About a dozen guys and just a couple of women, most young millennials, are lounging on couches or huddled around long, low coffee tables, the perfect height for rolling a joint. Electronic dance music pulses softly. There are bongs, rolling papers, grinders, and other paraphernalia, a coffee bar and a jar filled with pastel sour gummies for munching.
Patrons at Choko Barcelona are a mix of natives and tourists, all with the goal of partaking in cannabis in a safe and friendly environment. The vibe is art coffee house (psychedelic-ish paintings hang on the walls), but people are relaxed on weed rather than jacked on caffeine. A DJ station suggests that on some nights the vibe gets a little more buoyant.
Choko is one of at least 200 weed clubs in Barcelona, which range in atmosphere from your high school friend’s basement to coffee house chic to velvet-roped night club. With nondescript, often unmarked doors and generic front-room reception areas, these clubs are reminiscent of prohibition-era speakeasies.
Barcelona’s weed clubs started popping up four or five years ago, after decades of cannabis advocates pushing the limits of the law in Spain. Since the 1980s, Spain’s courts have, in fits and starts, moved towards marijuana decriminalization.
Medical marijuana is legal in Catalonia, the autonomous region where Barcelona is located, but not elsewhere in Spain.
Public consumption of cannabis is still illegal, but thanks to strong privacy laws, Spaniards are allowed to grow cannabis and smoke it in their own homes, so it is not legal, but decriminalized. Cannabis social clubs (CSCs) have pushed the law to help their members get access to recreational and medical marijuana. For example, one club wrote letters to anti-marijuana prosecutors asking whether it was a crime for a group of people to grow cannabis for personal use. When told it was not, the club grew cannabis plants for its 100 members. They were shut down and fined, but other associations followed their lead, and for more than a decade, most court rulings in cases against members of CSCs have declined to convict them.
The door opened for weed clubs after two prestigious professors wrote an opinion piece suggesting a set of rules that CSCs could follow to be in compliance with the law. Essentially the steps would ensure that the clubs are not participating in illegal trafficking, that cannabis use is controlled and private, and that groups take steps to prevent its abuse. That, plus local legislation, opened the door to Barcelona’s members-only clubs. Because Barcelona CSCs were the most aggressive in pushing the law, the city is far ahead of other Spanish cities in the number and accessibility of weed clubs.
This is not Amsterdam, where you can wander into any coffee shop and light up a joint. You have to join a weed club. You can’t just knock on a door and gain admission (well you could, but you’d risk wasting your time). In the past, you needed a member referral to get in, and if you Google “weed clubs in Barcelona,” you’ll find a cottage industry of websites devoted to providing referrals to clubs, some for a fee. But this isn’t necessary for most clubs anymore.
We simply emailed clubs directly or filled out a form on their website, letting them know we wanted to join. We received an email back asking to set up an appointment or containing a name to mention at the door. The email included other important information, such as to bring your passport, as well as the address, which is key because some clubs are not listed publicly.
Finding the actual door to a club is not always easy, but keep trying. Travelers in Spain should know that Barcelona clubs are way ahead of other cities in welcoming visitors. In Madrid, we tried to get into several clubs and either couldn’t make contact via phone or email, couldn’t find them, or needed a member referral to join. The one we did visit, La Natura Cura, had no sign on the front door, and was the grungiest club we visited.
After you are buzzed in the front door, you face a stark reception area, where you introduce yourself, provide the name (if you were given one) or just state that you emailed ahead. It’s a low-level screening that feels clandestine, like you’re conveying some secret code. Once you get the nod, you have to fill out a bunch of paperwork and listen to the rules, which were essentially the same across clubs:
You then provide your passports, fill out some basic info such as name and address, get your photos taken, and pay the membership fee. In return, most clubs give you a membership card. It takes about 10-20 minutes to go through the whole process.
Once approved, you’re invited past the door into the back room, the main club. Inside, there’s typically a budtender standing behind a counter, and a menu or case with the day’s products. You ask to acquire a certain amount. Don’t ask to buy it, though when we accidentally did, the sky did not fall.
The clubs carry a variety of strains of sativas, indicas and hybrids in different forms including flower, shatter, bubble and butane hash, and a few had cartridges. Donations per gram ranged from 8 to 18€.
