September 20, 2018

Regional complexity inhibiting the Spanish cannabis industry

4min read

Last year we examined the state of cannabis clubs in Catalonia. Historically a frontrunner in terms of both medical and recreational cannabis the region has blazed a trail in continental Europe. However, 12 months later, the Spanish government have done little to progress cannabis legislation at a federal level and issues of independence and territorial segregation have taken priority over a national cannabis policy.

Eoin Keenan, Director of Content, Prohibition Partners

Barcelona Skyline, Andrey Kirov

Cannabis consumption and cultivation for recreational or medical use is decriminalised in Spain, providing it is for personal use and in a private place. Sale, importation, purchase, possession and consumption of cannabis in a public place is still illegal however. Spanish law does not distinguish between recreational or medical cannabis, so many patients go to cannabis clubs to obtain and use their medicine, a result of the fact that Spain currently prohibits medical cannabis containing THC.

Spanish Cannabis Industry Regulatory Environment

With its 17 autonomous communities and two autonomous cities, Spain’s medical cannabis laws vary by region. Most of Spain’s regions criminalise some aspects of recreational and medical cannabis, predominantly the use, sale and cultivation of the plant. Many areas of the country, including Andalucia, Catalonia, and the Basque country, have maintained a stable, if not growing number of cannabis social clubs, though this does not represent a fully regulated market.

Actions that are illegal under the Federal Anti-Narcotics Act in Spain include:

  • Sale of cannabis
  • Cultivation of cannabis for purposes other than personal use

Actions that are legal, but sanctioned by fines under the Citizenship Security Act, include:

  • Possession of recreational or medical cannabis
  • Cultivation of cannabis plants for personal use, in spaces viewable to the public
  • Public consumption of cannabis

There have been several failed attempts to implement policies and regulations that allow the possession and consumption of cannabis at a local level. All proposals were issued by city councils or by regional institutions (either local parliaments or regional governments of the autonomous communities), taking advantage of their devolved powers regarding health, public safety, and regulation of non-profit entities. However, almost all initiatives have been ultimately cancelled at the federal level by the central government.

Healthcare Analysis for the Spanish Cannabis Industry

Spanish cannabis industry

In Spain, physicians can prescribe Cesamet (nabilone) and Marinol (dronabinol) against nausea and vomiting in cancer chemotherapy, and Sativex for the treatment of several diseases. However, despite the availability of these cannabis-based medicines, Spain does not support any medical cannabis programmes. Catalonia’s legislation, however, allows medical patients to purchase an unlimited amount of medical cannabis, whereas recreational users have a monthly limit.


By providing patients with the option to tailor their dosage amounts, Catalonia resolved the challenge patients face in other countries with weekly or monthly limits. In these countries, patients with severe conditions or symptoms may be unable to find relief due to their restricted dosage. Cannabis social clubs register as non-profits and charge a “membership fee” to cover the price for the cannabis.

Commercial Opportunities in the Spanish Cannabis Industry

*may not sum due to rounding

The country’s cannabis industry operates in a grey area, giving rise to private cannabis clubs and a thriving micro production industry. Historically, these businesses have influenced policy writing through cooperatives that lobby local government, and it appeared that this might deter international companies. However, the partnership between Canadian cannabis producer, Canopy Growth, and Spanish morphine producer, Alcaliber, for a reported €200 million in March 2018 signals an international interest in the Spanish market.

Local Expertise

In order to understand the complexity of Spain’s cannabis system we spoke to Kenzi Riboulet Zemouli, Head of Research at FAAAT Think & Do Tank in Barcelona.

“Although some legal reform initiatives are ongoing, no amendments to Spain’s legal framework with regard to cannabis are expected in 2018.

As the country hosts important research centres on medical cannabis including the ICEERS (International Centre for Ethnobotanical Education, Research and Service), Fundación Canna and the Spanish Observatory on Medical Cannabis (OECM, Observatorio Español del Cannabis Medicinal), Spain can expect the regulation of medical cannabis in the near future.

In addition, Barcelona hosted the first Cannabmed Congress in December 2016 on the use of medical cannabis with the second Cannabmed Congress held in May 2018. As the country’s knowledge base continues to grow, with patient access and doctor’s organisations rising in numbers, the regulation of medical cannabis could come to fruition in the short to mid term.

In the national Congress, proposals to regulate access and availability of medical cannabis have received broad endorsements from political parties and opinion leaders, and it is likely in the upcoming years that regulations will be eased to help protect patient access or develop a regulated market for medical cannabis. The current political stalemate is expected to pass within the next five years, allowing more space for cannabis law reform on the political agenda.

The Spanish central government is caught in complicated structural difficulties arising from the post-dictatorship democratic transition initiated in the late 1970’s. Territorial questions, as evidenced by recent events in Catalonia, add complexity to cannabis policies. The common tendency of the central government has been to allow the autonomous communities to organise their own local drug policies, which govern the health and law enforcement response to use, possession, distribution, production and processing of cannabis. However, the power of regional reforms is becoming increasingly limited as the centralised Spanish government looks to tighten its control on the governance of regional and municipal institutions.

Cannabis Jars, Time Magazine

The hundreds of existing and new cannabis social clubs maintain an important level of social pressure in the country, and feed a number of umbrella organisations that analyse changing political and public opinions. However, there is unlikely to be any major change to the cannabis club system in Spain in the near future.

For a 2020 review of the cannabis market in Spain, download The European Cannabis Report: 5th Edition.

Regional complexity inhibiting the Spanish cannabis industry

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