Just down the street from my flat, there’s a brown door.
It’s between a Pakistani barber shop and a bike rental place.
The door has a big black sign on it, saying “Club de Socios: Privado” or something to that effect.
There’s no name, no info about what’s going on inside.
When I first moved to the neighborhood, I thought it was probably a brothel. Private club, with strange-looking guys buzzing in and out at all hours.
Prostitution is mostly legal in Spain, or at least unregulated. Not illegal. And what do I know?
In any case, the place always seemed to have people going in, despite being just an inconspicuous door on an inconspicuous street.
I walked by that door twice a day, at least, for a couple of years. And with time, I decided it was probably not a brothel, but a cannabis club. There were girls going in, too, and not all of them looked like the kind of people likely to hang around at brothels. (Some did. Some didn’t. Sort of a mix.) Also, there were groups of guys and gals together. Sometimes wealthy-looking people would hop out of taxis, or pull up in expensive cars, park on the corner, and ring the bell.
A brief check on Google Maps confirmed my suspicion this morning. It is, according to the app, “Buggy Private Social Club”, one of several weed clubs in the neighborhood.
The private clubs are everywhere in Barcelona, some more and some less obvious.
Buggy has (according to the pictures uploaded by the owner) a couple of pool tables, lounge seating, and a cannabis bar.
They do billiards tournaments. They celebrate happy hour (whatever that means, for a weed club). They even have an Instagram profile, and a YouTube channel…
Looks like a lot of fun, doesn’t it? I’m sure those girls are great to hang around.
The Buggy Social Club Instagram bio contains, of course, the disclaimer “Members Only / Nothing on Sale!!”
Which brings us to the big question…
Is cannabis legal in Barcelona?
No! No it is not.
At least not technically.
(Also, I’m not a lawyer and this isn’t legal advice.)
What I’ve understood from my research is that you’re not allowed to buy weed in Barcelona (or elsewhere in Spain). But you are allowed to “obtain” it and possess it for personal use. Key word: obtain.
Hence, the appearance of the Members Only weed clubs: officially, they’re not-for-profit clubs that are allowed to grow a certain number of cannabis plants, which can then be distributed among members.
Those members are, in theory, limited to a certain amount of weed they can “obtain” in a year. And the club is limited in the amount it can grow – it varies based on the number of members.
This system is pretty popular in Barcelona, and it exists (according to what little I know) in various other Spanish cities as well.
Full disclosure: when I lived down in Barceloneta I was a member of a club myself. You know how it goes. You move to a new city, and wonder how best to integrate with the locals. Maybe you decide to pierce your septum, and cover your body with stick-and-poke tattoos. Maybe you get really into the local football team. Or maybe you join a weed club.
Here’s the story of how I did it…
How to join a cannabis club in Barcelona
I won’t disclose the exact location of the place, but it was in Barceloneta, near the beach, and the process was basically this:
- My friend Lulu said, “Hey, you wanna join my weed club?”
- I said, “Sure, why not?”
- We walked in and they made me a member.
- We “obtained” some weed and walked out.
Lulu’s not my friend’s real name, obviously. But I’d totally hang out with someone named Lulu if I could. Anyway, the main thing that makes it a “social club” is that you can only get in if you’re recommended by another member. And Lulu, for whatever reason, was a member.
Also, I had to show a water bill or something with my name on it when I registered, so they knew I lived in the neighborhood. Later, they upped the security, and gave me a little chip I had to scan as I walked in the door. Again, it was a discreet place: just a grey door without any markings.
And once inside, you would stand around with every other person in the neighborhood (I eventually saw almost everyone I knew there) and, um, “obtain” some weed.
I may have left some of the local currency on the counter when I obtained mine. I don’t exactly remember. It was a long time ago. Anyway, what’s up with this legal grey area?
Here’s the thing about smoking weed in Barcelona
Buying weed is illegal. And smoking in public is illegal.
Also, this was during the whole virus-themed mass psychosis, so public gatherings were illegal too. Therefore, they had to close the lounge at the club I was going to. Basically, all you could do was “obtain” the weed at their bar and take it home.
These days, you can (allegedly) hang out and consume your weed at the club. And according to various sources – remember, this is not legal advice! – you can “possess” a small amount for personal use, up to 100 grams.
Isn’t 100 grams actually a shitload of weed? I’m not sure. But I think it is. I certainly wouldn’t go and smoke 100 grams of jamón de bellota, for instance.
According to at least one blog, you can “possess” cannabis at home, or in a club, but not on the street – the police might think you’re trafficking. So be careful, and keep the ganja in your undies if you’re really worried.
This government website confirms that possession isn’t a crime in and of itself, but “illicit possession” in public, or on public transport, etc IS A CRIME. Sounds like a lot is riding on that little word “illicit” and once again, I’m not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice.
I was gonna visit Sagrada Familia, but I then got high…
So what’s a foreigner or tourist to do if they’re just in town for a few days and don’t know anyone?
Well, I guess there are a couple of options. You definitely SHOULDN’T buy weed on a streetcorner. Just don’t do it. But if you were to be walking around the Rambla, which a lot of tourists do, you might get some offers. Listen, kids: just say no to drugs.
Some people, also hanging out around the Rambla, might even offer to take you to a “coffee shop”.
This is, once again, the legal grey area. They’re members of the club, and they can walk you to the door and “recommend” you as a member, having known you for all of two minutes. This is pretty shady even as far as legal grey areas go, but in theory it’s possible.
