It took me a long time to start buying “legal” weed. I live in Spain and was introduced to the concept in 2017 through the country’s cannabis social club (CSC) model – for a history of the model, click here. I’ll never forget the first time I walked into a CSC in Barcelona.
The darkened entrance in the middle of a non-descript terrace on a side street was not what I expected. But once I stepped inside, the air pressure shifted – like being sucked into a time capsule.
The painted brick walls and exposed ventilation system on the ceiling; the pool table in the corner and hip hop on the sound system; the guys in caps spread out on long leather couches, smoking, chatting, chilling. The beer bottles and dirty ashtrays on low coffee tables. The sweet smell of weed.
It reminded me of that garage my brother used to jam in back in the 90s. The difference was the weed, stored in shiny, labeled jars, and beautifully displayed in a glass counter. At first, it was a dream.
NEW TO LEGAL WEED
As a long-time hash-smoker, I was keen to buy “legal” hash for the first time. I was also overwhelmed by the choice of bud, unfamiliar with the strain names, and had no way to discern one from the other.
“This one’s a sativa. This one’s indica,” said the budtender (in Spanish, us being in Barcelona) pointing a fat buds, and holding up jars for me to smell. He might as well have been talking Mongolian.
“Nice,” I said, taking a sniff of a potent Diesel. “What hash you got?” I asked, except I used the word, “chocolate,” the street term I’d used for years, a clumsy bid on my part to demonstrate I knew “cannabis.”
Unimpressed, the budtender slapped some hash on the counter. His attitude was disconcerting, but determined not to leave empty-handed, I made a small purchase and smoked it like it was a new experience though it wasn’t.
Over the next few months, I visited more clubs, wrote about them for a cannabis webzine, and befriended club owners. I spoke with cultivators, learned the strain names and found my preferences. I picked up grow tips, and learned how to grow.
I went to Spannabis, meeting with seed banks, soil experts, extraction engineers, activists, industrial hemp growers and craft cultivators. I learned the new language of cannabis: endocannabinoid, terpenes, trichomes, full spectrum, concentrate, extract, and so on.
They were so different from my old words: spliff, pipe, solid, smoke. Even the word “cannabis” was new. I was no longer a “stoner.” Now, I was a “cannabis user.”
GONE TO POT
In 2018, I visited Canada just a few months before cannabis was legalized there. My friend promised me a lively weed scene, and I was looking forward to testing my newfound knowledge in a local dispensary.
Again, what I found was not what I expected. The weed scene was in the grips of a slow and ugly death. The cottage industry that had created the market was on its way out. Cannabis was being sanitized.
My first dispensary experience was as challenging as my first visit to a Spanish CSC. After a long search on a hot day, I found one on a side street with the by-now familiar non-descript entrance and not so familiar bulletproof door.
A moody employee sat behind a shabby reception desk, directing me to an interior steel door. On the other side of this door were a dark hallway and a second employee behind Perspex glass who asked to see my passport.
My credentials checked I was ushered into a small shop with Mason jars of weed on rows of white shelves. Despite my new knowledge, again, I was overwhelmed by the choice and looked to the budtender for guidance.
She was young with shaved hair, tattoos and a Fuck-You attitude. When none of the jars she offered me appealed, she reluctantly pulled some more.
I wanted to feel at home, banter with her, and check out as many products as possible. Instead, I felt like a divorcee scanning diamonds in Tiffany’s, sad and a little bitter. I wasn’t alone in this feeling. “Who the fuck wants to smoke government weed?” was a line I heard often there.
During my time in Canada, I bought weed from a corner dealer recommended to me by my friend. I spent $10 in the dispensary. I happily handed $200 to the corner dealer, a character called Sid with a boxy body and missing teeth.
BACK TO BLACK
Back in Spain, it wasn’t until a CSC opened in my local town that I got properly acquainted with the model and started buying “legal” weed on a regular basis. It took me a while to adjust to the set up and the prices but soon, I was happy to pay extra for the superior quality and safe exchange.
Then, the pandemic hit. My local club got shut down, and when they reopened, they struggled to stay in business for as long as possible. They finally closed last December.
At first, I broke Lockdown rules by traveling to an out-of-state club in order to continue buying “legal” weed. But then something else happened.
I noticed the quality of weed had changed. It wasn’t the sun-grown I was used to. It was stronger, had a different taste. I tried a bunch of different strains but in the end, I gave up. That stuff gave me a headache.
By early summer, as travel restrictions eased, I went back to the street, back to my familiar black hash. At first, the options were dismal but after a bit of searching, I found an old-school dealer with some mellow pollen. Boom. I was home.
This guy deals out of a garage on a back street, and is typically naked from the waist up, his chest covered in prison tats. He always assures me he’s got the best stuff but that’s not why I buy from him. I buy from him because he has the product I like at a price I can afford. He has a stream of regular customers.
Even though cannabis has been legal in Canada for three years now, the region’s black market remains strong. According to reports, legal weed is being binned and burned by the ton-load across the nation. For now, Canadian Big C companies have their talons in all major markers.
In the U.S., lines are being drawn between the greenhouse, craft and black markets. While dispensaries sell to the “canna-curious,” hemp-based products like Urb Rocks are breaking old norms by selling online nationally. Amazon is pushing to overturn the federal ban.
Luxembourg, Germany, and Italy are now considering legalising recreational cannabis. Will the same patterns emerge in Europe? So far, there’s a craze for “marijuana lite” in Italy, France and Switzerland. In Spain, the future existence of the CSCs is under threat, as gangs have infiltrated the running of the clubs.
While there’s no question the emerging industry is full of innovative talent and still in very early days, it’s also true that to date, legal loopholes define the market, not customer expectations.
As a result, I often find myself wondering what it would take to stop over-complicating things and just go back to basics? Then I remind myself this is what progress looks like: slow and bumpy. So, I skin up, back to black, my old reliable street hash while I wait for real change and a brand that breaks all the rules.
Natasha Kerry Smith is a cannabis copywriter with 30 years experience in the world of cannabis. For more stories like this one, as well as insights into stoner buying habits and product preferences, sign up for her newsletter, Conscious Consumption, coming soon! Subscribe here: