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LIFE IN SPAIN

What’s the law on cannabis in Spain?

Laidback social attitudes lead many to assume that smoking cannabis is legal in Spain, but the truth is far more complicated. The Local looks into the law, legal loopholes, and potential consequences for wrongdoers.

What's the law on cannabis in Spain?
Is it legal or illegal? That is the question when it comes to smoking marihuana in Spain. (Photo by JOEL SAGET/AFP)

Anyone who has spent time in a Spanish city will be familiar with the pungent smell of cannabis or hashish wafting through the warm night air. Some Spaniards smoke it on the beach, at the park, outside bars, from their balconies, or even walking down the street. 

Simply put, some Spaniards love smoking as much as they love sipping on a caña. In fact, Spaniards are some of the heaviest cannabis smokers in the EU, tied for first place with the French. 

According to a Stastica survey released last year, 11 percent of Spaniards have (admitted) to smoking cannabis or hashish in the last twelve months.

That’s a higher proportion of the population than countries synonymous with weed culture, like the Netherlands (9.6 percent), and significantly higher than the U.K. (7.1 percent) Ireland (7.7 percent) and Germany (7.1 percent). Other European countries with a significant stoner culture include Italy (10.2 percent) and Croatia (10.2 percent).

Spanish high streets are increasingly filled with CBD shops. Most Spanish cities and towns have weed ‘associations’ where members can buy and consume cannabis on the property, and Spain is also a major hotspot, or throughway, for the importation of hashish and cannabis from North Africa into Europe. 

As the Netherlands increases regulation of its famous coffee shops, the feeling among many stoners is that Spain, particularly Barcelona, is the ‘New Amsterdam’ as more and more associations open and Spain increases its offerings in the weed tourism market despite recent legal challenges. 

You’d be forgiven for thinking that weed is completely legal in Spain, but the truth is far from that. The Local has broken down the law, the rules, the many legal grey areas, and the potential consequences of falling foul of the law. 

Around one in ten people in Spain has smoked dope in the last 12 months. But that doesn’t mean they can light up wherever they want. (Photo by PETER PARKS / AFP)

The law

Although there is some confusion among tourists, cannabis use in Spain is not legalised but decriminalised. It is not illegal to smoke weed in your own home, or on other private property such as an association. Attitudes to personal consumption are relatively lax in Spain, generally speaking, given that it is done on private property.

Simply put: Spanish weed laws make the distinction between personal consumption in public and personal consumption in private. Many foreigners don’t realise that it is illegal to smoke in public, and you may see locals and tourists smoking on a park bench or down on the beach, but this is illegal and, if you’re caught, punishable by fines. You’ll also have your stash seized by the police.

In fact, even possession in public is illegal. So if you are stopped by the police for whatever reason and are carrying some with you, but not smoking it, you could be subject to a fine and will at the very least have your stash taken.

Buying and selling

It is illegal to buy, sell, or import cannabis in Spain and all are potentially punishable by time in prison.

It is, however, legal to buy and sell seeds and smoking paraphernalia. 

Growing

It is legal, however, to grow your own cannabis plants on private property as long as they are – for some unexplainable quirk of the Spanish legal system – out of view. There’s a limit of two plants per household. 

Visitor look at products of a stand at the Spannabis Cannabis Fair in Cornellá, near Barcelona. The fair is a smorgasbord of stalls with products for smoking and cultivating cannabis. (Photo by Josep Lago / AFP)

Cannabis clubs and associations

One legal loophole that exists in Spain is that of its famous ‘asociaciones cannabicos’. These are private member’s clubs where you can buy and consume cannabis within the confines of the property.

In order to join, often you’ll have to be introduced by a current member, and pay a membership fee. These clubs operate somewhat similarly to coffee shops in Amsterdam, or dispensaries in the United States, in that you enter and there’s staff working who can explain and recommend the different strains, types, and prices on offer.

Cannabis clubs are usually set up to be like bars with music, and often have pool and foosball tables. It is worth noting, however, that these clubs are occasionally subject to seizure by police who try to exploit the legal grey area to their own advantage, and in Catalonia – the capital of cannabis clubs in Spain, where 70% of Spain’s clubs are located – Catalonia’s Superior Court recently ruled against them.

There the courts are trying to close the legal loophole by overturning a 2016 regulation approved by the Barcelona City Council permitting the clubs to operate in the city. It is believed appeals are in process.

Medical cannabis

Spain produces a lot of medical cannabis, but not for Spaniards. Medical Plants S.L.U – a subsidiary of a big Spanish agricultural company – are just one of several growers legally approved by the Spanish government to cultivate and export cannabis for medicinal purposes in other countries.

In Spain, there are still no fully-formed medicinal cannabis laws. Like in the UK, it is technically possible to get your hands on some legal, medicinal weed, but this is incredibly difficult and just a handful of prescriptions have been given out. In Spain, the very few prescriptions that are written are usually for nasal sprays.

There are no official laws on medical marihuana in Spain yet. Photo: Lluis Gené/AFP

CBD

Go to any big city in Spain and you’ll have probably seen CBD shops. CBD products are not illegal provided the product contains less than 0,2% of THC, the psychoactive component in weed that makes you feel ‘high’.

