Spain becomes cannabis hub as criminals fill tourism void

The decor is nightclub chic meets Turkish opium den. The lighting, soft pink and electric blue. And, were it not for the sweet waft of marijuana, it could be the lobby of a Las Vegas boutique hotel. In fact, it’s one of Barcelona’s 156 cannabis clubs, known as asociaciónes.

The idea was a quiet place where you could buy and smoke marijuana, often grown by members, and only on the premises, but many are now businesses and, police say, fronts for drug mafias. With the collapse of tourism, the cannabis business is one of very few thriving in Catalonia, but beyond the low lights and chilled vibe of the associations, darker forces are in play. An internal report by the Mossos d’Esquadra, the Catalan police, claims “Catalonia is the epicentre of Europe’s illegal marijuana market” and has become a net exporter of cannabis to other European countries.

With high profits and low risk – jail sentences rarely exceed two years – gangs from Europe are fighting one another to…

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