Since democracy arrived in Spain, personal use and possession of cannabis has never been a crime. ‘There is no law that says either you can not use cannabis or you do not have the right to use it.’ said Martin Barriuso, the president of Pannagh and the Federation of Cannabis Clubs in Spain (FAC). However, a lack of concrete drug policies frequently pits authorities against cannabis users.
Let’s take ‘Pannagh Cannabis Club’ since their struggle over cannabis revealed the country’s real democratic maturity and legal (in)competency. Pannagh was legally created by Martin Barriuso and his friends in Bilbao, 2003. By legal, meaning that the location, mission and activities of the association were all went in public file without a shadow of secrecy. But once they launched, they were subject to suspicion of involvement in a criminal organisation, when it was exactly the opposite. ’The club is non profit circuit for cannabis. It is not for commercial purposes. We are not making profit out of it.’ Martin declared.
The ambiguity in laws also caused division in the authority of police forces. ‘Basque police would tolerate us but the local police wanted us to move to a neighboring town, accusing us of giving a bad image to the people. ’ he added.
Another issue was and still is, with carrying cannabis. If you are walking around with a package of cannabis, police has the right to fine you from 300 up to 30,000 Euro. Although your intention is to smoke privately which is allowed by law, you may still get punished -unless you can teleport yourself from one private place to another one without getting into the public zone.-
Finally in 2005, the ongoing tension resulted, however to the detriment of Pannag. The anti-drug prosecutor accused Pannagh of being a part of a “criminal organisation” and a ”drug trafficking offence with outstanding importance”. The prosecution called for fines of up to 1 million euro (1.36 million dollars) and 6 years in prison for club officials and 4 members, including Martin Barriuso. The club was shut down, but the trial is still going on. Catalonia and Basque governments are discussing the decision. In Martin’s words ‘It is hard to defend themselves without formalized laws. Everything is crazy at the moment’.
In the midst of all these, a new proposal of the Citizen Law was made the atmosphere even more ominous. If the law passes, private use of cannabis will be criminalized. ‘Government is open to debate but still very traditional. We are fighting in the middle of the fire and quickly going back to Middle Age mentality’ he said.
Throughout all the difficulties, Martin Barriuso is definitely not alone. They are pursuing their activities under FAC collaborating with FEDCAC, (Federation of Cannabis Clubs in Catalonia), as part of ENCOD, (The European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies) and with a wide international network from other countries.
He remains optimistic for the future of the cannabis associations. ‘Who knows what happens. Years ago no one thought it was achievable. Now we created such an impression that even Uruguay government wants to learn about our model because they see it works’ he added.