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The Rise of the European Cannabis Social Club

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Flickr @ kweez mcG

As a European, it’s been exhilarating to watch how the cannabis industry is sweeping across the U.S. The new brands, technology, science, culture, and great products are awe-inspiring. As much as I would love things to follow the same path here in Europe, I just can’t help but feel that things are not going to.

A Winding Road

We do things differently in Europe; we take the winding road. The U.S. makes muscle cars that go very fast in a straight line, we make supercars that go very fast around corners. We have a mutual appreciation, but we appreciate a different approach. I could be wrong, but I struggle to visualise legal dispensaries popping up across European cities. Even the famous coffeeshops of Holland are struggling in the current political climate, which seems to be more focused on dealing with the perceived crisis we face from migrants from neighbouring war-torn countries than helping people with therapeutic herbs.

This is not to say that the cannabis industry will not thrive here in Europe. It is and it will. It just seems to be taking a more European approach.

Throughout Europe cannabis is popular, and thanks to the fact that we have a hungry appetite for U.S. media, it is now regarded in a more positive light by what seems to me to be the majority of the population.

Power to the People

As the European law-making behemoth in Brussels slowly changes its course with regards to cannabis, and drugs in general, the citizens of Europe are taking matters into their own hands.

People are starting to explore different models that work within the confines of existing laws. Which, depending on where you reside in the EU, can differ quite a bit. The trend is leaning towards decriminalisation rather than a full on legalisation.

Within the grey zone of a decriminalised market, you are left with two options: you can grow your own, something I’m a huge advocate for, or grow collectively in the form of a private cannabis club. These clubs are known as “Cannabis Social Clubs” and are springing up around Europe. They are an attempt to self regulate and protect members from both sides of the law whilst providing a safe, high quality product.

The logic goes like this: if it is decriminalised for an adult to grow one plant, then one would assume that five friends could grow five plants between them. If five friends can grow together, then why not fifty, or even a couple of hundred?

Rules will differ depending on the country, but usually members must be a resident of the country the club is operating in, they must be over 18, and they must already be a cannabis consumer. Typically, the club is established legally as a non-profit organization and members pay an annual fee to join. The club acts like a cannabis bank and holds the member’s plant for them to buy a portion at a time. Costs cover the running of the club and even paying the growers for their time and efforts.

Alternatively the “club” could be a small group of friends who grow collectively and agree to take the responsibility of ownership of their plant. In the unhappy event of the police confiscating the plants and the case going to court, paperwork would support the fact that each plant has a different owner. As one plant is decriminalised no one can be prosecuted – at least thats the theory. This covers the grower. Friends can then contribute to the costs and time spent by the grower. This is included in the price of the cannabis, which usually sells for around 8 EUR a gram for organic, greenhouse grown, dried cannabis flowers, or more for indoor grown.

All the plants that are growing are accounted for and have real owners. In the event of grow operation being busted, it is likely the plants will still be confiscated, but the grower is in a stronger position in court now that they have the paperwork to show that these plants are part of a closed loop to help keep cannabis consumers out of the black market.

It still provides little protection against criminals. You hear of robberies of large quantities of processed cannabis and there is nowhere for the grower to turn. This is easy money if you are a criminal gang. This is an unfortunate result of things being kept underground, and it seems rippers are gonna rip.

The cannabis club goes a long way to help cannabis consumers get cannabis without having to grow their own. The trouble is, they lack the casual relationship you have with a coffeeshop. Having interviews, completing forms, paying an annual fee, and buying in what some may regard as bulk (10g or more) is nowhere near the same experience as just popping into a nice cafe and buying a gram of Cannabis Cup winning sativa to while away a sunny afternoon exploring a cool city. Despite these shortcomings, they seem to be a happy enough compromise for the majority of cannabis consumers.

Cannabis Clubs in Court

The hub of the cannabis social club scene is undoubtedly Barcelona, and other places in Spain. But clubs exist elsewhere throughout Europe. Trekt uw Plant, based in Antwerp in Belgium, is one such club. Founded by the late activist Joep “Freedom to Farm” Oomen, it paved the way in Belgium for similar clubs, being taken to high court twice and winning. They are still in operation with several hundred members.

A recent setback to cannabis social clubs in Belgium has been the court ruling on Mambo Social Club, based in Hasselt near the Dutch border. According to Michel Degens, chairman of Mambo, who was pulled over by police on the way to delivering several kilograms of dried cannabis flowers to a member’s’ exchange, “I was acquitted for encouraging drug use, but convicted for possession, production and sales of drugs.” He didn’t receive a punishment, he received a suspended sentence for 3 years. Mich is now preparing for the upcoming civil case.

“Right now we are entering the battle that will decide everything, the survival of the club is at stake.

We still exist and the goal is to safeguard at least our very existence.” Mich explains in an email. “In the civil case, the prosecutor of Hasselt is asking for the club to be dissolved on the grounds that ‘we are a great danger to the public order’.”

How providing adults who already consume, and will continue to consume cannabis no matter what, with safe organic marijuana that removes any exposure to the criminal underworld is a menace to society remains to be seen. “If the prosecutor wins it is game over for Mambo. The outcome will be a threat to all the other cannabis social clubs in Belgium.”

Others keen to start their own clubs were waiting with baited breath for the outcome of the first case. Mambo had been a model cannabis club with full transparency and Mich is proving to be a media savvy model citizen. If he can’t provide the breakthrough Belgian cannabis social clubs need, then you wonder at this juncture who can.

The Subtle Path

The European cannabis industry is finding a more subtle path than that of the U.S. out of necessity. In some countries, enthusiasts are struggling to keep grow shops open, let alone be ready for dispensaries. Even grow shops in Holland are under fire. Customers are being monitored to catch growers and shops are being closed down. Regular garden centres are being told to report “suspicious activity”, such as buying multiple bags of perlite or hundreds of pots at a time.

It’s not all doom and gloom in the Netherlands. The Tree of Life is a private, non-profit Amsterdam based cannabis social club founded by cannabis connoisseurs. According to their public website, “The Tree of Life was founded in Amsterdam for citizens/cannabis consumers that are unsatisfied with the present situation, wherein you can buy cannabis in a coffeeshop without knowing where the cannabis comes from and with no reliable information about the chemistry and the possible effects of the product.”

Change is coming and we are on the right side of history. It’s just going to take time, as we’ve seen from our American friends, and persistence and perseverance will prevail.

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