In Spain, as in many countries of the world, the consumption of marijuana (mostly hashish) is wide-spread and it is accepted by most of the civil society.
Among the cities of this Iberian country with a vibrant cannabis culture we find Barcelona. This Mediterranean port is maybe too beautiful for its own sake. It attracts people from all over the globe thanks to its climate, its culture, its festivals and especially its parties.
Barcelona is dressed up with masterpieces from architects like Antoni Gaudi who designed Parc Guell, La Sagrada Familia, La Pedrera and surrealist looking buildings that make you think you are on a mushroom trip. Similar, crazy and beautiful constructions of the period (end of XIX century beginning of the XX) were created by Josep Fontsere, Pere Caselles, and Gaudi’s pupil, Joan Rubio i Bellver. Those mentioned edifices along with the countless monuments and churches make Barcelona look like an outdoor museum ranging in style from Art Nouveau to Gothic.
The metropolis wakes up at night with hordes of thirsty people filling the nightclubs and bars until morning. The smell of hashish mixed with tobacco can be felt in almost every corner and a lot of bars are “porro friendly”.
Some Spaniards are so gifted in the art of rolling that they mix tobacco with hashish while walking, they roll the traditional “porro” everywhere. Hashish can usually be found in almost all the neighborhoods, although La Barceloneta, close to the end of Las Ramblas (a popular street), is a good place to try if you are a tourist. Most of the dealers are from North Africa and most of the hashish comes from Morocco. There are different qualities and prices depending on the strength of the product. Colloquially it is called “chocolate” or “china”.
While Barcelona is a city of Ramblas and hallucination-inducing buildings and museums, it is also a city of counter culture movements and progressive ideas. An example of these movements is Cañamo, a magazine dedicated to the culture of cannabis.
“It is a magazine that educates people about the truth of drugs, their use and their dangers” said Gaspar Fraga, the director of the legendary publication that prints between 30,000 and 40,000 around Spain.
A few months ago, I was walking with my friend Tomás Gonzalez “El Ficus” through the narrow streets of the “Barri Goti” or the Gothic neighborhood.
Ficus always has his own marijuana plants. He used to live in a flat in the center of the Barri Goti. He would move his plants from one window to another on the other side of the flat so they could get a good sun bath all day. The plants were at least two meters tall, and had a lemon color and a very sweet taste.
“My dog ate a plant one day, I was so pissed off,” said Ficus who was born in Galicia on the northwest part of Spain, close to Portugal, but lived in “Barça” for nine years.
It is a common practice in Barcelona and the whole province of Catalonia for people to have their own couple of plants, mostly for personal consumption. In the months of September, October, November and even December, the people of Spain enjoy the fruits of the Herb on their balconies. But do not be deceived, this does not mean that you can buy marijuana like in Vancouver, in the corners of Granville or Hastings, or that you can phone your personal dealer (who probably is your friend). Here nobody sells marijuana because there is not enough produced for that purpose. People grow their own quantities for the year (if they are lucky) and they don’t like to share their THC wealth with strangers, but then again it is easy to make friends in this Mediterranean paradise.
Marihuana is like green gold and it takes effort and patience and a lot of advice to grow it.
“The reward is amazing because you nurture the plant like your relative or your girlfriend,” continues Ficus as we smoke a joint on one of the many plazas on our way to the offices of Cañamo, which provides helpful information to growers. “We used to have a wild marijuana like four meters tall in Galicia, in a small town called Xerinzas. It was an 11 house town with nine inhabitants. I used to live with a girlfriend and we had what is called here a Guerrilla Marijuana in our backyard, generally a Guerrilla Marijuana is the one that you plant in the middle of the hill, on your favorite secret place in the woods that no one but you go, and nourish the plant in the wild when nobody watches you. We had it around three meters away from the back of the house, but there was so much vegetation that nobody noticed”
We reached the headquarters of Cañamo. A small door and old stairs led to the second floor where a beautiful Spanish girl greeted us with a big smile, telling us that Gaspar Fraga was on his way. The reception was full of posters, magazine covers, and bottles of hemp beer.