The future

As some court systems fight back against cannabis use and clubs, there’s also a burgeoning legalisation movement in Spain. It is, of course, very political. Last year the governing party, PSOE, voted against a motion introduced by minor left-wing party Más País (and supported by its junior coalition partner Unidas Podemos) to legalise recreational use. 

PSOE supports research into medicinal use, but are against fully-legalised recreational use.

This aligned PSOE with both PP and far-right Vox in the vote, and with a general election looming that the right seem poised to win, it seems the Spanish legalisation movement – whether medicinally or recreationally – has years to go before achieving its objective. 

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LIFE IN SPAIN

Does Spain have a dog poo problem?

Many foreigners in Spain complain that the streets are full of dog faeces, but is that actually true and what, if anything, is being done to address it?

Does Spain have a dog poo problem?

Spain is a nation of dog lovers.

According to the country’s National Institute of Statistics (INE), 40 percent of Spanish households have a dog.

In fact, believe it or not, the Spanish have more dogs than they do children.

While there are a little over 6 million children under the age of 14 in Spain, there are over 7 million registered dogs in the country. 

But one bugbear of many foreigners in Spain is that there’s often a lot of dog mess in the streets, squares and parks.

The latest estimates suggest it’s as much as 675,000 tonnes of doodoo that has to be cleaned up every year in Spain.

Many dog owners in Spain carry around a bottle of water mixed with detergent or vinegar to clean up their dog’s urine and small plastic bags to pick up number twos.

And yet, many owners seem to either turn a blind eye to their pooches’ poo or somehow miss that their pets have just pooed, judging by the frequency with which dog sh*t smears Spanish pavements. 

So how true is it that Spain has a dog poo problem? Is there actually more dog mess in Spain than in other countries, and if not, why does it seem that way?

One contextual factor worth considering when understanding the quantity of caca in Spain’s calles is how Spaniards themselves actually live.

When one remembers that Spaniards mostly live in apartments without their own gardens, it becomes less surprising that it feels as though there’s a lot of dog mess in the streets. Whereas around 87 percent of households in Britain have a garden, the number in Spain is below 30 percent.

Simply put, a nation of dog lovers without gardens could mean more mess in the streets. 

Whereas Britons often just let their dogs out into their garden to do their business, or when they can’t be bothered to take them for a walk even, Spaniards have to take them out into the street, unless they’re okay with their pooches soiling their homes. 

There aren’t many dog-friendly beaches in Spain, and the fact that on those that do exist, some owners don’t clean up their dogs’ mess, doesn’t strengthen the case for more ‘playas para perros‘ to be added. (Photo by JOSE JORDAN / STR / AFP)

Doggy dirt left in the streets is most certainly not a Spain-specific problem either, but rather an urban one found around the world.

In recent years, there have been complaints about the sheer abundance of canine faecal matter left in public spaces in Paris, Naples, Rome, Jerusalem, Glasgow, Toronto, London, San Francisco and so on.

READ ALSO: Why do some Spanish homes have bottles of water outside their door?

Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a worldwide study to shed light on which cities and countries have the biggest ‘poo-blem’, with the available investigations mainly centred on individual nations, such as this one by Protect my Paws in the US and UK

And while it may be more noticeable in Spain than in some countries, it doesn’t mean the Spanish are doing nothing about it.

In fact, Barcelona has been named the third best city in Europe for dealing with the problem, according to a study by pet brand Tails.com.

Although Barcelona’s score of 53/80 was significantly lower than many British cities (Newcastle scored 68/80 and Manchester 66/80, for example) its hefty fines of 1,500 for dog owners caught not cleaning up after their canine friends might be a reason. 

And some parts of Spain take it even more seriously than that.

In many Spanish regions doggy databases have been created to catch the culprits. Over 35 Spanish municipalities require dog owners to register their pets’ saliva or blood sample on a genetic database so they can be traced and fined, if necessary. 

In Madrid, you are twice as likely to come across someone walking a dog than with a baby’s stroller. (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO / AFP)

This DNA trick started earlier in Spain than in many other countries; the town of Brunete outside of Madrid kicked off the trend in 2013 by mailing the ‘forgotten’ poo to neglectful owners’ addresses. Some municipalities have also hired detectives to catch wrongdoers.

So it’s not as if dog poo doesn’t bother Spaniards, with a 2021 survey by consumer watchdog OCU finding that it’s the type of dirt or litter found in the streets than bothers most people.

READ ALSO: Clean or dirty? How does your city rank on Spain’s cleanliness scale? 

It’s therefore not a part of Spanish culture not to clean up after dogs, but rather a combination of Spain’s propensity for outdoor and urban living, the sheer number of dogs, and of course the lack of civic duty on the part of a select few. Every country has them. 

On a final note, not all dog owners in Spain who don’t clean up after their pooches can be blamed for doing it deliberately, but it’s certainly true that looking at one’s phone rather than interacting with your dog, or walking with your dog off the leash (also illegal except for in designated areas) isn’t going to help you spot when your pooch has done its business.

Article by Conor Faulkner and Alex Dunham

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