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Spain explores a legal outlet for cannabis


When it sounded in the discos, the chorus unleashed strange convulsions, jumps of euphoria, out-of-tune choruses: “Legalization!” Ska-p’s song was heard for a long time, but the institutions listened to a letter that called for “cheap and quality cannabis” and, above all, the end of prohibition.

Fifteen years after the success of Ska-p, cannabis is once again knocking on the door in search of legal status. It seems an eternal and unsolvable debate. But something is moving. At the initiative of the PNV, Congress will work on a proposal to regulate the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes. In parallel, in recent days three parties (Podemos, Más País and ERC) have presented bills for a comprehensive regulation, which also includes recreational use.

The 90% of the population supports the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes, according to the CIS. More than 70 countries have already done so. We’re late. It is imperative to move forward. Cannabis has anti-inflammatory properties, is a muscle relaxant, helps with nausea and vomiting, is effective with chronic pain and, above all, with the side effects of chemotherapy ”, explains Joan Carles March, professor at the Andalusian School of Health Public (EASP). March believes that, for the debate to take hold, we must focus on prevention and not hide the risks despite the fact that, in his opinion, they are less than the benefits: “Aspirating smoke favors the appearance of bronchitis or emphysema; In some people, cannabis increases mental health problems; its chronic use can have effects on memory or learning ”, he summarizes.

The road does not seem easy. The key is held by the PSOE, which sticks to the congressional subcommittee and the medical field and conditions its support to the fact that there is evidence. In March, the Minister of Health, Carolina Darias, said that the Government needs “scientific evidence” obtained with a “clinical trial.” But José Carlos Bouso, a doctor of pharmacology specializing in the therapeutic properties of cannabis, believes that the minister misses the point. “Cannabis improves the quality of life for many patients, which is the most subjective aspect of a disease. It is key in chronic pain. It has been shown to be safer and has fewer side effects than many medications. And the risks have been presented so disproportionately that they have not prevented consumption; on the contrary, they have provoked disbelief in the population. ”

Bouso believes that a law“ will reduce the risks associated ”with the consumption of patients, who now access cannabis through the black market,“ from stigmatized, hidden ”. March adds that a regulated market will avoid adulterated drugs: “There are sellers who add oregano, detergents or perfumes to make it more attractive,” explains the professor, who categorically rejects one of the arguments of the prohibitionists: legalizing cannabis will increase its consumption. “When a substance is illegal, it generates more desire to try it, especially among young people.” In Colorado (USA), with a law of 2014, studies indicate that the figures have remained stable among adolescents and youths.

Uno de los dispensarios de cannabis en Denver (Colorado).
One of the cannabis dispensaries in Denver (Colorado). Ana Nance

Spain banned the cultivation, production and sale of cannabis in 1967, six years after the The United Nations convention on narcotic drugs will include it in “list IV” along with the most harmful drugs, such as heroin. Last December, he took them out of there and recognized their medicinal properties. It is, in any case, the most widely used illegal drug. The 37, 5% of the Spanish population He has tried it at some point in his life, according to the EDADES de Sanidad survey. In 1995, that percentage was just the 14, 5%, which “shows that the prohibition has not slowed down consumption”. Proposal of the law of Más País, very similar in essence to those of Podemos and ERC in that they provide three access routes: self-cultivation, cannabis clubs and the regulated market.

Professionals who They have been pushing, for decades, to bring cannabis to legal territory, they believe that it is time. And they are loaded with reasons. “We cannot continue like this. If we want to protect health, with a law we make it difficult for minors to access and control the quality of the product. If we want to prevent criminal groups from controlling the black market, with a law we reduce their power ”, summarizes Martí Cànaves, a lawyer specialized in the sector. Ana Afuera, from the confederation that groups together cannabis associations (Confac) sees with hope that the debate will reach Congress and can prosper. But he thinks that it is necessary to “reach a great social and political consensus” so that everyone “feels comfortable.” “It cannot be an open bar or a total ban, we cannot trivialize or demonize consumption. We have to show that we serve to reduce risks and drug trafficking, “says Afuera as a condition for a PSOE so far reluctant to open up to dialogue. Last September, the Senate refused to pass a law to regulate cannabis consumer clubs with the votes against the PSOE, PP and Vox.

If in the medicinal use many countries – also European, like Portugal or Italy – they have already taken a step forward and Spain is left behind, in the recreational field there is still time to be counted in the leading group. Uruguay was the pioneer, followed by Canada and various states of the United States, while Mexico is already on that path. With the PP and Vox radically against, the key is the socialists, they insist on the sector. “Inside the house, the PSOE tells us that it supports us. But then it is pending the political cost and ends up being the great obstacle ”, says David Rabé, a historical activist for legalization who promoted a debate in the Balearic Parliament. Rabé is in favor of vetoing the access of tourists to the clubs to avoid another of the associated risks: that the regulation attracts a certain “cannabis tourism”.

