Alternative Regulatory Models: The Case for Cannabis Social Clubs

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Cannabis social clubs can offer a novel and cost-effective model of non-profit cannabis production

The debates around cannabis legislation taking place in the present tend to be highly oversimplified. They jump back and forth between the pros and cons of prohibition and liberalization without getting anywhere close to the specifics of the possible regulatory models.  Such is the opinion advanced by an international research team, who have just recently published a review piece on the implementation of cannabis social clubs in the countries of Spain, Belgium and Uruguay.

Among other models of cannabis regulation that have been tried around the world, the authors briefly mention locally controlled retail sales (in line with the Dutch coffee-shop model), permission for home cultivation, limited for-profit license grants, and government monopoly. Cannabis social clubs (CSCs), which have been less explored, could provide an interesting alternative.

The authors define CSCs as “legally constituted non-profit associations of cannabis consumers, who collectively cultivate cannabis plants to meet the personal needs of their adult members.” These can be set in any country where personal cannabis cultivation has been decriminalized and freedom of association is granted. They provide obvious logistical and social benefits, while ideally they also reduce personal contacts with illegal markets and protect public health via rigorous product quality controls.

CSCs took slightly different directions in the three countries examined. In Uruguay, these clubs are tightly regulated, whereas the clubs in Spain and Belgium reside in a kind of legal grey area. The low numbers of members per club in Belgium and Uruguay (5-20) contrast with those of Spain, with averages ranging from 800 to 1000 members.

Most clubs limit their membership to local adults who are already known by other senior members, but some exceptions have been observed. The authors discuss the case of a few clubs in Barcelona that are known to accept touristic clients and adopt more pro-profit tonalities.

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