, DJ Konfa recognizes my questioning look and asserts that they want to avoid any visual reference to the trade and promotion of cannabis, but that they drew a line at hiding the trophies aswell. With such success, however, this is more than comprehensible.

Everything was fine, wasn’t it?

Only at the beginning of the year, cannabis tourists had to deal with the plans of the mayor of Amsterdam to open coffee shops only for local residents in the future.

Due to the short stay of the passionate permanent or sometimes just the curious new customers and the literal coffee shop mentality, much larger amounts of cannabis can be turned over in Amsterdam than in the limited circle of club members of a Catalan Associatión. Again, I look around the club and I actually notice that we have been interrupted only a few times in the past hour by members waiting to be served. Hard to imagine, given the long lines that can be observed every weekend in front of the Coffee Shops along Haarlemmerstraat. Amsterdam’s budtenders have to work non-stop. So please forgive them their notorious impatience and short answers. Anyone who has spent an evening near the counter or in the entrance area will have been amazed by the frequency of the couriers having to constantly maintain the stock quantity in the coffee shop of a maximum of 500g with their deliveries.

The news of the alleged imminent closure of the social clubs of Barcelona caused particular concern to some who had already turned their backs on Amsterdam, whether for the lack of atmosphere, the comparatively high prices, or because the model of the Catalans has largely proven to be the most desirable for the growing number of influential legalization advocates from media and politics, who are in doubt about its practicability and could now be confused by the news.

The phenomenon of social clubs in regional, national and world politics

Since this assumption was often voiced for obvious reasons, I also asked the club owners each time whether the sudden revocation of the rules could be utilized as a signal to tourists who, at each supposed end of the pandemic, already pack their bags to come back again. However, this was consistently denied. Taken separately, both issues already pose more than enough challenges for the parliament.

However, the current developments beyond the notorious double doors give the public a very revealing impression of the major role cannabis has now taken in the political debate in the Spanish parliament itself, but especially in its relationship with the Catalan government. The fear of many is that the regulations will now be increasingly linked by both sides to an uncertain and currently unforeseeable independence of Catalonia.

The opposing side, in this case, the people on the opposite side of the table, argue that just such a relevant issue as free individual self-determination, in the form of cannabis consumption and cultivation, would be another reason to finally separate from the Spanish government for good. In a way, cannabis serves the Catalans as an identification and expression of their particular regional culture. It is no coincidence that cannabis plants are watching over the city from the column commemorating the start of Christopher Columbus’ expedition.

If the fronts between the two capital metropolises of Madrid and Barcelona harden again, progress in the regulation of social clubs will also be postponed.

The conversation ends abruptly, DJ Konfa had to move on before I can ask my last questions and inquire about the actual progress of the measures. So I turn to the group of surrounding entrepreneurs, canna content creators and activists to inquire about their impressions. In the course of the day, I got to know another tourist who was a bit worried because of the news, but still had no problems whatsoever to become a member of various clubs.

What did the now overturned regulations mean?

The previous set of rules was created in 2014 and was enforced by the authorities until 2017, or put into practice in cooperation and consultation with the clubs. Its main purpose was to control the number of already over 600 Associatiónes, and their 165000 members, as well as to maintain a minimum distance of 150 meters from surrounding cannabis social clubs, schools and churches.

For this purpose, a virtual net was stretched over the city, which is now completely filled with about 230 officially licensed clubs. Whereas these licenses were initially sold for a few tens of thousands of euros, today the owners are probably paying ten times that amount to the next tenant.

In the interest of the club operators were also the then new regulations, as well as the better legal protection of the distribution, production and transport of cannabis and extracts. Furthermore, it was required that the interior of the club has to be kept hidden from the street by a separate reception area. This provides employees with additional control over entry and security against robbery, but was, according to popular opinion, required primarily to keep minors and conservative tourists from seeing the actions inside, in order to counteract the increasing convergence towards Amsterdams coffeeshop culture.

However, the most of the rules are made up of purely logistical requirements for accessibility, an adequate ventilation system and specifications on statics, room size, rental conditions, sanitary facilities, safe installation of electrical equipment, and so on The reference to these rules was considered a theoretical legal safeguard in the event of an inspection and threatened closure, which now seems to be lost. When asked, however, some club operators assured me that they had long been aware of the questionable legitimacy of the regulations.

I say goodbye to continue the conversation the next day after a relaxing and revitalizing session of ganja yoga with a cup of CBD tea and a CBD joint with activist and cannprenneuse Fahi Shark.

The first rule of the Cannabis Social Club

The current developments are seen as bad news mainly by the kind of clubs that have set up their branches in the region in order to secure a piece of the pie of the seemingly never-ending hype. However, these are also the clubs that, by their affiliation with major brands alone, seem to make no secret of the fact that they would prefer to bring in their business model that is already running successfully in the Netherlands or the USA and merely combine it with the benefits of Catalan regulations.

