Spain’s Supreme Court rules on pot

L to R: Jaume Prats (ARSEC), Gaspar Fraga (Ca?amo Magazine) and Felipe BorralloL to R: Jaume Prats (ARSEC), Gaspar Fraga (Ca?amo Magazine) and Felipe BorralloThe question of quantity
In late 1998 the Spanish Supreme Court gave its decision on another annoying case involving possession of cannabis derivatives. Two lower courts had already come to radically different conclusions on this particular case, involving a woman charged with possession of 60 grams of hash. The first court had doled out a 400,000 Peseta ($2800) fine, while the second had revoked it.

At the heart of the case was the murky “quantity for self-consumption,” the question of whether amount should be considered a determining factor in the application of the law.

In Spain, drug possession in reasonable quantities is not a penal issue, but an administrative one. In other words you get a fine, not a jail sentence. This means that the justice system can wash its hands of the petty cases and concentrate on more profitable smuggling charges.

But in the past few years the law that punishes drug possession ? Article 125 of the Penal Code, known as “la Ley Corcuera” in honor of the ex-Home Secretary that conceived it ? has come under increasing fire from many social sectors for being blatantly “arbitrary and unconstitutional”.

Suddenly the Supreme Court had no choice but to rule on the issue, first in 1996 on a collective co-plantation effort carried out by Barcelona activists (see CC#12, Spain: activists growing their own) and then in the case of the lady with the big piece of hash.

In the co-plantation case, the Supreme Court showed its displeasure at having been involved by ruling big fines and symbolic prison terms for the defendants, who had already been found not guilty by a lower court. Thus it came as no surprise when the Court stood by its guns and overruled the acquittal of the hash lady. The judgement in both cases was terse and unequivocal, warning “those who may have believed otherwise” that cannabis possession remained a punishable offense in Spain.

The end of the legal road

So why did this second ruling make the headlines in all the mainstream media during the first week of 1999? Because the two rulings together meant that jurisprudence had been set: the doors of the legal system have now been shut on the Spanish pro-cannabis sector, estimated at 20% of the population, or 8 million people. By ruling twice to the same effect, the Court has made it clear that it will no longer accept similar cases for judgement.

“Clandestine Hash Again” read the newspaper headlines, although in reality the Court’s decision had simply reaffirmed the existing legislation, not changed it. But for some reason the news was given a far bigger share of column inches than is usual in the Spanish press, causing a ripple effect that has given Spain’s Cannabis Question a much-needed wake-up call.

“It’s like someone pulled the chain on the giant turd that was blocking further progress” is how cannabis activist Josep Baltierrez sums up the situation. Baltierrez is a veteran member of ARSEC (Ram?n Santos Association for Cannabis Studies), and one of the four defendants whose acquittal was overruled by the Supreme Court in the Barcelona co-plantation case. He is now member of the new special committee that the “Coordinadora estatal de asociaciones antiprohibicionistas” (the central coordinating organ of the Spanish antiprohibitionist movement) has created with the specific purpose of bringing about the removal of Article 125.

Baltierrez points out that the legal strategy of self-implicatory co-plantation, which made up the main thrust of the Spanish pro-cannabis movement until now, has effectively come to an end? and he, for one, is glad. “All this time we were waiting to see what happened, not knowing where to push. Now the Supreme Court has made one very important thing clear: the legal road has come to an end. We can focus our efforts elsewhere.”

Challenge and opportunity

The new focus is to stop beating around the bush and go straight to the point: derogation of Article 125 by means of popular pressure. The Coordinadora has taken on this task with renewed enthusiasm, planning a year-long campaign that will draw from the increasing number of people affected by this law who want to voice their protest. Groups have formed spontaneously around this issue in several Spanish cities, including a couple of “Parents against Article 125” groups that protest the fines levied on their children for carrying hash or smoking joints.

Tales of petty police corruption, like confiscating drugs to later ingest them personally, are generally believed to be true even by law-and-order types. Prominent activists agree that the issue is reaching a critical mass which could conceivably blow a hole in the law, but only if the effort is sustained and orchestrated to maximum effect. This is precisely the challenge that 1999 offers to the Coordinadora’s special committee, which seats representatives of Spanish pro-cannabis groups throughout the peninsula, including, among others, Felipe Borrallo (President of ARSEC), Mart?n Barriuso (President of the Basque group Kalamudia), Gaspar Fraga (Publisher of Ca?amo magazine) and Josep Baltierrez.

Gaspar Fraga, publisher of the Barcelona-based cannabis monthly, Ca?amo, acknowledged that the media attention given to the Supreme Court’s decision had been “unexpected, but welcome” in terms of provoking more social debate on the issue. “We want people to think about this question, how it affects them, how it affects their children, the social costs involved.”

The magazine is expected to play an active part in the new campaign, calling on its readership throughout Spain to take a stand. “We will be the voice of reason in this matter” promises Fraga, “but we won’t back down on our demand for normalization, now or ever.”L to R: Jaume Prats (ARSEC), Gaspar Fraga (Ca?amo Magazine) and Felipe Borrallo


? ARSEC: Pla?a Sant Josep Oriol, 4, 08002 Barcelona; tel 93-301-7937; email [email protected]; website
? Ca?amo Magazine: Cervantes 7 entlo, 08002 Barcelona; email [email protected]; website