The trauma of the eighties

Only the 47% of citizens, according to the CIS, approve the comprehensive regulation, although that percentage increases among young people, recalls Más País. But the reason for the resistance to lifting the veto on cannabis goes beyond the analysis of surveys or electoral calculation. “We have not overcome the collective trauma that was, in the eighties, the problem of drugs and heroin in particular. There is no government that wants to deal with that ghost, ”says Juan Carlos Usó, historian and author, among others, of Drugs and mass culture . Usó adds that the association of cannabis with certain areas of “the counterculture” has not helped to give it the status enjoyed by alcohol or tobacco in more conservative settings. Due to its proximity to Morocco (a historic producing center), Spain has had a special relationship with cannabis, as reflected in allusions in the works of Rafael Sánchez Ferlosio, Camilo José Cela or the Goytisolo brothers, the historian says. In the press, he adds, “it has always been a discredited drug, of poor people and Moors. The cartel never had a pretty drug, like cocaine. ”

The parties’ proposals, which are very detailed – they include indications on labeling, controls, taxes – differ in important details. That of Podemos, for example, provides a specific and different law for therapeutic uses and raises legal consumption in the private sphere, but not in the street. But they agree on the nuclear issue, which are the three ways to legally access cannabis: self-cultivation (with a certain maximum of plants or kilos, which causes doubts in the sector), the cannabis association (which would thus emerge from legal limbo in which he is, with criminal consequences for those responsible); and the regulated market, that is, the sale in authorized establishments. ERC proposes that this distribution be made only by pharmacies, “a model similar to that of Uruguay, which has not finished working because a very low price was set, of one dollar per gram, and did not leave room for private initiative,” he explains. Constanza Sánchez, doctor in international law from the ICEERS Foundation.

Fumada colectiva de porros en Madrid, a principios de los años noventa.
Collective joint smoking in Madrid, at the beginning of the nineties. Eulogio Martín Castellanos

Specialist in drug policy and its international regulation, Sánchez believes that “none of the models “Now in force (the Uruguayan, Canadian and various US states) is” suitable “for Spain. He believes, however, that a “hybrid” of the three proposals that have been registered in Congress would be a good option. Although she is in favor of a single comprehensive law – she worked on a draft for Podemos two years ago – Sánchez sees the order in which the debate has reached Spain as striking. “In the rest of the world, first it has started with medicinal regulation and then recreational use has been added.” “It is interesting that it is raised as one more issue of public policy,” adds Sánchez, who asks to turn the page to a stage in which talking about regulation was taboo due to “the trauma of heroin.”

Export marijuana, import crime

The paradox is that, while lags behind in regulation, Spain, a country with abundant sunshine and an ideal climate for plantations, leads the illegal industry: much of the cannabis consumed in Europe is grown here. Ramon Chacón sums it up eloquently: “We are the number one exporting marijuana, but we also import organized crime.” social fabric. Every year there are more than 13. 13 arrested for cannabis-related offenses. In 2019 1.5 million plants were seized, a 738% more than six years before: Catalonia leads (described in police reports as “the epicenter of the illegal marijuana market in Europe”), followed by Andalusia and the Valencian Community. The cannabis boom has other consequences. The struggles between increasingly armed groups “result in violent robberies and deaths,” says Chacón, who warns that marijuana is far from being just a police problem. His economic power, he points out, gives wings to corruption: in the investigations, more and more policemen appear bought with the gigantic illegal marijuana business. According to Europol, Europeans spend every year 15. 13 million euros in the purchase of drugs. The 39% of that money goes to cannabis .

Police sources indicate that the current scenario is the worst possible: the Penal Code does not punish marijuana trafficking as harshly as cocaine or heroin (considered by the Supreme Court as substances that cause serious harm to health) and, therefore, there is less fear of the criminal consequences of engaging in that business. The strategy, they agree, is flawed. One of the great arguments of the supporters of regulation is that it would lead to a decrease in crime. Police sources question it because it depends on many factors; for example, that there is a competitive legal price. Although there are no international experiences that support one or the other thesis, a study by the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB) concludes that the regulation would reduce its market share to the 15%.

The UAB study analyzes the impact economic of a possible regulation: with a turnover of 8. 500 million euros per year, the new industry would create 100. 13 direct jobs. A sweet business in which it will be necessary to see, they warn in the sector, how large companies and small growers share the roles. There is another fact that the registered proposals brought to Congress highlight: the activity would generate more than 3. 300 millions a year with the new sales taxes. Podemos, Más País and ERC foresee the creation of a special tax, similar to that of tobacco. A substance, recall those who push for regulation, that without having ever shown positive or therapeutic effects, it placidly enjoys the benefits of legality.