A CITIZENS’ INITIATIVE FOR A LEGAL CANNABIS MARKET
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Cannabis Social Clubs are associations of citizens who organise the cultivation of a limited amount of cannabis to satisfy their personal needs. They establish a closed circuit of production, distribution and consumption in agreement with legal standards that are valid in their country.
At the moment, Cannabis Social Clubs are legally operating in Spain and Belgium. There may be possibilities to set up a club in any country where the consumption of cannabis is depenalised. In December 2011, a code of conduct for European Cannabis Social Clubs was elaborated.
International conventions on drugs do not include the obligation for countries to prohibit the consumption and cultivation of cannabis for personal use. Therefore, the signing countries can depenalise consumption and regulate cultivation for personal use without fear of international sanctions. These measures form the fundament of a rational policy, but they are insufficient. Cultivation for personal use cannot supply the huge demand. It does not automatically contain guarantees against all health risks or against diversion to the black market. To minimise these risks, a more developed system of production and distribution is needed.
The most rational solution is the collectivisation of the cultivation for personal use. Adult consumers who do not want to cultivate themselves can form non-profit associations, Cannabis Social Clubs, with the purpose of obtaining a legal, safe and transparent access to cannabis for their members. They do so by implementing a model for a regulated market in which supply is always demand oriented, i.e. production is limited to an amount established as necessary to satisfy the needs for personal consumption of the members.
If you wish to make this possible in your country too, please read further!
THE FOUR STEP APPROACH
When planning to set up a Cannabis Social Club you need to take into account that any connection to the illegal market should be avoided. A CSC should not only appear to be legal, it should be so and be able to demonstrate it in a court case. Therefore, a rigid discipline in the administration and organisation of the club is necessary.
Every club needs members who participate actively in the organisation in various forms and with different responsibilities. The rules should be clear and simple, and monitored democratically. It is a good idea to contact a lawyer who can give advise on the steps to take and eventually prepare the legal defense in case this is necessary.
Before taking the first step, check the legal framework for cannabis consumption in your country. If this consumption is not considered a crime and possession of a minor amount of cannabis for personal consumption does not lead to criminal persecution (see the overview of legal threshold quantities in the EU countries1) it should be possible to organise a successful legal defense of a Cannabis Social Club. Based upon the argument that where people have the right to consume, they should be allowed to grow for own consumption.
STEP ONE. PUBLIC PRESENTATION OF THE INITIATIVE
The first step is the public presentation of the initiative to organise a Cannabis Social Club through a press conference or public action. The best is to involve a well-known personality (try to collaborate with a politician or artist) in order to obtain press coverage and, in case you openly possess seeds, plants or (minor quantities of) cannabis during the presentation, reduce the risk of being persecuted.
In the presentation, it should be made very clear that the sole purpose of the club is to grow for the personal consumption of the adult members, and to provide a legal, safe and transparent alternative to the illegal market.
When there is no reaction from legal authorities indicating that the initiative will be prosecuted, it is time for step 2.
STEP TWO. CREATION OF THE CLUB
The next step is the official creation of the Cannabis Social Club, as an association of cannabis consumers and producers who grow collectively the amount of cannabis for personal consumption through a closed circuit. Create an executive committee, including at least a president, secretary and treasurer and install a transparent and democratic decision-making process, so all members are aware of the main steps in the organisation, the establishment of financial arrangements etc.
In the statutes, you should include the purpose of the association: to avoid health related risks of cannabis consumption that are inherent to the illegal market (like adulteration etc.). You can also refer to the purpose of research of the cannabis plant and the most environmental and health-friendly ways to grow it, as well as the promotion of a social debate on the legal status of cannabis and its consumers. The statutes should be registered and approved legally by the corresponding authority (local justice department).
Start to allow members (make sure they are cannabis consumers already or have a recognised medical condition in which cannabis consumption may not be harmful, and may even be beneficial).
Start growing! Establish the amount needed for the personal consumption of the members and organise the collective production of this amount in a collective plantation. Make sure the cultivation is organic, that there is a good variety of plants available, so members can always choose between different species and find out which is most convenient to them.
Make sure that people working in this plantation and transporting plants and/or cannabis are always in possession of papers that explain the way the association works and refer to legal antecedents. From these papers it should result that the cannabis in the collective plantation is grown on behalf of the members who can be referred to with their official information (copies of identity cards for instance). These documents may be crucial to avoid persecution of the people mostly involved in the association in case legal authorities decide to intervene.
All depending on the legislation in your country, distribution and consumption of the harvest can take place in the club.
STEP THREE. PROFESSIONALISE THE CLUB
With time, the amount of members will grow and the organisation of production, transport, payments etc. will need to become more professional. In order to enable the association to have control over the plants, it is best to have various small scale plantations.
Every club can have its own rules that can complement the statutes and refer to the use of the club room, payment of membership contributions, cultivation, the good team spirit of the club etc. In these rules you can include codes of conduct for the members, for instance concerning the sale of cannabis produced by the club to non-members, especially minors.
To avoid problems and misunderstandings it may be best to inform the authorities of the fact that you are growing cannabis collectively. Some clubs have done this in a message to the legal authorities in their region, the closest police office or the municipality, others have just sent a press release.
The fact that you are a non-profit association does not mean that no commercial transactions can take place. To produce good quality cannabis in a safe and healthy way requires hard work, which should be remunerated. To operate as an association, expenses have to be made and people who run it should be remunerated.
The establishment of the price should be done in a transparent and democratic way. The included expenses can be: rent of rooms, water, electricity, materials, wages, office costs, gasoline and general costs of the association. These are divided by the amount of cannabis that is grown by the club resulting in a price per gramme. In Spain and Belgium, it has been possible to arrive to a price of between 3 and 4 euros /gramme. Most clubs work with annual budgets, so this price can be adapted each year. In other cases this can take place with each harvest (3 to 4 months).
If profits are made, these are used for the association. The first that can happen if more profits are made than necessary for the goals of the association is to reduce the annual membership contribution of the members.
Financial transactions should always be documented (outgoing payments with invoices, incoming payments with receipts). This is important to show in an eventual courtcase that the club has not been involved in any illegal activity. It also helps to ensure the financial transparency of the organisation.
It is a good idea to establish a mechanism for external control of the organisation, by someone who is not a member and has the capacity to judge if the used methods live up to the standards that may be expected.
STEP FOUR. LOBBY FOR A LEGAL REGULATION FOR CANNABIS SOCIAL CLUBS IN YOUR COUNTRY
Once a Cannabis Social Club is functioning properly, what remains is to convince political and legal authorities to install a legal regulatory framework for clubs, concerning licenses, taxes, external control.
In most cases, politicians, legal experts, judges or policemen simply do not know how to start regulating a legal cannabis market. This can actually help the process: when there are no antecedents, the models that are proposed by the consumers themselves can become easier accepted.