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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.

Cannabis use will be legal for medical purposes in Switzerland. (Photo by JOEL SAGET/AFP)
Cannabis use will be legal for medical purposes in Switzerland. (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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For members

UNDERSTANDING SPAIN

Why does tap water taste strange in some parts of Spain?

If you live in Spain or spend time here, you've probably noticed that the tap water tastes pretty bad in some parts of the country. Why is that? And where in Spain is the best (and worst) tap water?

Why does tap water taste strange in some parts of Spain?

A common query of foreign tourists abroad is ‘can I drink the tap water here?’.

Often these kinds of instincts come from memories of over-protective parents on summer holidays, but fortunately for us it isn’t really a relevant one in Spain.

Despite what some overly cautious people might say, at least 99.5 percent of Spain’s water supply is safe to drink, according to the Spanish Ministry of Health.

In Spain there are over 1,200 dams and 100,000 kilometres of distribution network that supplies tap water across the country.

And it is heavily regulated and tested, experts say. According to the director general of the Spanish Association of Water Supply and Sanitation (AEAS) Fernando Morcillo, “it [water] is the food product that passes the most controls.”

Spanish tap water is, simply put, perfectly safe to drink and heavily tested.

READ ALSO: Drought forces water use rethink in Spain

The taste

Reassuring though it is that Spanish tap water is entirely drinkable and regularly tested, it doesn’t change the fact that there can be great variation in the taste depending where exactly in the country you are. 

So, why does the tap water taste a little strange in some parts of Spain when it should be odourless and tasteless? 

Speaking in general terms, water is collected locally in dams and swamps, and then filtered, chlorinated, and transported to wherever it is going before coming out of our taps.

The local geography of this process – that is, not only where you live but where your water is collected and where it passes through on its way – can have a big impact on how it tastes at the other end.

Water treatment also contributes to making it a ‘heavy’ tap water with hints of chlorine, and when it comes to desalinated seawater, leftover magnesium and sodium are common.

If you ask many Spaniards, they’ll tell you that the tap water is ‘bad’ or worse on the coast.

Tap water in places like Valencia, Alicante and Málaga usually has a chemical odour and taste and many locals prefer bottled water.

Why is that? After the filtering process, water on the way to the coast can pick up more sediment and chemicals. The taste of tap water has a lot to do with the terrain it is collected in and the type of earth and rock it passes through on the way to your house.

Let’s take the tap water in Catalonia, for example, which comes from one of two main sources: the river Ter and the river Llobregat.

The Ter has low levels of contamination, but the Llobregat does not. Therefore, if you drink water somewhere on the banks of Llobregat, it will have more of a noticeable chemical flavour than water from the Lobregat. 

Many people who live in Madrid swear they have the best tap water in Spain. Although not quite the best in the country, Madrileños are right that it’s better than most and it comes down to where the water passes through.

Unlike in Catalonia, Madrid’s Sierra de Guadarrama has an advantage over other areas because the stone is mostly made up of granite, which better facilitates the filtration of minerals.

tap water safe spain

Despite what some overly cautious people might say, at least 99.5 percent of Spain’s water supply is safe to drink, according to the Spanish Ministry of Health. Photo: Kaboompics/Pixabay.

Where the predominant rock in the earth is more calcareous, it will generally taste worse, since limestone is soluble and produces a very ‘hard water’ that doesn’t taste as good. That’s why the tap water in areas such as Alicante, Valencia and Murcia has a worse flavour, plus the fact that they are all coastal areas.

Talking in very general terms, if you were to draw an imaginary line that ran from Andorra diagonally across Spain all the way down to Cádiz, the ‘soft’ or better tasting tap waters will be the north of the line and the ‘harder’ waters the south and east of the line.

There are some exceptions, of course, depending on local geography and filtration processes. 

The best and worst

Spain’s consumer watchdog, the Organisation of Consumers and Users (OCU), took samples of the tap water in 62 municipalities across Spain and had them analysed for their degree of mineralization and ‘hardness’, their hygienic quality, and level of possible contaminants. They then produced a report ranking the results

So, where in Spain has the best quality tap water and which has the worst?

The best

Despite what many Madrileños will tell you, Spain’s best tap water isn’t in Madrid. According to the OCU’s testing, the highest quality tap water in Spain was found in:

  • Burgos – Tap water in the northern Castile and León municipality had very few minerals, no lime no contaminants of any kind.
  • San Sebastián – Another northern area, San Sebastian in Basque Country has water with very light mineralization and is excellent in all hygiene and pollution parameters.
  • Las Palmas – Surprisingly, despite being on an island, Las Palmas de Canarias snuck into the top three.

Generally speaking, and as outlined above, the broader Levant coastal area, as well as the Spanish islands, are generally the areas where locals say the tap water isn’t quite as good.

The worst

And what about the worst?

  • Lebanza – In Lebanza, Palencia, the OCU found the presence of E. Coli, an indicator of fecal and recent contamination, and was generally found to have a very poor water quality.
  • Ciudad Real: Tap water in the Castilla-La-Mancha city had traces of trihalomethanes, a substance that comes from the combination of chlorine with the organic matter of water during water purification. 
  • Palma de Mallorca: Hardly surprising as it’s an island, but the water in Palma de Mallorca proved to very hard and very mineralized, which gives a bad taste. The most worrying thing, though, was that the OCU’s testing found that it contained 26 mg/litre of nitrates. Inside the stomach, nitrates are transformed into nitrites, which can cause serious health problems for children.
  • Barcelona, Huelva and Logroño: all cities on or close to the coast, the OCU found a high presence of aerobic microorganisms in the water in all three.
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