Presence and practices of cannabis social clubs within the European Union
Background: Cannabis Social Clubs (CSCs) are typically defined as non-profit associations of adult cannabis users who collectively produce and distribute cannabis among themselves. Since the emergence of the model in Spain during the 1990s, many other countries have seen the appearance of CSCs (or CSC-like associations). The goals of the research presented here are to: 1) map the presence of CSCs across the European Union; 2) examine how CSCs are operating in such settings and the extent to which they adhere to the typical features ascribed to the CSC model.
Methods: As we are interested in capturing any possible facets of CSCs, organizations that self-defined as being a CSC were eligible for participation in the study. We conducted exploratory online searches to identify CSCs, including on social media. We relied also on our own networks of contacts - building on previous CSC studies by the authors, and launched a website about the research project. The data included in our analysis derives from a survey conducted between 2018-2019. The 30-item questionnaire included questions about the origins of the CSC, its relations with other stakeholders and organizations, the types of activities the CSC developed and its views on cannabis regulation. The questionnaire was translated to all the official languages of the EU zone and sent via e-mail to the known CSCs. In total, 80 CSCs completed the questionnaire.
Results: Beyond Spain and Belgium, where the CSC presence has already been documented, we were able to identify CSCs in 11 other countries (namely Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom). The longest-running CSC included in our sample was established in 1999, but the average establishment date among participating-clubs was 2013. Most CSCs were affiliated with a CSC Federation (particularly in Spain, UK, Austria and Belgium). In terms of size, the smallest CSC in our sample reported 6 registered members, while the largest counted with a total of 5000 members.
Discussion: The CSC model has remained unregulated across the different EU jurisdictions. CSC-activists and users have thus by and large shaped the way CSCs operate, often adapting to legal constraints and law enforcement activities. In this paper, we present and discuss the range of CSC practices from 13 different European countries, and what these represent for the consideration of the CSC model in current policy debates.