Gaspar, a leader of the anti-prohibitionist movement and a well known journalist and writer, is a kind of legend in Spain. He came into the office greeting us cheerfully with a very deep voice.
I had collaborated with Cañamo in the past from my home in Canada, and Gaspar told me it was a pleasure for him to meet somebody from a country that is struggling to legalize Cannabis. He used to read a lot about Canada and published what was happening here in the magazine.
Gaspar led us through the office of Cañamo. The project is well structured and the collaborators are very friendly. He lit a joint of nice marijuana – without tobacco – inhaling as we began the interview.
Gaspar Fraga was born in Madrid, Spain. A natural communicator, he explained to us the beginnings of his journey as a Marijuana activist:
“I have always been a journalist of some sort. I studied Philosophy at The Sorbonne in France, I was in Paris when the student manifestations took place in 68. I threw pieces of the sidewalk to the cops. I couldn’t finish my degree because I was expelled from France. Coming back I started editing some music books about Frank Zappa and The Velvet Underground for example, and also some comics.
“At the beginning of the 90s we created a Cultural Association called ARSEC, which stands for Ramón Santos Association for the Cannabis Studies. It is a civil organization that did a lot for the Movement and the defense of the marijuana consumer. ARSEC helps the ill to get marijuana therapeutically, the members give some of their pot for free, and there are about 2,000 members of whom about a 100 are really active.
“Back then with other comrades we created the magazine Cañamo with the subtitle ‘The magazine of the Cannabis Culture’, with ARSEC we wanted to have a club dedicated to consuming marijuana, we wanted to plant for the consumption of the club, and because it is a private cultural association or club, police would not have anything to do with our activities – plus we weren’t selling, it was a loophole in the law. It was like a co-operative of smokers. We wanted to have a greenhouse but they would never allow that. Anyways, we started the magazine and became very popular very fast. All these years we have talked about all the psychoactive substances and their dangers and their benefits. We have published articles about places all around the world, from Mexico to Cambodia, from Canada to Chile; we have interviewed activists, politicians, musicians, artists, and so on. We have been given advice on how to grow.”
Is the government changing the laws regarding marijuana consumption?
“They haven’t done it yet. When the PP (Partido Popular) was in power they passed some pretty harsh rules, the police could stop you in the street if they suspected you committed a crime or had something illegal on you. It was a violation of freedom.
“In Spain you can grow for your own consumption because the police cannot enter your house (although they may if they suspect drug trafficking or terrorism). You can consume whatever you want in the privacy of your home, but if the plant is outside, they can confiscate it. Especially after the Corcuera Law Article 192 that, among other things, says that the police can stop you in any public place and ID you, without any crime committed, violating the freedom of transit and the freedom of speech of the person and his or her dignity. Some of the drug related fines are 300 Euros. The government earns about 100,000 Euros of fines per year plus all the confiscated material like roaches, grams, etc. It was all begun by the PSOE [Spain’s governing party] in 1992. They targeted the youth and especially heroin consumers because some of them started robbing people, threatening them with needles.”
What is the current situation at the magazine?
“The thing is not that easy, there are a lot of expos about cannabis and cannabis products. There is one in Hospitalet, another one in Madrid, another one in Barcelona, Amsterdam, etc. There are more Fairs and Conventions around the country. There are two or three free magazines about Cannabis in Spain and more in Europe so it is getting harder to sell advertisements. The distribution is around 30,000 and it is sold in all around Spain. We also have a Chilean edition and a Portuguese edition every four months.”
On October 17, shortly after our visit, Gaspar Fraga died, leaving a great legacy. He set an example of what activism and peaceful civil disobedience should be like. He made changes. He fought until the last day of his life when cancer took his physical body in Barcelona. Rest in peace Gaspar.
The magazine has since moved its headquarters to Gracia, a hip, trendy and vibrant neighborhood in Barcelona where it will continue to fight for the decriminalization of marijuana.
“Sustancia prohibida, mafia agradecida. Banned substance, grateful mobs.”
– Gaspar Fraga.