The promoters of the first cannabis club in Barcelona will finally not set foot in jail. The Supreme Court has substantially reduced the sentences that the Barcelona Court imposed on half a dozen members of an association known as La MACA and considered the pioneer of marijuana smoking clubs in the Catalan capital.
The sentence of the High Court puts an end to a long judicial journey, which has lasted more than seven years and which has kept the members of the management of this entity in suspense, who saw themselves with one foot in jail after being sentenced initially to almost six years in prison for a crime of illicit association and another against public health (with the aggravating circumstance of notorious importance).
The events date back to various interventions carried out by the Guàrdia Urbana in 2012 and 2013 in the premises, originally located in the Sants neighborhood of Barcelona. During the searches, the police seized more than 16 net kilos of marijuana that, according to the defendants, were for the consumption of the members of the association.
The ruling has annulled the crime of illicit association and the aggravating circumstance in the crime against public health. In turn, it acquits two members of the association who participated in its foundation, but who had disassociated themselves from their activity when the seizures occurred and had also been sentenced to prison. The Supreme also considers that those responsible for the premises acted with the belief that they were not committing any crime.
For all these reasons, the magistrates have replaced the six-year prison sentences to which those responsible for the premises were sentenced for six months in prison. The fines of €130,000 and €20,000 imposed on the defendants have been reduced to almost €5,000. In practice, it assumes that the condemned will be freed from entering a penitentiary. The Supreme Court has also annulled the dissolution of the association that was initially decreed by the Barcelona Court.
The former president of La MACA (acronym for the Associative Cannabis Consumer Movement), José Afuera, assured this Wednesday that he felt "relieved" by the ruling, although he regretted not having achieved complete acquittal. "16 years have passed since we founded the entity to respond to a social problem such as access to cannabis and the persecution of its users," he explained in a telephone conversation with this newspaper. "After all this time, we are the same or worse."
The MACA was the first association of cannabis smokers that opened in Catalonia and one of the pioneers in the entire State. He did it in 2006, many years before the 'boom' of this type of premises that began to proliferate in Barcelona a decade ago (it is estimated that there are currently between 200 and 350 spaces of this type in the Catalan capital).
Its managers became the spearhead of an activist movement that defended the legality of this type of private space in which members could acquire and smoke cannabis, under the protection that individual consumption of marijuana is allowed, that cultivation was shared among all the partners, and that it was a private association that did not advertise or encourage the use of marijuana.
The project was born from a group of seven people who already shared a marijuana crop, after learning about the experience of Martín Barriuso, an activist who had opened the first association of cannabis consumers in the Basque Country and whose marijuana seized by the police It was returned after a court ruling. "We wanted to give a legal outlet to the cannabis that we were already consuming and cultivating together," Afuera recalls.
MACA also became the first smokers' club to have a therapeutic cannabis program. A volunteer doctor came to the premises two afternoons a week to meet with members with chronic ailments or undergoing cancer treatment: he advised them on the type of marijuana they should choose, the least harmful methods for its consumption, and they provided support during the treatment . The doctor also discouraged the use of cannabis in patients with psychiatric problems.
Always open to the public and the media, La MACA quickly became the benchmark for access to regulated cannabis use in the city. They even went to the Guardia Urbana on their own feet to explain what they were doing inside the premises, according to the sentence. In turn, the entity led the dialogue with the Administration to achieve a regulation that would distance these venues from a legal vacuum in which they are still immersed today.
In the trial, former technicians from the Health Department of the Generalitat testified that those responsible for the association maintained close contact with the authorities for years in response to the initial wish of the ministry, at that time led by Boi Ruiz, of articulate a regulation that protects these spaces. The regulatory initiative, according to sources familiar with the negotiation, was finally aborted at the request of the Mossos d'Esquadra.
The way of functioning of La MACA and the direct contact with the administration ended up crystallizing in the CATFAC (Federació d'Associacions de Cànnabis de Catalunya), an entity that led several legislative proposals for regulation -now overthrown by the Constitutional- as well as the drafting of a "Code of Good Practices" to differentiate the authentic associations of smokers from the premises that were opened as a mere way to do business selling marijuana.
Sixteen years after the opening of the first smokers' club in Barcelona, the model is still in force in the city, although not without legal problems for its promoters. There are hardly any legal precepts to follow (the Supreme limited this associative model in a 2015 ruling) and the regulations of the City Council of the Catalan capital that regulated them have also been suspended. However, hundreds of these spaces remain open in the city.
The legal vacuum and lack of regulation has led to the coexistence of two models: some are authentic consumer associations adhering to the so-called "Code of Good Practices", others are direct marijuana sales businesses led by traffickers. The two typologies face the same legal consequences despite the difference in substance and the form of their activity.
"We founded the associations with the idea of a change in drug policy and, above all, to empower users and keep them away from the black market," says Afuera. "Without offending anyone, I think that currently many of the associations in Barcelona are something very different."