Could Spanish-Style Cannabis Clubs Drive Tourism Dollars?


Wikimedia Commons / Ashton / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License

Cannabis tourism without cannabis clubs might strike some as the quintessential definition of a lost business opportunity. But while recreational legalization works its way through the American political process in 2016, might the non-profit, members-only cannabis clubs of Spain provide an interim model for a quasi-public consumption option?

If Barcelona is the new Amsterdam, might it also be the future of that other New Amsterdam, New York City, or Washington, D.C., Las Vegas or any other major tourist magnet?

A non-profit scheme might not be ideal for entrepreneurs and investors, but it might be more palatable to state and local regulators and bring in collateral revenue for hotels, dispensaries and other businesses that cater to the tourist trade.


The Rise of Canna-Tourism

As reported by New Frontier :

A study commissioned by the Colorado Tourism Office found that 8% of the tourists to the state visited a marijuana dispensary while there, which equates to 5.7 million canna-tourists … . If the canna-tourism rates are similar in other states, California and New York would see the greatest number of canna-tourists.

However, the study continues, the economic impact of tourism would be greatest in sparsely populated states with many visitors, including Nevada, New Mexico, Maine and Washington, D.C.

How much did tourists spend on cannabis in Colorado last year? There, the numbers are hard to crunch, but tourism increased and nearly half of those surveyed last summer indicated that marijuana was a factor in their decision to visit Colorado.

Many visitors who went cannabis shopping, however, may have found themselves in the awkward position of having no legal place to consume it.


The Spanish Solution

Spain, with one of the most conservative administrations in Western Europe is the last place one might expect to see a permissive attitude toward cannabis consumption. Not unlike Initiative 71 in D.C., Spanish law allows marijuana to be grown privately for personal use and tolerates shared consumption in private venues, but prohibits buying and selling.

This has led to a network of non-profit cannabis clubs across Barcelona, Valencia and the Basque Country where marijuana smokers may gather and consume in a social setting without fear of arrest or confiscation. The clubs are allowed to grow and distribute marijuana among their members, who are, in turn, required to cover the upkeep of the club and the cost of growing the cannabis.


A History of False Starts in Legal States

Cannabis clubs are still banned in D.C., despite an aborted attempt to allow the ban to lapse. In Denver, private cannabis clubs operate, subject to periodic raids. The Limited Social Marijuana Consumption Initiative was to have appeared on the 2015 Denver ballot only to be pulled by supporters at the last moment in the face of organized opposition from city officials and the Colorado Restaurant Association. Indoor smoking regulations appear to block the development of clubs in Portland, Oregon.

Nonetheless, an early draft of regulations would appear to permit clubs in Alaska and the Vermont legislature is considering adult-use legislation that would permit the licensing of cannabis lounges.


An Interim Step?

The progress on public consumption options in the U.S. has been halting and uneven. It is not clear that the issue will make it to center stage in a year when many states will take a step toward adult use or medical legalization. Might a limited model provide an interim step that would permit social consumption while underscoring the economic benefit that may arise from legal cannabis commerce?

Anne Wallace is a New York lawyer who writes extensively on legal and business issues. She also teaches law and business writing at the college and professional level. Anne graduated from Fordham Law School and Wellesley College.

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