For the third year in a row, I spent my summer vacation on the stunningly beautiful island of Tenerife in the eastern Atlantic Ocean. I keep returning for the island’s natural richness, with amazing beaches, dense forests and spectacular mountains, but also — probably the main reason — because of the island's thriving cannabis culture.
Home to nearly 900,000 residents, Tenerife is the biggest and most populous of the seven Canary Islands, a Spanish archipelago located just off the southern coast of Morocco. The island attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists from Europe and North America every year. And thanks to relaxed cannabis laws and the expanding cannabis social club (CSC) movement here, it's poised to lure in even more cannabis connoisseurs.
On the island you can combine near perfect weather, magnificent beaches and great cuisine with tasty locally-grown cannabis, Moroccan “chocolate” hash, or some of the dozens of types of locally produced concentrates. But before you book your flight, let’s find out whether Tenerife really is the perfect place for a marijuana vacation.
Getting Oriented: Cannabis in Tenerife
It took only about three minutes strolling along the beach in the busy tourist area of Los Christianos, a 15-minute drive from the main airport, before I was approached by a local. “Want any weed or Charlie?” he whispered in my ear. I politely declined the offer. Thanks to my local connections and previous experiences, I knew that if I wanted to get my hands on top-quality cannabis, I should look elsewhere. And that means in a professionally run club.
About four years ago, Zuzana, my friend and fellow cannabis enthusiast from the Czech Republic, moved to Tenerife. She now knows every last detail about cannabis on the island. With her help I obtained an invitation to the Asociación Club Medical THC, a cannabis social club that’s operated on Tenerife since 2012. It boasts around 200 members, for whom cannabis is grown indoors and outdoors at several locations.
The location of the club, where the cannabis is distributed to members, could hardly be better. It's right on the picturesque Playa de Troya beach, in a busy tourist area of Las Americas. At first sight, the club looks like any other beach club in the area; it doesn’t have any cannabis signage on the door to attract visitors looking for herbal therapy. “Tourists and random people are not allowed in,” Johann, one of the club’s directors, explains. “The club follows very strict rules in order to avoid any problems with law enforcement.”
There are currently about 50 cannabis social clubs on the island. Just like the clubs throughout mainland Spain, they operate in a gray area due to a lack of legal clarity in Spain’s cannabis laws. Their survival depends mostly on good relationships between operators, members, local police, and officials. That's why Asociación Club Medical THC dispenses cannabis products only to registered members, who must be Tenerife residents. Non-residents aren't even allowed in. Usually.
Luckily, the club made an exception for this Leafly correspondent. The visit started with a guided tour, including the chance to taste locally grown strains from major Dutch and Spanish seedbanks, as well as locally produced BHO concentrates. I particularly enjoyed their wax, with 70 percent THC, and flower of an indica-dominant strain called Appleberry. My summer vacation was on the right trajectory.
The Usual Suspects
Not everything in the garden is rosy, as experience on the island shows. My friend Zuzana and her partner used to operate a grow shop about 10 miles north of the Asociación Club Medical THC, but they had to close it down late last year, even though they sold only legal products such as seeds, smoking accessories, and fertilizers. “A neighboring restaurant did not like us being there,” Zuzana explains. “They were doing everything possible to damage our business, while the Guardia Civil Seprona [the local police] kept sending plainclothes as well as uniformed officers to the shop, accusing us of selling cannabis under the counter and threatening arrest, although we've never done anything illegal.”
With heavy hearts, Zuzana and her boyfriend closed the shop for good in December, and now Zuzana is helping a major Dutch seedbank in its expansion to Spain and other European Union countries. And despite the sometimes accommodating cannabis culture on the island, her encounters with local authorities paint a less-than-friendly picture of Tenerife’s “cannabis paradise.”
“We have been searched and harassed by traffic police many times, even ended up in prison for three days, where I was groped by an old and disgusting officer,” she said. “Now we are waiting for a trial for something we have not done.”
Despite the sweeping vistas and good times to be had, resistance to cannabis runs strong among some on Tenerife. It’s similar to the situations in other seemingly cannabis-friendly countries. If you're smoking a joint and encounter a conservative police offer who’s dead-set on winning the war on drugs, you may have a serious problem. Possession of small amounts will not land you in prison, but it can result in a hefty fine, ranging from a minimum of €300 to a maximum of €30,000 (about $33,000).
On the other hand, when the local police department is sensible and progressive — and some officers are — one can quietly run a wonderful cannabis social club, consume in peace, and enjoy many happy sunsets to come.