Over the last decade or so, there has been a noticeable trend of cannabis industry “migrants” translocating in droves from Amsterdam, the traditional heartland of cannabis in Europe, to Barcelona, a city that is beginning to show potential to supplant Amsterdam in coming years. PRØHBTD has come to Barcelona to find out exactly why this is.
Amsterdam Is Becoming Less Friendly, Spain Is Opening Up
We’ve come to talk to Rick, a venerable grower from the old school, who emigrated from the USA decades ago and has been an active and well-known member of the underground grow community in Europe for many years. For the first 15 years, he lived and worked in Amsterdam, supplying several top-tier coffee shops with his quality organic products. Despite his long and successful career, Rick left Amsterdam two years ago for Barcelona and has not looked back. Now, he is slowly gaining his foothold here in Catalunya’s principal city, but he says that it’s hard to get established and to make a good living at first, far harder than it was in ʼDam during its heyday.
“But the industry is getting more cutthroat over in ʼDam, and everyone is out for a bigger piece of a smaller pie,” he muses sadly as we share a joint of Blue Dream in one of Barcelona’s less touristy cannabis clubs.
“It just became harder to do my thing without worrying that someone would either rob me or inform on me, and the penalties for getting caught growing are becoming more and more severe as time goes on,” Rick continues. “So ultimately I just decided enough was enough, and it was time to take my place in the sun.”
Spain Is Sunny, Friendly and Healthy
Of course, Spain has certain other advantages over the Netherlands. It has an excellent climate, low cost of living, and generally good services and amenities depending on where you are. As well as this, The Lancet medical journal recently voted Spain the healthiest country in Europe.
Although attitudes to cannabis are not overwhelmingly positive in Spain, they are—somewhat surprisingly—often more relaxed than in the Netherlands. Again, this depends on where you go, but as Rick points out, he’s experienced far less disdain and hostility for what he does here in Spain, compared to the contempt that weed-industry professionals tend to be treated with in polite Dutch society.
With all those “pull” factors, and with several obvious “push” factors from the Dutch side, one can fully understand why growers are looking to relocate.
It’s Not Just Growers Moving to Spain
Several major Amsterdam companies have relocated partially or entirely to Barcelona in recent years, or have at least extended their presence into Barcelona in recognition of the opportunities the city has to offer. The world-famous Greenhouse franchise is one; another is the Hash Marihuana & Hemp Museum, a sister company of Sensi Seeds, the venerable and highly-respected Amsterdam seed bank. (Sensi themselves haven't taken the plunge yet, and we'll find out why that is in just a moment."
And the center of annual cannabis celebrations can now be said to have decisively shifted towards Barcelona, too, in recent years. In 2015, the High Times Cannabis Cup did not take place in Amsterdam for the first time since its inception, which suggests the heyday of the venerable weed capital might also be over in this respect as well. While High Times has not established a Barcelona Cup, every year in mid-March there is a whole series of cannabis events centered around the world-famous Spannabis, the biggest event in Spain and possibly now in Europe.
Amsterdam Is Still Not Quite Ready to Relinquish Its Crown
Although Spain is presenting a high tempting set of “pull” factors for the Amsterdam-based cannabis community, the Netherlands is undergoing certain changes of its own that may stem the outward flow of weed workers to Spain. We spoke briefly to David, a manager at Sensi Seeds, to ask what the company feels the next few years have in store.
David says that it’s true that the Dutch government has “taken a turn for the worse for the cannabis industry.” However, he also points out, “The legal situation with regards to cannabis in Spain is far from stable” and that the ongoing legal case against the Basque Cannabis Social Club, Pannagh (in which four of its members have been imprisoned and fined for sale of cannabis) “could very well lead to a temporary suspension of the process towards cannabis regulation in Spain.”
For now, David says, Sensi will “remain in the Netherlands and actively contribute towards getting a regulated system established in the country.” He feels that the ongoing debate over cannabis is actually leading the Netherlands in a direction favorable for regulation and legalization—various Dutch municipalities are now considering regulated cannabis production facilities, and several high-profile cultivation cases have been settled with no prosecutions involved.
So it seems that the battle for supremacy between these two cities of cannabis is far from over. For now, the short-term pull factors are definitely proving more than enough temptation for growers like Rick to take that final step, but for larger established companies like Sensi Seeds with a long-term view, the decision-making process involves a few extra variables. With time, the truth will become apparent. But in any case, let’s hope the future is a Europe full of cannabis-friendly cities—in fact, why stop at Europe when it should be the whole world.
Seshata is a full-time cannabis journalist and researcher currently based in Italy. Find Seshata over at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+ or her own personal site seshatasensi.com. Photo credits: Flickr and Flickr.