Since these companies often also run clothing brands, music labels and social media campaigns, their brand name often makes them the first choice for tourists who are either specifically looking for a particular experience for a nice evening out with their friends, or are merely so dazzled by the logos that they mistake a big name, celebrity advertising, and high prices for quality.

It is precisely this type of weekend membership that determines a large proportion of those registered and increasingly blurs the line between guest, member and customer. Although the actual participation in the operation of the association is also limited to a contribution of a financial nature for most of the regular members who live here aswell, the steep admission fees make the targeting of tourists in a spendy vacation mood worthwhile.

Simply Associatión by definition

Another group of cannabis social clubs, which see themselves more as institutions of cannabis culture and meeting places for activists, patients and cannafugees from all over the world and whose success is also clearly evident to anyone from the amount of trophies and competitions won, avoid the practices just described in order to secure themselves in the best possible way. Avoidable risk factors are located in the constant fluctuation of members and the associated communication, registration, ignorance of the rules of conduct in the club, as on the street and being overwhelmed by the unfamiliar quality of the cannabis products offered.

What gives these clubs an almost unfair advantage over the competition and the justice system is that they are real clubs, Associatión by definition, that is, a community of people who come together to share and exchange cannabis and cannabis knowledge. The club is untouchable, so to speak, because at its core it consists of intangible values that a group of people share. This is not tied to real estate, a brand, stock shares or a license.

According to groworganics research, some clubs have even decided to take the radical step of not accepting any more members until the fall of 2021, when the renegotiation of the situation by the Spanish government is expected. Upon further inquiry, most operators expressed general concerns, but have currently decided not only to continue, but to offer members additional incentives and cultural value beyond their cannabis products in the future with glass events, dinner nights, live music and art, and to continue to signal strength, optimism and perseverance.

An unknown problem, with a well known solution

Whether it is actually the international brands whose increased appearance worries the government, or whether it is rather the kind of clubs that have positioned themselves at the complete opposite end of the glamour scale, but are non the less commercially oriented, that are responsible. This surely offers a lot of room for interpretation in current discussions and attempts to blame someone.

The reason for the re-evaluation was the approval of a venting system with an exit to the street instead of the roof, as the previous regulation had provided. In the course of this process, the Spanish government took the opportunity to deny the legality of the entire set of regulations. Catalonia does not have the authority to independently establish regulations for a form of drug trafficking, the reasoning goes.

This formulation alone is seen as an affront to club culture, because no one in the social clubs has anything to do with drug trafficking. On the contrary, they have led to a massive reduction in street dealers, who had previously had a negative impact on the city’s image. A drug law seems conceivably unsuitable to adequately counteract the emergence of potential problems.

The feeling of safety and security that international visitors in particular associate with the social clubs was certainly never shared by the founders and operators. There have been too many sad stories about arbitrary authorities and brutal closures over the past years. That is why I always ask carefully. After all, in my mind’s eye I have the images of raids, battering rams and confiscated plantations. This image is only partly true, as I am taught. In fact, most clubs are rather afraid of a commissioner of the city administration, who checks with a list for so far uncertain parameters and possible illegalities and, if necessary, can order an immediate, temporary closure.

What is the current situation in Barcelona?

To conclude, I would like to summarize again that there is currently no reason to cancel a planned trip to the Costa Brava or the city of Barcelona, within the framework of current regulations to contain the pandemic. Those who previously had the impression that cannabis had long been legal in Barcelona have now been proven wrong. It is just as illegal today throughout Spain as it was five or ten years ago.

The existence of a law and its actual enforcement do not merge in the way that one is used to in other regions of the world. The city of Barcelona will continue to adhere to the social club model. Especially this year, many businesses rely on the social club visitors who peacefully stroll through the city with full wallets and insatiable hunger.

People here like to claim that there are already more grow lights and fertilizer in the Catalan polices evidence room than there are in use in the rest of the country. Hopefully, the fight against the windmills seems to be becoming more and more evident in the government and Guardia Civil circles as well.

Those who arrive respectfully, discreetly and with the necessary attention should still have nothing to fear and will have a great time in Barcelona. Only the Insta-stories of the bulging glasses full of sparkling flowers and the colorful displays, which always exuded a hint of an American dispensary, must be postponed in some places.

This is the status at the time of publication of this article and as soon as new facts emerge, we will inform you. Feel free to follow us on Facebook, Linkedin and Instagram.



1: Eric Arsenio expects all clubs to close eventually:

2: Article in the guardian about the regulations:

3:  Amsterdamer Coffeeshops in Zukunft ohne Touristen:

4: Instagram profile of Grow Organics:

5: Article about the catalan rules by the European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies:

6: Documentation from Vice Magazine about raids in social clubs: