How to Start a Cannabis Social Club
January 29th, 2014
Categories : Blog
Cannabis Social Clubs are sprouting up all over Europe - they are the next logical step towards a safe and regulated cannabis market. Here‘s how they work and how to start one.
Cannabis social clubs are a new and promising phenomenon we are beginning to see more and more, especially in Spain and France. The number of social clubs has risen rapidly over the last year, partly spurred by the waves of global drug law reform.
What exactly is a cannabis social club?
The concept of the cannabis social club is the brainchild of the non-profit and non-governmental organisation ENCOD, who is working towards drug policy reform throughout Europe. The club is a legal association of adult cannabis consumers that facilitates the cultivation of cannabis for personal use. The clubs is overseeing the production and distribution of high quality cannabis to its members. Each club grows just enough for its members alone, and does not advertise, or actively try to sell to those who are not members. As a result, the cannabis social club is a closed network - or a private user circle - that offers a safe, regulated and transparent alternative to the street market.
How do cannabis social clubs work?
Essentially, the club covers the entire seed-to-weed chain - cultivation, quality control, transportation and distribution. As they are non-profit, the clubs are funded by the subscription fee of each member. Every member defines exactly what and how much they need - be it for medical or recreational use. Each member then pays a fee, corresponding to the amount of cannabis they request. The fees covers all growing, maintenance and distribution costs. For a cannabis social club to work, it needs active participation from the majority of its members. This means the members themselves are getting involved in the cultivation and distribution process.
What are the advantages of a cannabis social club?
The most important and obvious advantage of the club is that it provides safety in various aspects. Common black market problems, such as street violence, product stretching, high prices and low quality are all avoided. Further, the clubs provide jobs and a considerable amount of taxable products and services.
Cannabis social club also perform an educational role as they advise their members on the effects of cannabis use, and offer a place to share experience and knowledge.
Are they legal?
That is the difficult questions, and there‘s no clear answer. In Spain, where up to 500 clubs are operating, various courts have testified their legality. At the same time, Spain is currently in the process of actively persecuting one of the oldest cannabis clubs, the Pannagh. The chairman is accused of a "drug trafficking offense with outstanding importance", asking for 4 and a half years of prison and fines of up to 2.5 million euros. It looks like the spanish courts are trying to form a precedent on which ground further crack downs are based.
In the UK, the formation of a cannabis club is legal, but the actual cultivation and distribution is not. However, the UK has seen a large rise in the amount of cannabis social clubs being created within the last year. In this situation, the clubs are functioning but they have be on the watch.
Starting a cannabis social club
ENCOD, (the European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies), has outlined the process of starting a club in great detail. One important thing to remember when creating a cannabis social club, especially in countries where they are illegal, is that a cannabis social club is a closed operation of cultivation and distribution, with no links to organised crime or otherwise illegal activity. This is not only important for the image of cannabis social clubs and their role in policy reform, but also on a more practical level, should the club ever be taken to court. It is also wise to have a lawyer aside, should a defense case need to be built.
Step one: Public awareness of intention
The first step to creating a cannabis social club is to make the intention to create one known. To do this, there needs to be a public presentation with local media being present.
At this presentation, the mission statement of the initiative needs to be clearly outlined - how it will only supply adult members, and offer a safe, responsible, transparent and self-regulated way for its members to obtain cannabis without having to turn to organised crime.
It is also advisable to get a prominent public figure to appear and endorse the move at a public presentation. This will gain additional media coverage as well as reducing the risk of prosecution due to public backing.
After this, you and the other members should wait a while. If there is no reaction or indication from local authorities that initiative would be prosecuted, then proceed to step 2.
Step 2: Creating the club
Now comes the official formation of the cannabis social club as a legal entity. Start by creating an executive committee to run the club. This will need to include at least a president, a secretary and a treasurer. This will allow for a transparent and democratic decision making process.
Next create the clubs statutes, ensuring they include the purpose of the club – it avoids health risks and danger associated with illegally obtained cannabis. It is also good to refer to the purpose of research of cannabis, and the greenest and best ways it can be grown. If you do not know where to start, it is possible to get a template statute from ENCOD, based on social clubs already set up in Spain and Belgium.
To maintain transparency, the statutes should be registered with and approved by the local authority.
Once this has been done you can start accepting members and subscription fees. It is important to only accept members who currently use cannabis or have recognised medical conditions that are not made worse by cannabis use.
Now the club can start growing its cannabis. It is wise to create the plantation on privately owned land that is out of the way of the public eye. The plants should be grown organically and with overall high quality in mind. Doing so, and offering a variety of strains will ensure that members have the best quality options available to them.
It is also very important that everyone involved in the club always carries legal documents proving their membership. This is vital, should any worker be stopped or arrested for their involvement.
Distribution and consumption takes place at the club.
Step 3: Professionalise the organisation
With time, and as long as you do not run into legal issues, the club will likely begin to grow. As the organisation expands, and more transportation and cultivation is required, it is a good idea to professionalise the club.
Such examples are to create multiple small plantations, allowing for better control over the quality of the crop. Also, consider creating a set of rules for members that complements the statutes of the club. These can encompass such things as distribution to non-members, use of the club room, cultivation and contributions etc.
It is wise to once again inform the authorities that you are acting as a collective to grow cannabis, especially the local police. Some clubs do this by writing to each authoritative agency, whilst other send out a general press release.
As the social club is a non-profit collective, it is just as important to maintain financial transparency with members, as it is with outside parties. Ensure that pricing is fair, and create a complete annual budget that reflects the complete outflow and inflow of money.
Should you make a profit, then it is important to reinvest them into the social club, this may be by improving facilities or by using the profits to subsidise members continuing fees, reducing the costs they pay.
Keeping transparent and complete accounts is vital for the collective - it is very important to maintain documentation and receipts. This paper trail is another factor that separates the club from the illegal market, and will be vital in proving the clubs intentions and transparency should it ever be taken to court.
It is also generally a good idea to involve a third party, or external organisation in the club – such as a lawyer or qualified legal adviser. This will allow an impartial opinion on whether the way the club is being run meets standards that will likely be expected of it by other external agencies.
Step 4: campaign for legal regulation and acceptance of cannabis social clubs
Now that the club is fully functioning, it is a good idea to start becoming more involved in politics and the campaign for regulation. Cannabis social clubs are a new concept, and many politicians, police agencies and governing bodies, both local and federal, do not know how to go about handling them. Establish your club as a transparent and responsible environment that is creating employment, contributing to the economy and providing an alternative to the black market.
Of course, how successful you are will depend on the laws of the country you live in. For example, it will be much harder to become recognised as a medically beneficial and non-harmful organisation in the UK, where cannabis is not recognised as medically beneficial by the law, compared to a country where it is. In any case, it is important to build a reputation as an organisation that makes responsible and sound decisions; as well as actively advises how social clubs can be better regulated and integrated into law.
The previous guide is based on the official „four step approach“ outlined by ENCOD. The organisation is a pan-European network currently made up of over 140 NGO’s and individual experts who are involved in drug issues and policy on a daily basis. They offer advice for cannabis social clubs as well as actively campaign for their legalisation and regulation. If you are considering starting up a cannabis social club, it may be a good idea to get in contact with them, seek advice and become a member. It is through factual, open and forward thinking organisations like this and the information they supply that governments start considering drug reform, and reassessing the information they have.