Coffeeshops of Barcelona: La Nueva Amsterdam

“Come in,” urges the young receptionist in a thick Catalan accent. “And close the door.”

We step inside, shutting the large black doors behind us. My friend moves forward, greeting the woman in Catalan and presents his Kush membership card. My friend explains that my boyfriend and I are looking to become members.

The walls of the reception area are decorated with sleek black and gold arabesque patterns. After two months of studying in the Netherlands, I’ve been to a number of coffeeshops; not one of them matches Kush’s luxury aesthetic.

Although the club feels exclusive, membership at Kush – and at most of Barcelona’s cannabis social clubs – is merely a simple formality, requiring only proof that those seeking to membership are legal adults. Membership at most clubs does requires a fee. However, Kush membership does not, and when the receptionist hands me back my driver’s license, she hands it back with my very own Kush ID card.

This is the new location of Kush. It opened at the beginning of November. The club’s Facebook page referred to its absence from the scene as a “long vacation.” This past summer, in an effort to control the rise of “cannabis tourism” and suspicious activity (for example, the selling of marijuana to minors), the government shut down approximately one third of Barcelona’s 145 cannabis clubs, drafting strict laws to crack down on the growing sector.

Spanish law dictates that it is illegal to sell and consume or possess marijuana in public; however, it is legal to grow for personal use on private property. Through legislative loopholes, clubs such as Kush identify as non-commercial organizations, financing themselves through members’ subscriptions. According to an article published in The Telegraph, there are 165,000 registered members of cannabis clubs in Catalonia, and the clubs accumulate nearly 5 million euros’ worth of revenue per month.

Our membership cards allow fus to enter the club, but my boyfriend and I must wait at least two weeks before purchasing marijuana and hashish, as regulated by the new legislation. Once we move past the reception desk to Kush’s spacious interior, our friend, who studies in Barcelona and has already held Kush membership for several weeks, makes the purchase, choosing from a selection of about ten strains.

When it comes to comparing Dutch weed to Spanish weed, the prices and quality run parallel: the more you pay, the better the bud. Unlike most Dutch coffee shops I’ve visited, Kush labels its strains with their respective THC percentages, ranging from 8 percent to 11 percent. After some consideration, we decide to purchase one gram of a particular strain for 12 euros and two grams of another strain for 18 euros. Both strains are marked at about 10 percent THC. But the more expensive strain is clearly stronger and likely closer to 15 percent, raising suspicions that the percentages may be purposely reduced – possibly due to government restrictions.

The term “coffeeshop” is an accurate label for Dutch cannabis-selling establishments, as many of them look like cafés, complete with sit-down areas and bars behind which a vendor stands to serve weed-buying patrons. In Barcelona, cannabis clubs are much more varied in atmosphere: clubs range from sparsely furnished basement rooms to elegantly decorated spaces. Kush features a flat-screen TV playing a never-ending stream of hip hop and R&B music videos, a bar, chandeliers and a pool table, as well as a wide variety of comfortable seating around gold tables. There’s also a more secluded lounge area towards the back of the club that requires visitors to remove their shoes before relaxing on pillows and lighting up. We plop down here, choosing a spot in the corner where we have a full view of the club.

The proposed legislation presented to the Spanish government this past September requires club members be Spanish citizens over the age of 21; however, as a 19 year-old, I had no trouble getting in, and as I observe other members from my cozy vantage point, I overhear a mix of English and Catalan.

Most of the members look young; however, a man seated nearby is an elderly gentleman, sitting with his legs crossed and reading El País as he smokes a joint. Though cannabis tourism is on the rise, many of Barcelona’s clubs cater to residents. In fact, there have been rumors of a club whose members are comprised only of local women in their 80s, and many of the most regulated clubs are those with doctors on the premises, restricting membership to locals who use marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Despite the Catalonian regional government’s strong push to regulate the industry, the new laws don’t seem to have made much of an impact on places such as Kush. Since the legislature is recent and Barcelona’s cannabis club scene is relatively new, having sprung up from nowhere within the past five years, it’s still too soon to tell what effect the laws will have on the direction the clubs are going. For now, though, the industry continues to grow, and within a few more years, perhaps Barcelona will be replacing Amsterdam as the European center for weed, in accordance with its new nickname: Holland of the South.


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