The Effect of the Legal Sale and Distribution of Marijuana on Spanish culture in the Last Decade

This essay hopes to outline
some of the effects that the legalisation of marijuana could have on the
country both socially and economically; as well as look to the future possible
outcomes. The legalisation of marijuana has been a controversial topic all over
the world and as more countries and states begin to relax or completely abolish
legal restrictions on the drug. This controversy
has recently extended to the issue of medical uses of marijuana, namely, smoking of marijuana to relieve various symptoms (Hollister, 2000). Even despite this it is probably the
most widely and commonly used illegal drug in the world. A survey done by the
National Survey on Drug use and Health in 2015 showed that in one month 22.2
million people used the drug.

Since the early 1990’s,
several Spanish associations have experimented with self-cultivation of
marijuana for their members (Decorte, 2011). The legal sale and distribution of
marijuana in Spain could not be possible without the birth of social clubs.
While it was common belief that these clubs existed through some form of legal
loop hole, this isn’t true. It is in fact Spanish constitution that allows the
formation of these clubs. Spain has extremely liberal constitutional privacy
protections. In summary, what these laws state (among other things) is that
what one does is the privacy of one’s home is no one else’s business. These
privacy laws have been tested in the courts and the result has been that if you
want to grow a few plants in your home or other private location, out of view
of the public. then that’s acceptable (Hudson, 2016). Spaniards also have
the Right to Association which means that people with similar interest may form
together and make groups or clubs. This lead to multiple people grouping
together to pay for lots and grow their allotted plants. While this may be constitutionally
okay, if caught the possession and distribution of marijuana was still legal
and hundreds of people have been arrested and fined as a result, in 2006
members of a club were arrested and their crop requisitioned, months later the
judge decided that there was no crime because they removed the criminal sale
aspect cutting profits for those who sell drugs illegally, “it is a consumption modality among addicts in which the
possibility of transmission to third parties is discarded” (Pérez-Lanzac, 2008). In 2008 and
part of 2009 a study was carried out on the capacity of drug user organisations
to influence policy dialogue (Decorte, 2011). They outlined many
difficulties encountered by Spanish cannabis organisations from lack of
political strategy training to social stigma. In the time over the course of
the last decade, with each autonomous community able to set its own laws on
cannabis; consequently, on Friday 30th of June Catalonia passed a
law enabling a network of co-operatives to legally oversee the legal use,
distribution and cultivation of cannabis. Cultivation, supply and consumption
must all take place in private. No forms of advertising are allowed. Membership
is restricted to adults who are already cannabis consumers and potential
members must be sponsored by another member to join. Members must be registered
for 15 days before cannabis can be bought. Clubs must keep a register of
members and limit the amount cultivated for each member to 60 grams a month
maximum for those aged over 21 and 20 grams a month maximum for those aged 18
to 21. These maximums do not apply to therapeutic use (Daly, 2017).
Spain’s cannabis laws have been progressively liberalized to the point where
Spain is now one of the most cannabis – friendly countries in all of Europe.
Despite all this, the ‘restrictions’ stipulating who can buy marijuana, some
cities such as Barcelona now have more than 200 cannabis clubs, are gaining
status as “New Amsterdam” in weed tourism circles Because of the ease of access
and privacy allowed these clubs are becoming a safe place for tourist to smoke
as well. The first thing to remember is that while these clubs have been around
for a while, legalisation in Spain only happened a few months ago so there is
only small amounts of research and evidence available to analyse. To bridge
this gap, analysis of similar countries and states will be used as comparison
and to make guesses towards possible effects it could have in Spain.

