Spanish law puts individual privacy rights over drug control concerns, which means that people can grow and smoke whatever they want in the privacy of their own homes, and other privately-owned spaces.
Spanish pro-cannabis activists have been taking advantage of this policy to promote a “grow-your-own-stone” campaign.
Although this right has recently been dealt a blow by the Spanish Supreme Court, most activists believe that the seeds of change have already been sown, and are preparing more of the same for next season.
Planting against prohibition
Outlawed or not, cannabis is flourishing under the generous Spanish sun, as the number of Spanish individuals practicing its cultivation grows steadily towards critical mass.
“We’re teaching people to break their dependency on the black market while experiencing the joys of self-sufficiency. All smokers should be doing it? and with our help many of them are!” So excalims Felipe Borrallo, president of Spain’s largest pro-cannabis association, the Barcelona-based Ram?n Santos Association for Cannabis Studies (ARSEC in its Spanish acronym).
Borrallo is one of the chief strategic planners of the ongoing “Ante la prohibici?n, me planto” campaign, a play on words meaning both to plant and to take a stand against cannabis prohibition. ARSEC is the largest of fifteen similar associations across Spain.
Privacy over prohibition
Since Spanish drug laws cannot reach into homes and other privately-owned spaces, the reach of the state’s drug policy is limted to public space, where possession of under fifty grams of cannabis or its derivatives is subject to an administrative fine (from $500 to $50,000). Amounts under fifty grams are considered to be for “personal use” and there are no criminal penalties.
Larger quantities however, and stashes that are divvied up into separate pieces or bags (indicating intent to sell), are considered to constitute an “attempt against public health” and can carry prison terms along with the corresponding fine.
The inherent contradiction of laws that tolerate possession but forbid selling are what led to the formulation of the current “Me Planto” campaign.
“The beauty of growing one’s own stash at home is that it completely eliminates the need to incur the infraction of buying and carrying it out in the street, where they can bust you. By virtue of this, there is no law being broken, since what one does at home is not the state’s concern,” explains Borrallo.
Filling a legal void
In 1993, ARSEC wrote to the Barcelona Drug Prosecutor and asked what would happen if a group of people got together and cultivated a field of marijuana, providing that each person planted and harvested their own plants for their own use.
The answer they received was ambiguous: cultivating strictly for personal consumption was not penalized, but group cultivation for group consumption would be trickier to categorize.
The reform group, sensing a legal void, decided to press the issue, and got ninety-seven members together to plant some 200 cannabis plants in a field rented for this purpose. The twist was that, after having every participant sign responsibility for his or her plants in the presence of a notary public, the DA’s office was formally notified by the association of the plantation’s existence and location.
Their ultimate goal was to clear the way for the creation of non-profit cannabis cooperatives, where the plant in question could be grown and consumed by members.
Raid, destruction, denunciation
The experiment lasted two months before it was raided, destroyed and denounced by the police. Only the four top ARSEC administrators were arraigned, as opposed to the other ninety-three that had also signed the document of shared responsibility. The charge was the usual “transgression against public health,” that is, cultivation of a controlled substance with intent to sell.
The defendants themselves were relatively calm. They had already stated to the press that if they were found guilty as charged, they would appeal and take the case to the Supreme Court for a final decision. After all, the whole point of the exercise was to set a judicial precedent that would take the ambiguity out of the present penal code. They were not criminals; they were simply trying to make a point.
Acquittal and celebration
The trial took place in 1996. After hearing both side’s arguments, the court decided to acquit the defendants, on the basis that the intent of the plantation was not commercial and therefore did not represent an attempt against the public health as charged.
There was a large celebration at the group’s headquarters that night. A point had been made, a moral victory won, and more importantly, the judicial system seemed to have understood the reasoning behind their actions.
The coordinating organ of the pro-cannabis groups launched the “Contra la Prohibici?n, Me Planto” campaign with renewed confidence, just in time for the 1996 growing season.
A taste of freedom
While the DA’s office was unsatisfied with the verdict and filed an appeal with the Supreme Court, the Catalan activists passed the baton of the open co-plantation efforts to the Basques, who were coalescing around charismatic young activist Mart?n Barriuso, president of the Bilbao-based Kalamudia Association.
