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At Cannabis Clubs, Customers Mingle Over Marijuana


You are listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Tess Vigeland. In Colorado and Washington, recreational pot shops are now legal, and most are pretty bare-bones retail outfits. But in Europe, pot clubs are taking that model to a whole different level, and not just in Amsterdam. Laura Secorun Palet wrote about these cannabis clubs in a piece for the online magazine Ozy.

LAURA SECORUN PALET: It's sort of a social club. You walk in, walk towards the counter, look at the menu of the day - which means different types of weed and their prices. Pick what you want, sit down and just have it. Some of them have TV's and books and even Playstations. Some of them are very fancy and even offer, like, food and drink.

VIGELAND: Sounds like Starbucks.

PALET: Yeah. Some of them look like creepy dungeons and, of course, the prices vary. But there's a wide variety. And people feel very safe smoking in them actually.

VIGELAND: These are popping up in places in Europe where it is technically illegal to sell marijuana. Some Americans might think that the whole continent is Amsterdam, but it is not. How do they get away with it?

PALET: They are non-for profits. And what they do, which is very sneaky and smart, is that they exploit a little gray area in Europe. There's a lot of countries where smoking for oneself - that is, personal consumption - is not penalized. So when you bring a lot of people together and everybody's smoking, technically just for themselves, but together, it is very hard for the police to crack down on.

VIGELAND: That is quite a loophole.

PALET: Let's say they have 30 people in their club, and they are growing one plant per person, They can argue that this is still technically just growing for those people who are just going to smoke it by themselves - falls into the unpenalized personal consumption. And it's a bit of a Russian roulette, because it will depend on whether a judge's lenient or not.

VIGELAND: Well, so then what are countries doing to crack down, if anything?

PALET: Well, it depends on the country. So in France, they crack down pretty quickly. But in Spain, it's been thriving because judges so far have been very lenient. So there have been two or three cases of shutdown clubs. But for most of them, they've argued in court and actually succeed in surviving. So in Catalonia, which is a region of Spain where there is the most clubs, they're about to start setting up stricter laws. For example, you know, making sure there's no online advertisement, making sure they're not selling to tourists. And in Spain, actually in the whole country, they're probably going to start legislating sometime soon. So it will depend on the country. And if they wanted to, they could crack down on it very quickly. You know, it would be just a matter of legislating that particular area. But so far, no one has done it.

VIGELAND: Why do think that is?

PALET: Well, I think it's because it's already so extended that the public you know, backlash if they tried to do it would be very strong. I think those are not for profit organizations. They are offering marijuana to a lot of people who need for medical purposes, you know. In Spain at least, you get a discount if you need it for medical purposes and you're a member of a club. They are promoting responsible consumption. It's very hard to - especially now that it's already spread everywhere - to crack down on it without a population having a strong backlash.

VIGELAND: Laura Secorun Palet is a writer for the online magazine Ozy. Thanks.

PALET: Thanks for having me again. My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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