Additionally, there’s at least one “grow shop” that’s set up a website where you can “obtain” a “recommendation” to get into a club, and they’ll email you some instructions. Sounds about as shady as following some guy you met on the Rambla to an unmarked door somewhere. Anyway, Google around and you’ll probably find it.
Of course, I’m not recommending you do any of this. If it were up to me, you’d spend your time in Barcelona meditating on the beach at sunrise, or volunteering at the animal shelter or something. But hey: it’s a free country – or at least a constitutional monarchy – so do what you want.
What about CBD shops in Barcelona?
I was avoiding writing this article for a while, because I don’t really know what’s going on… And because reading Spanish Law to find out is about as enjoyable as being beaten across the face with 1200-page volumes of very boring legalese.
(Shoutout to Jim, from Boston, who wrote to me about a year ago and asked for some info about cannabis culture, though. Sorry it’s taken me this long.)
Anyway, today I opened an article from La Vanguardia about the new proliferation of “marijuana shops”, and figured, “What the hell… writing about this is better than doing real work.”
So, it turns out that in the center of Barcelona, there are also a ton of CBD shops popping up. Or perhaps I should say “head shops”. They sell all the lifestyle accessories, as well as seeds, and CBD stuff, but not weed itself.
Recently, pausing on a long walk one day, I wandered into one and started looking around.
They had a wide selection of gummies, and I noticed that the labels all said “Collectors Item: do not eat.”
I went up to the guy working there. He was skinny, wearing an oversize t-shirt, and had between 40 and 100 tattoos all over his hands, arms and neck – plus god knows where else – and a couple of hoops stretching out his earlobes. Just your average Barcelona resident, in other words.
“Why do these gummies say that they’re collectors items?” I asked.
“Oh, that’s the law. We have to tell you not to eat them. But yeah, you can totally eat them.”
CBD oil and the various CBD products, he explained, were in another sort of legal grey area. You could sell them, but they weren’t legally considered fit for human consumption.
This checks out with my research. Apparently, CBD oil isn’t considered to be a legally registered food supplement, but it’s okay to buy, own, or rub on your skin.
A hip coffee shop I frequent in Born – I mean, a place that sells literal coffee, not a “coffee shop” – has CBD face cream and body lotion on sale, next to the chia bowls and overnight oats. And I’ve even seen some CBD-infused seltzer waters, which may or may not be collectors items, and may or may not increase in value with time.
Is it gentrification? Or just harmless cannabis tourism?
According to the article in La Vanguardia, it can cost 8000€ a month or more for a commercial space on a well-trafficked street in downtown Barcelona.
A lot of local shops can’t afford to stay open. Try making 8000€ a month – plus enough to cover all your other expenses – selling loaves of bread. It’s tough.
There’s also the licensing issue. City Hall makes it difficult for certain types of businesses – in theory, to protect the locals living in the neighborhood – so the cannabis places open with licenses to be flower shops. There are a lot of florists on and around the Rambla already. And the cannabis shops sell seeds, along with everything else: therefore, they’re flower shops.
The inspectors show up from time to time and might hand out some fines, but apparently, if you’re a risk-tolerant entrepreneur, it’s easy enough to skirt the law for a while before moving on.
I’ve written before about gentrification, but this appears to be something different entirely. Recently, Barcelona has become one of the most popular spots in Europe for “cannabis tourism”, as well as clocking an impressively high amount of THC, cocaine and ketamine residue in the waste water.
In fact, Barcelona – and Tarragona, right down the coast – are among the cocaine capitals of Europe. Gotta be capital of something, I guess.
(Cocaine is something I know virtually nothing about, but according to an informal survey of people I see sneaking off to the bathroom every 20 minutes at parties, it’s pretty common. As for ketamine, no idea. I just had to google “what is ketamine” – I’ve never known anyone to admit doing it.)
I guess a lot of that drug consumption is down to locals and the party culture. Some of it is the international crowd, who might hang out for a year or two for the laid-back lifestyle and the beach vibe. And some of it is the tourists. I do seem to remember people trying to sell hard drugs down by the discos at the beach, back in the day. And I guess the crowd at those places is mostly not local.
To obtain or to abstain? That is the question…
I “obtained” weed for a year or so, at the old club.
When Morena and I moved up to the new neighborhood, though, I sort of lost interest. The club where I was a “member” was now 20 minutes away, and I’d gladly walk 20 minutes for a steak, or some sushi, or a good plate of nachos… but not for weed. I hadn’t yet figured out that there were clubs on every corner of L’Eixample. So I just stopped smoking, which is probably a good thing.
I’d also read, around the same time, that the clubs were soon to be made illegal. That apparently hasn’t happened, yet.
But the Spanish Supreme Court decided, in 2021, that the local Barcelona regulation about cannabis clubs was “infringing on the powers of the national government”. So City Hall said they’d be sending out inspectors, to make sure that the clubs weren’t “promoting consumption”, advertising, or actually selling weed – in line with what it says in the Penal Code.
Did they ever do it? I’m not sure. Some headlines suggested that the clubs were preparing themselves for the end. But it’s been a couple of years, and I’ve seen no sign of anything closing. Down the street, Buggy Social Club is as busy as ever.
So I guess the legal grey area is just going to stay grey – at least for now.
That’s about all I’ve got for today.
Stay frosty, y’all. Or smoky.
Daniel AKA Mr Chorizo.
P.S. Temperance is one of the four stoic virtues I’m thinking more about, now that I’m in my 40s. And Marcus Aurelius didn’t smoke weed – although he was (allegedly) on plenty of opium. Anyway, you can read more about temperance here: The virtuous life and cheap dopamine. Enjoy!