Like Barcelona, Bilbao is Taking Steps to Regulate Cannabis Social Clubs

Published on September 30, 2016 · Last updated August 23, 2022
Guggenheim Museum. Bilbao. Basque Country. Spain. Europe.

Following in Barcelona’s footsteps, the City Council of the Basque city of Bilbao announced this week it will start the process of regulating cannabis social clubs (CSC).

The city is already home to more than a dozen of the nonprofit associations, which supply cannabis to their members and provide safe locations to consume, but local government backing would be a huge step forward—and yet another sign that the Basque region, along with Catalonia, is leading the way on Spanish cannabis reform.

Certain municipal regulation of CSCs is already in place in some smaller cities in the region, such as Saint Sebastian, but progress in Bilbao would be a notable milestone for Basque country. Following major reconstructions in the city, including a spectacular Guggenheim museum building, Bilbao has put itself on the international map in recent years, drawing visitors from all over the world. At the same time, the region has long been an incubator cannabis community activism. The pioneering CSC Kalamudia was the first Spanish association to win in court the right to continue growing three plants for each of its 200 members.

“Bilbao will soon have its own ordinance… with Saint Sebastian’s as a reference!! We must have done some things good, right?”

More recently, the Pannagh CSC in Bilbao has been embroiled in a fight for the recognition of its legality and good faith. It’s an epic struggle that would deserve to be made into a movie. Bilbao traditionally has a high level of drug consumption as well as a strong political consciousness, a breeding ground to many movements for citizens empowerment.

Joseba Del Valle, a reasearcher at the foundation Renovatió who specializes in Basque-region cannabis matters, called the Bilbao City Council’s step “huge.”

“This initiative, as others that will follow, is partly due to a recent judgment of the local High Court of Justice, reaffirming the legality of the municipal ordinance of Saint Sebastian,” said Del Valle, whose group cooperates with the Complutense University of Madrid, the Basque Institute of Criminology, and local parliamentarians.

Iker Val, who co-founded the San Sebastian CSC Ganjazz in 2002, shared similar sentiments on Twitter: “Bilbao will soon have its own ordinance… with Saint Sebastian’s as a reference!! We must have done some things good, right?”

The proposed legislation is aimed at regulating the location of clubs, reducing disturbanced for the neighbors, normalizing health and safety conditions on the premises, and establishing other standardized rules. Unfortunately, however, the proposal doesn’t address the cultivation, harvest, or transportation of cannabis—nor does it weigh in on quality control issues. Why? Because those matters are the prerogative of the national government in Madrid. And while the position in the capital isn’t likely to change anytime soon, Del Valle nevertheless hopes “that all of these local pushes will boost the willingness of our politicians to address the issue at a higher level”.

But despite the legal gray zones that will continue to exist, Bilbao’s regulation will be a small revolution for cannabis social clubs that already exist. Combined with the the regional Law on Addictions adopted this past April, the change should also pave the way for further regulation of the clubs.

Similar to what happened Barcelona, the Bilbao proposal came from new populist political parties that rose to prominence after the “Indignados” demonstrations of 2011. The main difference between the measures is that in Bilbao, the proposal enjoys almost unequivocal and unanimous political support from all political movements. Bilbao’s mayor is a right-wing politician from the Basque nationalist PNV party, but he’s put his full support behind the process. In fact, the regional Law on Addiction was proposed by PNV and widely supported by the opposition. The Partido Popular, the only major party to oppose to the normalization of the cannabis clubs, lost more than 30,000 votes and a seat in the Basque Parliament in the most recent round of elections, on Sept. 25.

Spain is slowly but surely paving the way for cannabis regulation, with local initiatives pulling the country forward. The international prominence of Bilbao, like Barcelona, will likely inspire movements in other cities. Perhaps its success will even reach Bilbao’s twin city: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

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Kenzi Riboulet Zemouli
Kenzi Riboulet Zemouli
Kenzi is a French drug policy reform advocate and researcher at FAAAT (Foundation for an Alternative Approach to Addiction and Substance Dependence) who lives in Barcelona, Spain. He is involved in local campaigns in the Occitania (southern France) and Catalonia (northeastern Spain) regions and is a regular at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs meetings at the United Nations in Vienna and Geneva. He focuses primarily on harm reduction issues as they relate to cannabis and on the cannabis social club model as a health-based approach to cannabis policies.
View Kenzi Riboulet Zemouli's articles
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