For this week’s blog I really wanted to address the topic of marijuana in Spain because it is legal in Washington but not here (kind of) and it is also becoming a bigger issue in the United States at a federal level. Similar to most controversies surrounding marijuana, in Spain the controversy stems from the legality of it. If you talk to anyone around León they’ll tell you that the laws regarding marijuana are vague at best. There is a movement to legalize marijuana in Spain that is primarily supported by the Catalonian Region (on the east coast where Barcelona is located). Quite a few politicians from the more socialist type parties in Spain advocated for legalization in the last election cycle. An interesting facet to this debate though is that there are essentially, “marijuana social clubs” where smoking is legal. These clubs have guidelines for things like age, and amount allowed to be consumed at once and they are privately owned and they put another element into the debate of legalization.
The penalties in Spain for marijuana are nowhere near as drastic as in most of the United States. I actually interviewed the chief of the Drug Law Enforcement Department here in León, which is where I got almost all of the information for this article. He said that typically the fines are fairly small and are for smoking in public and possession. As a citizen you can also appeal the fine and take a sort of drug class where you have to prove you haven’t done any drugs for a certain amount of time and upon completion, the fine is waived. Another thing the chief explained is that they have the right to search you if they smell marijuana in the air or see you make a transaction where cash changes hands. The chief also mentioned that unless you are selling marijuana or growing with the intent to distribute for profit then it is pretty much impossible to go to jail for anything weed related. The police in Spain do not really care if it is your first time or your tenth time (although the amount of the fine can rise). There is not a three strikes and you’re out policy or anything like that. I would say minor possession “crimes” in Spain are more similar to speeding tickets in the United States than our drug crimes.
The main arguments for legalization are the revenue that could be obtained from it and the ability to regulate its use to make it safer by keeping it away from young people. The main arguments against legalization are that since more people would be under the influence that there would be an increase in traffic accidents since currently about 40% of people driving who are under the influence of an illegal drug have cannabis in their system at the time of the accident. When I asked the chief his opinion on legalization he said that he did not want it legalized because it still contributed to cancer. Originally I was like I think you need to do some research (obviously did not actually say that to him) but then I was talking to my professor and she said that weed is pretty much only smoked when it is mixed with tobacco here which could be the reason he thinks that way.
The interesting thing about calling marijuana illegal though is the fact that you are allowed to grow weed for personal consumption as long as it’s only one or two plants. You are not allowed to sell it though, which creates a fine line in the area of possession. As long as you smoke in your own house it is fine but it would also be legal if you went to a friends house to smoke, but you would be committing a crime on the way (I think).
This issue obviously relates to young people in Spain. Aside from alcohol, which really is not treated the same in Spain as it is in the United States; Marijuana is the next most likely drug to have been tried. The most common demographic to have smoked marijuana in the past month is 18 to 24. The median age for person to have tried weed for the first time is 18.6 years. With Spain being one of the top five countries in Europe for drug use, marijuana clearly plays a big part in growing up here. I was just down at the park the other day and these guys were just standing in a circle smoking away.
Marijuana is definitely not seen in the same way that it is in the United States and although our current Attorney General might think that, “good people don’t smoke Marijuana” I do think that the United States is trending toward a more similar attitude toward weed. The issue of legality in Spain, though important, is not as important as in the United States because people’s lives aren’t ruined for very small infractions.