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The Belgian Cannabis Social Club landscape
Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to map the presence of the Cannabis Social Club (CSC) model in Belgium since its emergence in the country and to analyze the inter-organizational relations among CSCs and between the CSCs and other supportive actors engaged in the wider cannabis movement. Design/methodology/approach – This analysis draws on qualitative interviews (n1⁄442) with directors of seven currently active and one former Belgian CSC(s), as well as with organizations or individuals reportedly collaborating with the Belgian CSCs. That data are complemented by fieldwork observations and a review of CSC internal documents.
Findings – Despite an uninterrupted presence in the country over the last decade, CSC presence in Belgium remains rather volatile and vulnerable to external control pressure. The CSC landscape is a somewhat segmented field as cooperation among CSCs remains limited. At the same time, the support base for the movement is diverse, encompassing different types of secondary organizations ranging from national and international advocacy groups, to cannabis industry entrepreneurs and other consultants. Originality/value – This paper contributes to the yet limited body of knowledge on CSCs, by providing a first comprehensive overview of the presence of CSCs in one of the key settings associated with the model, by shedding light into the interplay between CSCs, and between other organizations supportive of the cannabis movement.

Keywords Qualitative research, Belgium, Cannabis, Cannabis movement, Cannabis Social Club, Supply modelPaper type Research paper.

IntroductionCannabis Social Clubs (CSCs) are registered non-profit associations that put forward a user-driven model for the supply of cannabis among adult users (Pardal, 2016b). Although CSC practices differ among CSCs and across countries (Decorte et al., 2017; Decorte and Pardal, 2017), core to this model is the creation of a closed system of supply of cannabis, produced by and distributed to cover the personal use of the adult members of the associations – which are typically run in a non-profit way (Pardal, 2016b; Decorte and Pardal, 2017). The emergence of these associations can be traced back to Spain during the 1990s (Barriuso, 2011; Val, 2017), as cannabis activists sought to exploit a perceived grey zone in the domestic legal framework, which does not criminalize personal drug use (in private) and has tended to allow “shared consumption” (Kilmer et al., 2013; Díez and Muñoz, 2013; Muñoz and Soto, 2000). The CSC presence in that country has grown since then, and currently an estimated 800-1000 CSCs are active across the different Spanish regions (Parés and Bouso, 2015; Decorte et al., 2017).

Research into the Spanish CSC model noted that these associations are in fact part of a larger movement which comprises individual users and growers, grow shops and seed banks, specialist media (dedicated to the cannabis culture), other types of associations as well as umbrella organizations representing various CSCs – such as CSC Federations (Arana and Montañés, 2011; Marín, 2008; Marín, 2009; Marín and Hinojosa, 2017; Montañés, 2017). Such analyses have applied a social movement perspective, considering that the various actors active within this broader “cannabis movement” share the end goal of achieving reform of the current prohibitionist cannabis legal framework and advocate for a “cultural change that would imply the toleration of the use of cannabis in everyday’s life” (Marín and Hinojosa, 2017, p. 124, own translation).

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An analysis of Belgian Cannabis Social Clubs’ supply practices: A
shapeshifting model?

This link allows also for free download of the article until June:

Background and research questions: Cannabis Social Clubs (CSCs) are associations of cannabis users that collectively organize the cultivation and distribution of cannabis. As this middle ground supply model has been active in Belgium for over a decade, this paper aims to examine CSCs’ supply practices, noting any shifts from previously reported features of the model.

Methods: We draw on interviews with directors of seven currently active Belgian CSCs (n=21) and their cannabis growers (n=23). This data was complemented by additional fieldwork, as well as a review of CSCs’

key internal documents. Results: Most Belgian CSCs are formally registered non-profit associations. One of the Belgian CSCs has developed a structure of sub-divisions and regional chapters. The Belgian CSCs supply cannabis to members only, and in some cases only medical users are admitted. CSCs rely on in-house growers, ensuring supply in a cooperative and closed-circuit way, despite changes to the distribution methods The associations are relatively small-scale and non-commercially driven. The introduction of formal quality control practices remains challenging.

