While countries and organisations strive for a different approach towards cannabis, consumers are just going ahead by taking matters in their own hands: they start Cannabis Social Clubs (CSC). But what are social clubs and how do they work? Can they exist in a time when local and national authorities are still not willing to change the ridged drug laws?
HISTORY OF CANNABIS SOCIAL CLUBS
The first modern Cannabis Social Clubs had been opened in Spain in 2005 as a concept of the non-government organization ENCOD. ENCOD sees the clubs as a way for legal production and distribution of cannabis. Among the principles of these clubs is that they are strictly non-profit and that the production of cannabis by these clubs can only cover the personal needs of their members.
IN WHICH COUNTRIES DO CANNABIS SOCIAL CLUBS EXIST?
Most Cannabis Social Clubs today are in Spain and in France with the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Slovenia and New Zealand having several as well. Pilots for the establishing of cannabis social clubs are currently underway in Switzerland and the UK.
HOW DO CANNABIS SOCIAL CLUBS WORK?
Cannabis Social Clubs are set up to protect the rights of cannabis consumers and producers and help establish cannabis policies that benefit society as a whole.
Cannabis Social Clubs consist of members, adult citizens who organise the cultivation of a limited amount of cannabis to satisfy their personal needs. Thus a closed circuit is established between producers and consumers, where certain requirements are met concerning health, safety, transparency and accountability.
The concrete form and ways of operating of a Cannabis Social Club depend on the legal, political and cultural standards in the country in which it is established. However, there are some basic principles and attitudes which all Cannabis Social Clubs adhere to and which distinguish them from other kinds of initiatives.
1. Supply follows demand, not vice versa
The production capacity of a CSC is based on the expected level of the consumption of its members. The supply is organised in order to meet the demand of the members, not vice versa.
Cannabis Social Clubs are non-profit associations. The financial benefits that may be obtained by the association and that derive from economic activities, are used to promote the goals of the association, and not distributed among the members. CSC’s aim to generate legal employment and produce goods and services in a taxable way.
Cannabis Social Clubs are legally registered associations. Their internal organisation is democratic and participative. The decision-making body is the Annual General Assembly, to which all members are invited to attend. Each member has one vote. On the AG, a narrative and financial report of the activities of the association in the preceding year should be presented and approved, as well as a plan for the following year. CSC’s maintain a record of their activities, which is easily consultable by members, other CSC’s or authorities. This includes financial accountability, an (anonymized) registration of members and their consumption, and an (anonymized) registration of production.
4. Public health oriented
Cannabis Social Clubs only use methods of cultivation that meet the standards of organic agriculture. They develop an effective policy of prevention of problematic use of cannabis and promote safe and responsible use. This includes providing members with factual information on cannabis/hemp. They elaborate research into health aspects of the cannabis that they produce and inform their members on the results of this research.
5. Open to dialogue with authorities
Cannabis Social Clubs are willing to engage in any kind of dialogue with authorities, and implement an active policy to invite authorities to this dialogue.
WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES OF A CANNABIS SOCIAL CLUB?
Cannabis Social Clubs have many advantages but the biggest is that they provide safety since they do away with the need to obtain cannabis on the black market. As a result of the entire process from seed to harvest under the eyes of the club, this means also there is no low quality, stretched or laced products and no high prices. Many of the clubs also provide jobs along with a variety of goods or services, all of course entirely legal.
The beneficial social aspect of these clubs cannot be understated as well. The clubs educate and advise members and the public on safe cannabis use.
CAN ANYONE BECOME A MEMBER?
The requirements for becoming a member in a cannabis social club can vary. Sometimes, you cannot simply sign-up and request a membership at a club since another member will need to endorse you. While this is normally the best way to go about it to become a member, not all is lost should you not have a friend in a club in your area. Some cannabis clubs can have websites with information about their specific requirements if you want to join, with many of them providing an online application. It can be a good idea if you check out the club(s) in your area on the internet first. Many clubs today have facebook pages where you can request an invitation when you send them a message.
Most cannabis social clubs have a strict “no guests” policy that means if you plan to go there you shouldn’t bring anyone with you, unless the one is a member already or is going to become one.
The fee for the club can also vary, depending on the quality of the club. Average fees in Barcelona are between €20-€50 per year. Know that you should absolutely and at all times carry an ID with you when you visit a cannabis social club.
ARE THEY LEGAL?
As is so often the case when it comes to the law in regards to cannabis, the answers here are often floating in a grey zone and anything but conclusive. For example, there are more than 500 clubs in Spain today and while various courts have testified to the legality of these clubs, the chairman of one very old club is now persecuted and accused of drug trafficking. If the Spanish courts are trying to form a precedent in this one case, it sure would spell bad news for many other clubs in the nation.
Likewise, the laws in particular when it comes to cannabis can be changing at a fast pace so that what had been legal (or illegal) yesterday isn’t necessarily so next month.
In other countries, the situation is not better but also not that much worse. For example, those interested in establishing cannabis clubs in the United Kingdom find themselves in a somewhat bizarre situation seeing that forming such a club would be entirely legal but growing cannabis and distributing it isn’t. This of course poses a variety of problems. On the other hand, there are currently many efforts in the UK to get many cannabis social clubs established with many of them already operating but of course they are closely monitored.