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The first obvious and blatant
effect is the factor of health, the main method of taking marijuana is smoking
it, the obvious and proven health risk of smoking any material has been proven
without a doubt; therefor the legalisation of a substance in which you are
supposed to smoke could be promoting a health risk. However, while medical
marijuana and cannabinoids have significant health risks as well as many
potential medical benefits (Hill, 2015),
and even so,
with these all the risks there still has not been a single reported death where
the cause has been marijuana overdose. With legalisation comes more
available and wider spread research of the drug, medical marijuana can be taken
in a number of ways; from oral spray, to food and also vape pens, all of which
can be shown to be more healthy way to take marijuana. Data from
more than 40 clinical trials of marijuana and cannabinoids have been published;
beyond the 2 indications for which dronabinol and nabilone are already approved
by the FDA, the strongest evidence exists for the use of marijuana and
cannabinoids as pharmacotherapies for chronic pain, neuropathic pain, and
spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis (Hill, 2015).
As long as each patients case is evaluated properly by their doctor, there is
no reason that these methods can not only help the patients but are even more
effective in some cases, some patients are able to report switching 3 to 4
medically prescribed pills for one marijuana based treatment. One of the health
considerations that need to be considered is the possible extra strain that the
increase in use could do to the health services themselves. One thing to think
about is the long-term health benefits that come from people feeling they are
able to seek help, it has been seen that addicts are more likely to come
forward and seek rehabilitation when they do not feel they will be judged or
persecuted for their use.  A study in the
United States showed that while it is true, that in cases of residents in
states where marijuana is legal had higher odds of both using marijuana and
marijuana abuse / dependence; marijuana abuse / dependence was in fact not
found to be  more prevalent among the regular
marijuana users in these states, suggesting that the higher risk of abuse or
dependence was simply accounted for by the general higher use in these states (Cerdá, et al., 2012). In Colorado between
2011 and 2013 an increase in the number of emergency room visits that related
to marijuana rose by 57% (Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, 2014). This has been
speculated to have been caused by a number of things, the first is the fact
that because it is legal this means for someone to be intoxicated in public or
other situations where it might not be appropriate there are now only social
persecution not legal. Add this to the fact it is even now becoming more
socially tolerable, this causes more frequent and relaxed use of the drug and
may cause more frequent accidents. Second is caused by the allowances for open
experimentation has caused a spike in the strength of the marijuana, causing
inexperienced users to ingest high amounts of THC and seek medical aid.
Considering the other side of this we can now reduce situations in which
dealers add extra dangerous substances to the marijuana, because of more free
sharing of knowledge and regulations now put in place, because it is a legal
substance and therefore under the laws of sale and distribution, users can be
sure that they are buying a safe to consume product. Kristin
Aichinger, Cultivation Manager at Green Man Cannabis, said: “One major
factor is how clean our weed is. Here in Colorado, the fruit and vegetables on
your counter have more pesticides and non-organic chemicals than the weed in
your joint. We have outrageously strict testing regulations here. The weed is
also tested for mould and mildew, and potency levels are a legal requirement on
our packaging” (Cedar, 2016).
The third
is the increase of driving while intoxicated. Marijuana has been proven to have
a negative effect on reaction time, awareness and cognitive capabilities,
therefor it could be theorised that by legalising the substance you will
increase the risk of people being intoxicated while they drive which in turn
increases accidents. In Western countries, cannabinoids are the most frequently
encountered illicit drugs detected in the blood of impaired or injured drivers,
leading to awareness that these substances are detrimental to safe driving (Bondallaz, et al., 2016). Colorado
saw the biggest estimated increase in claim frequency compared with its control
states. After retail marijuana sales began in Colorado, the increase in
collision claim frequency was 14 percent higher than in nearby Nebraska, Utah
and Wyoming. Washington’s estimated increase in claim frequency was 6 percent
higher than in Montana and Idaho, and Oregon’s estimated increase in claim
frequency was 4 percent higher than in Idaho, Montana and Nevada. In spite of
this it was also found that Three years after recreational marijuana legalisation,
changes in motor vehicle crash fatality rates for Washington and Colorado were
not statistically different from those in similar states without recreational
marijuana legalisation (Aydelotte, et al., 2017). When looking at the
total outcomes though, it is important to look at the whole picture,
governments spend massive amounts of money each year prosecuting and housing
offenders with only convictions relating to marijuana. Medical marijuana is
associated with significant drops in violent crime. Looking at crime data from
11 states in the west, seven of which had medical marijuana laws before 2009,
they see “no evidence of significant, negative spill over effects from MMLs on
crime.” Instead, they suspect a fall in the involvement of criminal
organizations after marijuana is legalized for medical use and conclude, “MMLs
likely produce net benefits for society.” (Trilling, 2016). In Uruguay they
take the health risk very seriously and have much stricter rules on who, when
and why some one can purchase marijuana, the main aim of the implementation in
Uruguay was to take money out of the illicit drug market but they do not want
to increase use or increase risk of addiction. the Uruguayan government has
recognised, a balance needs to be struck when it comes to the restrictiveness
of its regulations. Too restrictive (with prices too high, limited availability
etc.), and people are likely to carry on purchasing cannabis from the illicit market;
not restrictive enough (with prices too low, over-availability etc.), and
people are likely to consume more cannabis or start using the drug for the
first time (Transform, 2014).