Barriuso’s public-relations and rhetoric skills led Kalamudia to the successful harvest of Spain’s first “legal” marijuana plantation, since the judge that instructed their case saw “no intent to damage public health, and therefore no transgression of the law,” and did not allow the police to destroy the plants.
“The buds themselves were stringy and seedy,” recalls Barriuso, “but we smoked them anyway, and they were the best we’d ever had, because they tasted of freedom.”
One free season
There was only one more obstacle to pass before the plan could legally be put into action. The Supreme Court was due to rule on the acquittal of the ARSEC administrators, and its decision would set jurisprudence that could either bolster ? or undermine ? favorable precedents set at the local level.
Cautious optimism was the tonic throughout the movement as the months rolled by, and the defendants themselves persisted in their belief that “justice would prevail”. Meanwhile, a generously warm spring foreshadowed the bumper crop that came early in September ’97, and Spanish heads had a good couple of months awash in abundance before the grapevine started buzzing in November: the Supreme Court had finally ruled, and it was not good.
A Supreme conviction
In an uncommonly brief document, the Court overturned the original acquittal. According to them, cannabis cultivation represents an “abstract danger” which can cause “dangerous conduct according to general experience.” Because the danger is abstract, so is the crime: the ruling states that no damage has to be proven to punish cultivation in any of its stages. In their own words “anyone who knows they are growing Indian hemp knows enough to be breaking the law.”
To finish, the judges included a curt comment to Spanish activists everywhere, reiterating the illegality of cannabis cultivation “despite those who may have believed that this activity was not defined as illegal.”
Jurisprudence without facts
The movement rejected the sentence, especially the Court’s facile use of uncorroborated drug war dogma to shoot them down without addressing the real issues on the table. There was no mention of medical marijuana, civil rights, harm reduction, drug mafias? in short, the context in which the plantation was carried out was completely ignored.
One of the four now-convicted ARSEC administrators, Jaume Prats, explained that he felt both helpless and very, very angry with the ruling. “What general experience has proven cannabis to be damaging?” he demanded. “That is a lie, an old lie that even the United States has had to rectify after California’s Proposition 215. It is simply inconceivable that jurisprudence can be set on the basis of unproven facts. If cannabis is really damaging, to me or the public health, then let them prove it; I’ll be the first one to quit smoking!”
Knowledge is freedom
But beyond the politics, the rulings and the public co-plantation efforts, the truth remains that the bulk of marijuana cultivation in Spain continues, and grows, out of sight. To the average closet cultivator, used to a fair degree of discretion in the practice of his hobby, the Supreme Court’s ruling might be a good reason to stay hidden, but not to stop growing.
In a country where cannabis use is truly ancestral, having arrived in the cultural baggage of the Moorish conquerors in the 7th century AD, a growing number of consumers are finding new and creative ways to use their balconies, rooftops, spare rooms or spare fields in order to provide for their own needs. This “back to basics” approach is fueled in good measure by an increase in the amount of non-state-controlled information about the cannabis plant now available to the average Spanish consumer.
In particular, the appearance of Ca?amo (Spanish for cannabis), the first cannabis magazine in Spain, has done much to inform an enthusiastic but misinformed smoking public about the plant that many were already enjoying as hash without even knowing it.
Ca?amo director Gaspar Fraga emphasizes the obvious need for such information: “We always thought that a cannabis magazine would probably be a big success here, even though nobody was doing it. But the public’s response has surprised even us, which only goes to prove that what we’re doing here is a much-needed service.”
Knocking on every door
Asked for a vision of what 1998 might bring to the Spanish cannabis culture, Fraga answered with a shrug. “We really don’t know. The whole issue has already picked up enough momentum to be politically unpredictable, and where one door closes another will open. Our goal here at Ca?amo is to assist the movement in knocking on every door and pushing at every front with a constant supply of information. Barring any direct attempt at censorship, I can predict that the new year will bring plenty more of that, and, with any luck, another good harvest too.”