Spanish Government Moving to Close Pot Magazines, Grow Shops 1/2/04

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The conservative Spanish government of Prime Minister Jose Aznar and his Popular Party is moving to rein in that country's lively cannabis culture. Although cannabis use and possession is not a crime in Spain, for the last six months Interior Minister Angel Acebes has been spearheading the effort, which includes proposals to shut down marijuana grow shops and seed sellers, as well as an attack on Spain's leading pro-cannabis publications, Canamo and Yerba, as "apologists" for pot-smoking among teenagers. A government panel is expected to make recommendations for the cultural offensive in March.

Although the Aznar government had made noises about going after the cannabis culture as early as the fall of 2002, the offensive really got underway in July 2003, when Acebes, pronouncing himself perplexed by a rise in cannabis consumption among Spanish youth, blamed it on magazines like Canamo. Such publications are "manipulating" the kids, he said at a press conference in Santander.

Acebes announced the formation of a a group of experts "to review all the measures that can be more effective in halting this manipulation regarding the supposed innocuousness of cannabis, and in some cases the benefits it produces, in order to pursue those who realize these types of activities that are so harmful and so prejudicial for young people." Those measures could include new laws "that can pursue with a greater strength those who do such pernicious and negative work."

Since then, the Spanish government has embarked on an all-too-familiar campaign of demonization of the weed, replete with shocked reports that marijuana use among teens is on the rise and US drug czar-style warnings that marijuana is stronger than it once was. Last month, Acebes released data gathered for his group of experts by the National Drug Plan, the equivalent of the US Office of National Drug Control Policy. He trumpeted findings that marijuana potency had increased from 4-7% in 1994 to 10-20% in 2003, using them as more evidence of the need for a counteroffensive.

Acebes also announced that marijuana consumption is on the increase among the youth, with 22% of young people identifying themselves as habitual users -- up from 19% in 2000 -- and 37% saying they had smoked pot at least once. Again taking a page from the US drug czar's playbook, Acebes warned that the figures showed "a low perception of risk" from marijuana among young people.

And thus the attack on the pot mags. Canamo, which has published since 1997, and Yerba, have been leading voices of the cannabis culture and have published rigorous, independent articles on both the benefits and risks of numerous illicit substances. For Acebes, such reporting translates into "apology for the consumption of cannabis among teenagers."

But Canamo roundly denies such claims, noting that its issues carry a "for sale to adults only" sticker. Its web site (http://www.canamo.net) carries a similar warning. In fact, Canamo has taken the rhetorical offensive. In July, Canamo editor Gaspar Fraga told the Spanish media Acebes "should not look for scapegoats" to justify "the failure of his drug prevention policies." In addition, Fraga suggested, Acebes might want to worry less about cannabis and more about alcohol (used regularly by 55% of teens) and tobacco (29%), "legal and lethal drugs that provoke many grave, dangerous, and devastating effects."

But it's not just about keeping kids off drugs, Fraga told DRCNet, it's about politics. The Aznar government faces elections in March, he said. "By attacking Canamo, the government has played politics, hoping to win the favor of public opinion. By accusing us of 'apology for cannabis use among adolescents and students,' it hopes to gain the support of parents, educators, and a conservative majority," he explained. "If Acebes' and Aznar's Popular Party gains an absolute majority, Canamo could have problems with being shut down," Fraga warned.

But it's not just Canamo, or even Yerba. The grow shops and seed sellers who supply Spain's 2.5 million pot smokers will also be endangered, if not by new laws then perhaps by new administrative regulations designed to run them out of business. In an early hint of such a strategy, Acebes last month publicly complained that "some shops are selling seeds when they have licenses for selling caramels."

But again, it comes back to politics, Fraga said. "We have the support of the parties that control the government of Catluna -- the socialists and others of the left -- and throughout Spain we have the support among the socialists, the communists, and ecologists. Also, the cannabis movement is very strong in Spain, and much of society sees neither alarm nor worry with cannabis users."

Some of that support was evidenced last month, as the cannabis people and the leftist parties denounced the repressive moves. Jaime Torrens, head of the Ramon Santos Cannabis Studies Association, accused the government of beginning a "crusade" against cannabis. It would be wrong to say that marijuana has no negative effects, he told Linea Digital Social, but "the relation between the negative effects and this constant criminalization is not justified."

The socialists' spokeswoman on drug policy, Carmen Romero, told Linea it was "scandalous" that Acebes was concentrating on pot smoking instead of breaking up large hard-drug trafficking networks, while the United Left's parliamentary spokeswoman, Marisa Castro, added that it was "dangerous" to say all drugs are equally bad for the health. "You can't educate the young with abstinence, but with responsible use, and the greatest antidote to fear is information," she said.

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