Loophole in Spanish law makes Barcelona a marijuana haven
City rivals Amsterdam as cannabis haven with hundreds of legitimate smokers' associations
A faint smell of cannabis smoke hangs in the air as Susana relaxes on the sofa with her mother Juana and lights up a joint.
This is Pachamama, one of the hundreds of cannabis clubs that make Barcelona rival Amsterdam as a smoker's haven.
With shelves full of books and board games the place could be someone's sitting room, but for a hookah pipe and photographs of hemp plants such as the ones the club grows.
"This is the safest way to know what I am smoking and at the same time avoid participating in the black market," says Susana, 27, a shop assistant who sports a crop of red-dyed curly hair.
Smokers' groups say at least 700 such associations have sprung up in Spain due to a legal loophole.
Dealing in cannabis is illegal in Spain but the law does not penalise growing it for private consumption nor setting up smokers' associations.
However, authorities are becoming concerned.
Barcelona's city hall has imposed a moratorium on associations opening premises for smoking the drug and regional authorities also want new rules enacted to control the use of cannabis.
"These clubs have spread due to a lack of regulation," said Antoni Mateu, head of public health in the Catalonia regional government.
"Our priority is to discourage consumption, but a regulation is required to curb it."
Half of Spain's cannabis clubs are in Barcelona, which tops the rankings on WeBeHigh, a travel advice website for users of soft drugs.
There are also many clubs in the northwestern Basque region, whose regional government has announced plans for new regulations for cannabis use.
"Since it is not regulated, it is not legal," said Jaume Xaus, spokesman for the Catalo- nia Federation of Cannabis Associations.
"But no one knows either what paperwork you have to have nor how to prove to the police, if they come, that what we are doing is not breaking the law."
Would-be Pachamama members must be over 18 and be recommended by an existing member. They must be able to show they are habitual smokers.
The club's 186 members pay an annual subscription of €10 (HK$104) plus a variable fee to cover the cost of producing the cannabis they consume.
A club was legal as long as it controlled consumption and refrained from advertising and distributing the drug for profit, said law specialist Juan Munoz.
Some clubs are suspected of stepped over the line, however, venturing beyond their non-profit association activities into drug dealing.
"Some cases have been discovered of clubs promoting consumption among tourists, supplying to traffickers and minors," Mateu said. "Some have also had problems with the neighbours."