Is Spain’s Decriminalisation of Cannabis a Success?

In 2015, Spain decriminalised the use of cannabis in private spaces. Following this change in the law, there are now around 700 cannabis clubs in the country, which means you can use cannabis for recreational or medical purposes without fear of prosecution. It is legal in Spain to cultivate and smoke cannabis in your home for personal use. You are also allowed to buy and sell cannabis seeds. If you want to grow cannabis on your private property, though, it has to be hidden from public view. It is illegal, on the other hand, to smoke cannabis in public, as well as to sell it or grow the plant for that purpose.

But is Spain’s decriminalisation of cannabis a success story? Let’s take a look at some of the benefits and downsides to Spain’s changes to its drug policy. As we shall see, decriminalisation resolves many of the issues of prohibition, yet more still needs to be done.

Spain’s Decriminalisation is Better for Patients

Before Spain’s decriminalisation of cannabis, patients with a variety of conditions would have to use their medicinal cannabis with fear of prosecution. They were technically criminals. But the new cannabis measure introduced in 2015 eradicates this problem. People who use cannabis for medical reasons are no longer hassled by the police. In those states in the US where medical cannabis has not been legalised, on the other hand, law enforcement continues to crack down on patients who are using cannabis as medicine.

While decriminalisation benefits patients more, it is not necessarily ideal. After all, since cannabis has not been legalised in Spain, doctors cannot prescribe it. Tommaso Bruscolini, a neuropsychologist working at the Spanish cannabis company Medcan, told The Stop & Chat:

“Professionals cannot prescribe or advise to try cannabis, but if a person declares herself as a user and ask about possible help for symptomatic relief, professionals can do an assessment giving information about which kind of cannabinoids could help and the way of use, in order to maximize the benefits and minimize side effects.”

Patients Still Face Issues

While decriminalisation is a better situation for patients than prohibition, it isn’t ideal. For example, many patients struggle to find high-quality, consistent products. This is because doctors are not allowed to prescribe cannabis to their patients, so anyone in Spain who wants to use cannabis for medical purposes will have to join a club and use whatever cannabis is on offer. This is highly problematic since non-medical cannabis can be contaminated with a type of fungi that is life-threatening for immunosuppressed patients.

How the Cannabis Market in Spain Could Change

What we may see in the future is a bifurcation of the cannabis market in Spain. This would involve recreational cannabis becoming more varied and cheaper, with less stringent rules about purchase and consumption. Medical cannabis, in contrast, could undergo stricter checks for consistency and safety, which would make it easier to be supported by health insurance providers.

Ultimately, a legal, regulated market would be best for patients, as this would help to guarantee access to consistent, medical grade cannabis. This is of paramount importance for patients, as this ensures safe and effective use. If cannabis products are inconsistent for patients, then they can’t always get the relief that they are looking for. Bruscolini underscores that Spain’s cannabis clubs suit recreational users but don’t work so well for patients. He said, normally a club “in general doesn’t have medical products”, the products “normally are not analysed”, and the workers “don’t have medical skills”. In the name of better healthcare, various organisations in Spain are campaigning for the legalisation and regulation of medical cannabis.

Decriminalisation is still a step in the right direction for Spain. So, until other countries in Europe have a legal, regulated cannabis market, they would be wise to pay attention to the successes achieved by Spain. The decriminalisation of cannabis in other countries would be a compassionate move, a way to immediately offer relief for millions of patients who are struggling and desperate for an effective remedy.