In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., imprisoned in Alabama, wrote a letter about his conditions and his motivation for leading the fight against the appalling institutional racism of the United States at the time. It is known in civil rights history as the “Letter from Birmingham City Jail.” It is also one of those documents that became an anthem for those who sought to overturn injustice in nonviolent ways and widely quoted from the time it was first published as a timeless text that symbolizes monumental struggle against grotesque odds.
One of its more famous lines is that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Today, a Spanish activist, Albert Tió, is facing this kind of injustice with a similar kind of jail conviction. His crime? Organizing to change the cannabis discussion as well as laws in Spain. This interview was given to High Times right as Tió learned that he lost his case at the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg.
The interchange you are reading was conducted by phone and email over a period of several weeks in March 2021 and as Tió is preparing another campaign.
Where in The World Is Albert Tió?
The first thing you have to understand is that tracking down a man in a country you do not live in, even in the same region, is a bit difficult. You have to be a detective, even if he is not in jail. That made it a bit easier. I found his lawyer, mentioned in passing on a legal blog about the industry. Several weeks later I got Tió’s email. I sent him an email immediately but did not hear anything back.
And then, late one night, the phone rang.
“Can you hear me?” he said, his voice is a lilting mossy sort that only comes from Spain—a country where deliberate lisping is a part of the culture left over from monarchies long past. “This is Albert Tió.”
I was surprised – but had hoped this would happen. “I am so glad to hear from you,” I said. “You are in jail, right?”
“Yes,” he responds. “I have to report every night here. I do not have much time to talk to you though,” he says.
“No worries,” I tell him. “Your lawyer told me you have access to email.” Ah, the wonders that exist in the 21st century. What MLK could have done with Twitter!
“You are a brave man,” I tell him. “Your case is going to make a difference.”
“Thank you,” he says simply. It is impossible to miss the strain in his voice. “That is going to help me sleep better at night.”
The answers to the interview below were transcribed in his cell, in English, and then painstakingly typed and sent to me.
High Times: What was your motivation to begin organizing the clubs in Spain?
Tió: As a user I have always felt cannabis should be legal and users not criminalized or stigmatized. When I first knew about the cannabis associations proposal, I thought it was the best idea to start a path from clandestine to legal and try to push the model to another level, more professional, more comfortable for users, more serious, more participatory. My motivation was also from the beginning a political one.
High Times: What is the status of the situation on the ground there at the moment (for international readers). How can Spanish people get their cannabis now? What impact has the pandemic had on the club world?
Tió: At the moment, some laws have been approved at a regional level. But the Constitutional Court has annulled all of them through the appeals of the conservative Spanish government of the moment motivated by the lack of power of the regional parliaments. So now the clubs have no law regulating their activity so they can defend themselves from the different arbitrary administration attacks. So, we need a regulation at a national level.
The pandemic has impacted clubs as it has everything. We, as a federation, together with the cannabis circle of Podemos, the political party, asked the government to classify cannabis as an essential first need good, without any success. Clubs had to close and the [illicit] market was the only way to provide users, which turned into a raise of prices and lots of difficulties for both medical and adult users to provide themselves.
High Times: Why did you decide to turn yourself in? Can you describe your current situation? Is it scary being in jail during a global pandemic? What does your family think about all of this and what has the impact been?
Tió: I decided to turn in because of my motivation as an activist user, as a social activist, as a sociologist, as an entrepreneur, and as an event organizer, always looking for social innovation and cultural agitation.
We go out every day to work at 7 am and have to be inside before 8 pm to sleep in prison. We have at least one hour driving from home each way.
Being in jail is hard with or without pandemic, but with the pandemic everything turns more difficult and uncomfortable. In terms of family the impact is always hard and sad. But we try to deal with it the best way possible. The impact, apart from the absence, is dramatic when you have small kids as we do. It is also economic as we have been fined with really high bills which we will never be able to pay and also lawyer expenses, besides not being able to work during all the process, making it really difficult to afford the needs of the family whose members depend only on you.
High Times: What happens now that you have lost the case at Strasbourg?
Tió: Our case was ruled inadmissible for processing, although there was a clear violation of rights and questions that were not resolved by this Court were raised, leaving us without answer and failing to change an existing social reality. We know it was really important and it could have been a big victory for our struggle and for the worldwide industry, which needs to have more countries free of this irrational and unfair prohibition. I think there is a long way until the old fashioned conservative judicial system is replaced by a more modern and progressive one. In Europe, with regards to the drugs discussion, they still show a very conservative antique tendency.
High Times: Please give me details of your next campaign. What comes next?
Tió: From Lledoner’s prison we want to launch a new political initiative with the aim of, on the one hand, using it as a unifying tool for the entire cannabis movement and sector and, on the other, giving a strong push towards the achievement of the legislative changes necessary to regulate and legalize the consumption and cultivation of cannabis, both for medical and recreational use.
We want to bring to the fore an industry that could reactivate the economy, creating a large number of jobs and collecting millions of euros in taxes. We want to defend civil rights and freedoms, individual and collective, which have cost so much effort and sacrifice to conquer and which are endangered by a growing trend of authoritarian and undemocratic currents, and also to pursue the conquest of new ones. There is still so much to be done.
After a lot of campaigns and actions we realize that we need to go to the place where laws can be changed, the legislative power, because working with political advocacy has not yielded effective results. So, either national or European level are the next steps to be achieved. And therefore, we need to unite the movement so that we can try to get at least one deputy and have presence in the Parliament. The Spanish one in Madrid and the EU in Strasbourg. For that we will need to build bridges with all the European countries.
As the Court who sentenced us with the 5 years of prison conviction wrote in their text, our activity with clubs is one socially accepted and administratively tolerated. Even though they admitted that they sent us to prison.