This
leads to the next largest factor effected by the legalisation of cannabis which
is crime. As stated earlier some judges, especially in Spain, believe that
self-cultivation and consumption is not a crime because it takes money out of
the hands of real criminals. It also reduces the chance that hard drug dealers
will be able to take advantage of a marijuana users addiction, to either make
money off them or force them to commit other crimes as payment. Marijuana related
arrests in Colorado fell from 12,894 in 2012, when voters approved legalisation,
to 7,004 in 2014, the first year of legal recreational sales—a 46
percent decrease. Marijuana related charges filed in Colorado courts fell
81 percent between 2012 and 2015, from 10,340 to 1,954. Those dramatic changes
saved thousands of people from unjust punishment and channelled law enforcement
resources toward activities with a bigger public safety payoff (Sullum, 2016). Despite many
peoples worry that the legalisation of marijuana would drastically increase crime
rates when legalisation first happened in America, there have been studies that
show the opposite in certain areas. To be sure, medical marijuana laws were not found to have a crime
exacerbating effect on any of the seven crime types. On the contrary, our
findings indicated that MML precedes a reduction in homicide and assault. It
conforms to the longstanding notion that marijuana legalisation may lead to a
reduction in alcohol use due to individuals substituting marijuana for alcohol.
Given the relationship between alcohol and violent crime, it may turn out that
substituting marijuana for alcohol leads to minor reductions in violent crimes
that can be detected at the state level (Morris, et al.,
2014).
A criminal aspect that could occur, both from the issues caused between state
and country or federal laws; and the restrictions used in countries such as
Holland. Perhaps the most justifiable concern with the coffee shop system is
the ‘backdoor problem’, whereby sales of cannabis are tolerated (the drug can
leave the coffee shops via the front door), but production and cultivation
(i.e. the supply chain that leads up to the back door of the coffee shops)
remain prohibited. This has led to concerns about the links between the coffee
shops and organised crime. However, if there is any truth in the claims about
such links, it is almost entirely because of the legal paradox in which
supplying cannabis to the coffee shops is a criminal act, while selling cannabis
via the shops is (effectively) not (Rolles, 2014). They have a similar problem in the
United States because while states have legalized it, it is still a federal
crime and even without this confusing state of affairs, it can become a problem
in situations where a truck might leave and arrive with perfectly legal cargo,
but they have to drive through states where they can be stopped and searched
and ultimately arrested. This leads official companies to be hesitant to take
marijuana business, leaving these companies little choice but to make the run
themselves or hirer someone using an illegal method of smuggling the shipment
from A to B (The Legend of 420, 2017). These situations
arise because of poor preparation and implementation by these countries
governments, in some states there have been reports of criminals using the
legal areas as “safe havens” to grow and cultivate their crops, then smuggling
the product into a state where it is illegal and charging inflated prices in
these areas. Illegal drug traffickers are growing weed among the state’s
sanctioned pot warehouses and farms, then covertly shipping it elsewhere and
pocketing millions of dollars from the sale, according to law enforcement
officials and court records consulted by The Associated Press (Associated Press, 2016). It has allowed for
loopholes that even still can be seen as punishing to those who wish to legally
use marijuana in peace and the criminals who profit from a flawed system.

