By Joep Oomen
Inspired by the model that was originally designed by cannabis activists in the Spanish regions of Catalonia and the Basque Country in the mid-nineties, Cannabis Social Clubs have been sprouting in several European countries recently. Besides being a real solution to the needs of the cannabis consumer, the CSC has become a simple and effective tool to inform and convey to the public, as well as authorities, that it is possible to put in place a simple, transparent and easily controllable system to produce and distribute cannabis.
CSC’s start from the premise that the worst consequence of drug prohibition has been the generation of an illegal market that is almost entirely based on economic motives, and a control structure that is almost solely based on immoral motives. That is, neither are really taking into account the interests of consumers and producers.
If we wish to replace this policy with one that is orientated towards the protection of the health and safety of consumers and producers then we will have to build an alternative from ground-up, with our own hands. Only this way, can we prevent others from taking advantage of the space that is created when the days of prohibition come to an end, and establishment of another monopoly: the profit driven commercial model.
We have seen how in Spain since 2006, when Pannagh was acquitted in Bilbao, clubs have sprung up like mushrooms and how this success has attracted people and interest groups that are not on the side of consumers. So the authorities have decided to intervene and so far, it seems that at least the regional parliament of Catalonia and the Basque Country will soon present a proposal for a final law to regulate the CSCs.
In Belgium, the first CSC Trekt uw Plant was established in 2006, based on a 2005 guideline that says that possession of max. 3 grams or a female plant will not be penalised anymore. However, TUP had to go to court twice before finally being acquitted in 2010. Only three years later four new clubs were founded, but shortly after 3 of them closed again after suffering the first police intervention. The fourth, Mambo Social Club, which began as a regional section of Trekt uw Plant, suffered a police raid in December 2013, but expects to be acquitted in December 2014. The current Belgium government has announced its willingness to investigate the CSC as one possible model for legal regulation, but the proposal new law is not expected soon.
In Slovenia, two clubs operate with the knowledge of the authorities, but without their explicit approval: one is exclusively oriented towards the use of medical cannabis and the other is integrated into a community of squatters in the city of Maribor. The same counts for the first Cannabis Social Club of the Netherlands, called “The Tree of Life” in Amsterdam. Founded in September of this year, the CSC forms a huge challenge to municipal authorities, who are now facing a dilemma: acting against the club with about 25 members would create a ridiculous situation, since already in Amsterdam there are hundreds of coffeeshops which get their cannabis from the illegal market, while tolerating their existence would bring them into conflict with Justice Minister Ivo Opstelten, who is opposing any relaxation of the restrictive policy towards cannabis cultivation.
Moreover, in the Dutch city of Utrecht and in several cities in Switzerland and Germany (such as Bern, Berlin and Frankfurt to be precise, as well as others) the municipal governments are considering opening a Cannabis Social Club as a pilot project. In these cases the authorities would allow a group of consumers in their town to organise their own supply in order not to resort to the illicit market.
Finally, in France, Italy and the United Kingdom people have established Cannabis Social Clubs, but so far they operate clandestinely, without being officially registered, or simply as groups of activists that, in future want to create a CSC, but for the moment hide behind a profile on Facebook.
In Austria, it is just the opposite: there are several CSC’s officially registered, but they do not cultivate yet.
So, from a small seed planted in the ground by a handful of people who resigned to surrender to the prohibitionist system, a movement was born. Millions of people have put their hopes on those who establish the clubs, so that one day they too will have the opportunity to enrol and be given permission to grow their plants, all within in a perfectly legal framework.
But there is still confusion about the term Cannabis Social Clubs. This confusion is caused by two problems. On the one hand the term is being used by many people who have no idea what a CSC really is and how it should operate – simply because in their country the concept can not yet be implemented due to the absence of a legal framework or the right political environment.
On the other hand, in the only countries where it can be legally implemented (Belgium and Spain) there are some people who use the term to cover a commercial business model. They do this only for the sake of public relations, because they know the general public accept more readily the Cannabis Social Clubs as opposed to a commercial enterprise.
The CSC can not be patented – it is an idea, a theoretical concept. In each country, region, perhaps even in every city, both activists and authorities will have to find their own interpretation. And it’s important to remember that the real aim of the cannabis activists is not to construct a CSC, but to obtain legislation that guarantees the rights of adults to possess and grow cannabis at home for personal consumption.
If Cannabis Social Clubs can be a tool to obtain this they themselves should be clear and transparent. They need to identify themselves as a CSC and therefore they need to adhere to a common code of conduct.
After several months of discussions between activists from different European countries, the Code of Conduct for European Cannabis Social Clubs was established in December 2011. Its purpose is to serve as a guideline for those who wish to establish a CSC in their own country, but also as a reference for consumers. They should know that, as members of a CSC, they are entitled to complain somewhere if their club does not comply with this code of conduct.
We should never forget that the concept of CSC is designed to protect and empower consumers – to give them the opportunity to control the production of what they consume, to stop being victims of manipulation. Internal democracy of a CSC facilitates any group of members to join forces and challenge the Board if they consider this necessary. This is much harder in a private or state-owned model.
Now, what are the basic principles of a European Cannabis Social Club? What else distinguishes it from other initiatives?
Supply follows demand, not vice versa
The production capacity of a CSC is based on the expected level of consumption of its members. The supply is organised in order to meet the needs of the members. Therefore, a CSC does not advertise or actively tries to recruit more members. It can only grow slowly, but solidly, just like a plant.
A CSC does not buy and sell cannabis, it provides a service to its members. The price they pay should be based on a realistic estimate of technical and administrative expenses, and should be approved by the Assembly of Members. The benefits that can be generated by the club should be used to promote its objectives, not to fill the pockets of a few.
Cannabis Social Clubs are legally registered associations.Their internal organisation is democratic and participatory. The decision-making body is the Annual General Assembly, to which all members are invited to attend and everyone has one vote. At the GA, a narrative and financial report of the activities of the association in the preceding year is presented and approved, as well as a plan for the following year.
Throughout the process from seed to bud, CSCs strive to ensure that the cultivated cannabis meets the standards of organic agriculture. Chemical use is completely outlawed. They also have an active policy to detect and prevent problematic consumption through the promotion of safe and responsible use. They collaborate with public health entities, and assist members who wish to contact social-medical practitioners.
Open to dialogue with authorities
A CSC is willing to enter into any form of dialogue with the authorities, seeking the common goal: to reduce the street market for drugs where people are bothered by aggressive buyers or pushers, where young people quickly become victims of dealers and where theft and deception occur.
Support to activism (inter-) national
Activism has played a crucial role in the success of the CSCs and remains important to ensure their empowerment, which will eventually lead to a final regulation of the cannabis market that guarantees the rights of all consumers and producers. Therefore each CSC should be affiliated with national and international platforms of cannabis activism, both to represent the CSCs on the (inter-) national level so as to serve as a reference point for members and the general public.
All clubs who that except & acknowledge adherence to the CSC Code of Conduct are welcome to register and be listed on the European Cannabis Social Clubs.
Even those groups that are not a club still can accede to a network of self-support that could help them a lot.
Lets create thousands of CSCs across Europe. Long live the green revolution!