Thu, Dec 30, 2010 - Page 6 News List

Madrid marijuana clubs exploit gaps in law to spark up

The Guardian, MADRID

The sign on the door says it all, but the acrid smell and smoke wafting across the Private Cannabis Club in the Madrid dormitory town of Paraceullos de Jarama are proof that it lives up to its name.

“This is the one place we can smoke in peace,” a punter said at the bar, mixing tobacco and dried, shredded cannabis leaf in a long rolling paper.

The Private Cannabis Club, with its palmate green leaves stenciled on the walls and the club’s name etched on smoked windowpanes, is at the vanguard of a new movement of pro--cannabis campaigners in Spain. The members spotted a gap in Spain’s drugs laws which, they say, makes the activities of private clubs like these entirely legal.

The spacious Paracuellos de Jarama club, in a former restaurant in a town overlooking Madrid’s Barajas airport, is equipped with a bar, kitchen, billiard tables and TV screens. It is the most sophisticated of up to 40 cannabis clubs that have sprung up in garages and back rooms around Spain since campaigners worked out that laws making it illegal to consume in public did not apply to private, member-only, clubs.

“We’ve been open for two months and we already have 125 members,” said the association’s president, Pedro Alvaro Zamora.

Those members pay 120 euros (US$157) a year to belong and Zamora and his companions follow rules that seem similar to those of exclusive clubs anywhere. A sign by the doorbell warns that only members are admitted and a committee vets new applicants, blackballing some.

“Our members have to be responsible people, have the right profile,” said Alicia Mendez, a club official.

“This is not Amsterdam, this is not a coffee shop,” Zamora said.

Spain does not have a law banning consumption in private and members claim it is safer to use the club than go out to parks and smoke in public.

“We propose a responsible form of consumption. It is illegal to buy, sell or transport, so you can be fined if caught with it on you,” Zamora said.

The club offers legal help to fined members.

Supplying the club is another problem, as dealing in cannabis is illegal.

“We are fighting for the legal right to grow it,” Zamora said.

The club applied for a medical licence to cultivate cannabis, but was turned down. Then police raided its secret plantation and destroyed the plants. Zamora said they would challenge in court the right to destroy a plantation devoted to supplying a private club.

“We are people who work and pay taxes. We are not delinquents,” Zamora said.

Some judges have ordered police to give confiscated cannabis back to clubs.

“They have told them to return it on the basis that there is no threat to public health,” Zamora said.

The club also campaigns on laws.

“Cannabis has been consumed for centuries and will continue to be ... for centuries. Prohibition creates an illegal market and all that brings with it. It’s better to educate people than spend money on prohibition that fails,” Zamora said.

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