Discussion: As the CSC model is often included in discussions about cannabis policy, but remains in most cases driven by self-regulatory efforts, it is important to take stock of how CSCs’ supply function has been implemented in practice – as doing so will improve our understanding of the model and of the wider range of cannabis ‘supply architectures’. This paper highlights the continuity and changes in CSC practices, noting the emergence of several different variants of the CSC model, which are classified in a first CSC typology.

In the last two decades, a diverse range of cannabis supply laws for
both medical and non-medical purposes has emerged (Kilmer & Pacula,
2016). At the same time, drug analysts have considered additional ways
in which the supply of cannabis could be organized, especially pursuant
to public health goals (Caulkins & Kilmer, 2016; Caulkins et al., 2015b;
Pacula, Kilmer, Wagenaar, Chaloupka, & Caulkins, 2014). These cannabis
supply models foresee different arrangements with regards to the
production and/or distribution of cannabis (e.g. who is producing and
supplying cannabis and under which conditions) and access to the
product (e.g. age, quantity limits, etc.), as well as to other technical
aspects such as the price of cannabis, eventual taxation, quality control
requirements, and the possibility of advertisement, among others
(Kilmer, 2014; Kilmer, Caulkins, Pacula, & Reuter, 2012; Kleiman &
Saiger, 1989; Neustadter, 1998). For instance, under a ‘grow your own’
model adults are generally allowed to cultivate cannabis for their own
consumption. This model has been introduced in several jurisdictions
on the basis of decriminalization or depenalization policies or as a
result of formal legalization processes (Caulkins, Hawken, Kilmer, &
Kleiman, 2012; EMCDDA, 2013; MacCoun, 2013; MacCoun & Reuter,
2011; Pardo, 2014; Room, Fischer, Hall, Lenton, & Reuter, 2010). Differently,
under a government monopoly model (Caulkins et al., 2015a;
Duke & Gross, 1998; Room et al., 2010) the state would monopolize one
or multiple stages of the cannabis supply chain, and quality control
practices as well as restrictions to commercial advertisement could be
introduced (Caulkins et al., 2013; Fijnaut & de Ruyver, 2014). Several
variants of a license-based model have also been discussed in the literature:
e.g. allowing non-profit vs. for-profit licenses, granting licenses
for production and/or distribution, or allowing a small number of licenses
vs. increasing the size of the market (Caulkins et al., 2015a; Duke
& Gross, 1998; Kleiman, 1992; MacCoun, Reuter, & Schelling, 1996).
Beyond these ‘middle-ground’ models (Caulkins & Kilmer, 2016;
Caulkins et al., 2015a), competitive commercial options have also been
discussed and introduced in a number of jurisdictions, particularly in
the US (Caulkins et al., 2013; Crick, Haase, & Bewley-Taylor, 2013;
Kilmer, Kruithof, Pardal, Caulkins, & Rubin, 2013; Marshall, 2013;
Room, 2014). In addition, variants of these models or other specific medical programmes designed to address patients’ needs have also been
designed (Belackova, Shanahan, & Ritter, 2017; Clarke & Mentkowski,
2015; Feldman & Mandel, 1998; Pacula, Powell, Heaton, & Sevigny,
2015; Penn, 2014).
Cannabis Social Clubs (CSCs), as formally registered non-profit associations
of adult cannabis users collectively organizing their own
supply of cannabis (Arana & Montañés, 2011; Barriuso, 2011; Decorte
et al., 2017; EMCDDA, 2013), constitute another ‘middle-ground’ model
for the supply of cannabis (Caulkins & Kilmer, 2016; Caulkins et al.,
2015a). A key feature of this model is its typically non-profit ethos, with
the cannabis produced by those associations being supplied close to/at
cost price (Barriuso, 2011; Caulkins et al., 2015a; Decorte et al., 2017).
Similarly to a ‘grow your own’ model, within CSCs the cultivation of
cannabis is also generally ensured by (a group of) the members themselves.