A factor heavily talked about
by those opposed to the legalisation of marijuana is the social effects. While
side effects can vary from strain to strain some are more common than others, side
effects such as paranoia, loss of cognitive ability and slower mental reaction
can make social situations difficult especially between someone who is
intoxicated and someone who is not. A study in Massachusetts looked at social
interactions of adult males who were given free access to marijuana. Data
relevant to social interaction and recreational preferences were collected at
hourly intervals. Moderate users consumed an average of 2.6 cigarettes per day
and showed both acute and persistent (21-day) decrements in social interaction.
Heavy users consumed 5.7 cigarettes per day but indicated fewer social
reactions. The results suggested that marijuana inhibits social interaction in
moderate users but behavioural tolerance in heavy users may mitigate this effect
(Babor, et al., 2009). While this study
may demonstrate that legalisation of recreational marijuana might not have
significant social effects on those users who are already considered heavy user
and developed some behavioural tolerance, however new users to moderate users
may be at higher risk of feeling these social effects. Other issues that can
occur from the side effects such as lack of cognitive ability and memory loss
can have highly damaging consequences for people in education and a lack of
motivation and aspirations can cause people to leave or never pursue education.
This could have a knock-on effect that could come to fruition decades down the
line. A study into the effect of THC on learning in adolescent and adult rats
found that
acute treatment with THC inhibited both spatial and non-spatial learning in the
water maze more powerfully in male adolescent rats than in male adults.
However, chronic THC treatment, either during adolescence or adulthood, had no
effect on subsequent learning four weeks after the termination of THC exposure (Cha, et al., 2006). A
final factor to consider is that, with the legal sale and distribution of
marijuana comes the ability to tax the product. Which in turn gives money back
to the government, In Colorado, the state saw a 57.2% increase in the total
marijuana taxes collected from FY 2015-16 to FY 2016-17 year-to-date as of
January. The retail sales tax alone increased 51.4% for the same period. The
state collected $119 million in taxes as of January for its year-to-date fiscal
year. Compare this to only $38 million collected on alcohol of at least 11
months in 2016. The money is being put to good use by the state. For example,
Colorado was able to put $16 million towards Affordable Housing Grants and
Loans in 2016 from cannabis tax collections (Borchardt, 2017). In California they have used the money
gained from the tax to; give extra training police and high way patrol, giving
money to the communities most affected by the war on drugs and youth drug
prevention and education. Massachusetts plans to put the money back into
schools, veteran services and law enforcement and treatment methods and Nevada
will bolster its schools and public education (Robinson, 2016).

With all this in mind the
Catalonian government need to be careful and take a look at the systems they
already have in place to ensure they can prevent the negative effects and
enhance the positive, for example, to help prevent people driving while
intoxicated they need to be properly educated as they are with alcohol and
other legal drugs. Increased education will also decrease the chance of
emergency room visits, proper labelling of the products to show THC content
will also aid in this endeavour. Even when taking prescription medication, you
are sometimes advised what you can and can not do while under the effects. We find
considerable international evidence that education is strongly linked to health
and to determinants of health such as health behaviours, risky contexts and preventative
service use (Feinstein, et al., 2006). This also links to
the next preventative which is the proper tools and training given to their
police force to be able to detect and have a strict guideline as to how to act
in given situations. This flows straight into the next measure, that it has
been made clear is an issue in all countries that currently have relaxed to no
laws restricting marijuana, which is how to control the issues caused by the
system of automated communities. In situations like the one Spain is in now
where one of its seventeen communities have legalised marijuana, even ignoring
all of the history of these clubs throughout Spain, with the rapid growth in
the number of these clubs in Catalonia since legalisation, it would be naïve to
think that none of these clubs is funded or run by illegal organisations. It is
there for not that far of a jump to consider the possibility that these clubs
may be illegally exporting their product to countries or states where marijuana
isn’t legal. They need to closely consider the way they implement and manage
this to ensure law abiding users are the ones that benefit not the criminals.
This goes from state to state all the way down to social clubs. From looking at
America alone it is clear to see that both the government and the people can
benefit from the tax generated from the legal distribution of marijuana. As
long as the Catalonian and Spanish governments are able to bring balanced and
fair tax rates and correctly introduce them to the already thriving community
of smokers in Spain, there is no end to the improvements that can be made to
multiple sectors of the Spanish economy.

In conclusion, there is no definitive answer to
whether the legalisation of marijuana is going to be more negative or more
positive effect. It is for certain thought that as more and more states and
countries begin to relax or abolish their restrictions and laws against
marijuana, governments all over the world can no longer ignore this growing
issue and they can not continue to fight this change. In Spain there seems to
be a much longer living knowledge and acceptance for those who safely and
privately consume marijuana, because of this there may be a much quicker
progression from state to state. The main benefit of legalisation in all states
and countries where it appears seems to be those that help the people already
using and already addicted. As long as the Catalonian government keep focus on
research, improving medical and education services they can ensure the safe use
of marijuana can be achieved for their citizens. Looking forward to the future
the Spanish government must prepare for the eventuality that other states may
follow Catalonia’s lead, if properly anticipated they can make the proper
preparations to ensure smooth transition; and in the long run legalisation can
help lower organised crime, increase knowledge and be used to improve the life
and medical care.  

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