One last note, every time we left a club, the person manning the front desk reminded us to make sure anything we took out was hidden in our pants. They had our backs.
Is it legal to smoke at home (your Airbnb) or weed clubs?
No, but it’s decriminalized.
Is it legal to carry or consume marijuana in public?
Absolutely not. You could get arrested.
Though we planned to only check out the weed clubs in Barcelona, the Catalan protests this October closed down the airport, forcing us to divert to Madrid. With news of cars and stores burning, we continued onto Seville days later, and finally landed in Barcelona when the protests had quieted down. This allowed us to check out clubs in all three cities. Each club we visited had its own vibe. It so happens that we started with the most subdued club and ended with the loungiest.
10 Euros to join, one gram minimum purchase
Getting in: La Natura Cura is well hidden. Though we sent an email, they didn’t provide an address, so we had to call and be guided by phone to a nondescript door with no signage except for a little tag above the buzzer.
Ambience: The anteroom included a desk surrounded by a greenhouse-worthy amount of (non-cannabis) plants, leading to the back-room club. With well-worn futons, reclaimed chairs and coffee tables, a flat-screen TV showing music videos, and a stack of board games in the corner, the club felt like your skater friend’s basement. A couple of clusters of 20-something guys were hanging out, and nobody made a move to socialize with us. Especially as a tourist, it felt like a place where you’d just want to get your supply and smoke it or take it back to your Airbnb, not an opportunity to hang out for the night or socialize with the locals.
The cannabis: What was lacking in ambiance was made up in selection and intel. The budtender knew her strains, and let us smell, see, and touch the product. A blackboard listed about 12 to 15 strains of flower and as many resins/rosins (hash). None of the strains we tested were particularly strong.
30 Euros to join (in Seville, two other popular clubs only allowed membership for Spaniards)
Getting in: Tucked away in a working-class neighborhood a few blocks behind the Royal Alcázar, Green City was very easy to find, with a bright sign in the front window.
Ambience: With wrap-around rustic couches, high-top tables, pool table, and gaming system, Green City had the vibe of a small local bar. It felt slightly livelier and more social than La Natura Cura, with hip hop playing in the background and soccer games on TV. While we were there, we met a few American women, some Spaniards, and an older guy (over 40 is old here) visiting from Poland.
The cannabis: The budtender wasn’t chatty, but printouts taped to the wall describing the available cannabis strains were enough for us to make an informed choice. Listings for each strain included the percentage of THC and the sativa/indica balance, as well as where the marijuana was grown. Sources included California, Amsterdam, and Spain. The cannabis tested was stronger than the strains we tried in Madrid.
20 Euros for membership
Getting in: With a public address and a big reputation, G13 was easy to find. We had to mention that we emailed ahead to get the application process rolling. They gave us membership cards to show if we returned.
Ambience: G13 had the size, layout, and vibe of a hookah lounge for skaters, with deep couches you could get lost in, five flat-screen TVs defining the different sofa groupings, a pool table, and a DJ playing hip hop and electronic beats. It felt more social than the other clubs.
The cannabis: G-13 didn’t have an actual menu but you could see their offerings in a glass case. A friendly budtender consulted a computer screen to provide basic info. Prices per gram were higher than other clubs.
30 Euros to join, 5 grams maximum purchase per day
Getting in: Choko was easy to find. We sent an email and received an invitation that the host asked to see before moving forward. The registration process was hi-tech—they used an RFID card and took a photo of us for security checks. Choko’s host also gave us the most intense spiel, emphasizing the risks of being caught carrying marijuana from the club to your home.
Ambience: Choko was the loungiest weed club we experienced, with a tri-level layout, midcentury furniture, an art show on the walls (which one appreciates more when high), and electronic dance music. Each level had a slightly different feel, wide open downstairs, cozy deep sofas on the lower level, and more coffee-house upstairs. You can even buy wine, beer, and coffee here. A DJ ramps up the atmosphere on some nights. The members seem somewhat older, in their 30s, and less grungy. Three guys sit together on their computers as if at thelocal Starbucks.
The cannabis: Choko offered a smaller strain selection, though they had a few home-grown creations. The marijuana was high quality, similar to G13.
Laurie Tarkan is an experienced health journalist who writes for the New York Times, national magazines including Self, Health, and Glamour, as well as websites such as iVillage, EverydayHealth, and Prevention.