CSCs typically ensure vertical integration of the supply chain, as
distribution of cannabis to the registered members is organized by the
CSCs as well. Membership is open to adult users, typically residents/
nationals, but additional requirements may apply (Decorte & Pardal,
2017; Decorte et al., 2017). As such, the model has the potential to
weaken a segment of the illegal market by ensuring supply to regular
cannabis users, though arguably not creating significant incentives for
consumption due to its non-profit character, small-scale production,
closed-supply system, as well as the absence of advertisement or other
marketing strategies (Caulkins & Kilmer, 2016; Caulkins et al., 2015a;
Decorte, 2015; MacCoun, 2013; Transform, 2013). CSCs play also a
social role, as they allow for interaction among members, and may also
help minimize some of the risks associated with cannabis use, for instance
by educating the members about the effects associated with
cannabis use, with particular strains or consumption methods (Belackova,
Tomkova, & Zabransky, 2016). In addition, the European
Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies (ENCOD), an organization
which aims to mobilize and represent European CSCs, produced a CSC
Code of Conduct. These (non-binding) guidelines highlight indeed that
within CSCs supply should follow demand, that these organizations
should operate in a non-profit manner, remain transparent and healthoriented,
while open to dialogue with local authorities and supportive
of (inter)national cannabis activism (ENCOD, 2011).
Nevertheless, and despite several calls and attempts to develop
regulation in different jurisdictions (for an overview of such efforts
please see: Decorte & Pardal, 2017; Kilmer, Caulkins et al., 2013), the
CSC model has to date only been formally (nationwide) allowed and
regulated in Uruguay, following the passage of Law 19.172 in December
2013 (Decorte et al., 2017; Queirolo, Boidi, & Cruz, 2016). In
most other jurisdictions, CSCs (or supra-organizations such as CSC
Federations) have thus developed their own body of self-regulatory
practices, often risking infringement of domestic cannabis laws
(Belackova & Wilkins, 2018; Decorte & Pardal, 2017; EMCDDA, 2013;
Kilmer, Kruithof et al., 2013; Pardal, 2016a). As a result, different
practices may have been adopted within and across the various contexts
where the model is present (Decorte et al., 2017), and these may have
also changed through time.
In fact, in Spain – the setting where the CSC model (also known as
‘the Spanish model’) first emerged during the 1990s, important deviations
from some of the key features of the CSC model as described above
have been documented. These changes have been particularly evident
in Catalonia, where the number of CSCs has increased exponentially
over the last few years, and where larger Clubs (enrolling several
thousand members, including foreign tourists) have appeared
(Barriuso, 2012b; Bewley-Taylor, Blickman, & Jelsma, 2014; Decorte
et al., 2017; Martínez, 2015; Parés & Bouso, 2015). It has also been
noted that the cannabis distributed by Spanish CSCs might in some
cases not have been produced by the CSCs themselves, but purchased in
bulk from the illicit market (Barriuso, 2012a, 2012b; Decorte et al.,
2017). What is more, there have also been accounts of CSCs operating
in a commercial way and/or not pursuing formal registration (Bewley-
Taylor et al., 2014; Decorte et al., 2017; Martínez, 2015). Such CSCs
function very similarly to ‘membership-only coffee shops’, and have
been termed as ‘Cannabis Commercial Clubs’ (Barriuso, 2012a; Bewley-
Taylor et al., 2014; Martínez, 2015; Parés & Bouso, 2015). While it
remains unclear how widespread these practices are, this development
suggests that the (unregulated) CSC model may be somewhat vulnerable
to illegal producers and other cannabis entrepreneurs, who might
utilize the CSCs to develop large plantations and create profitable enterprises
(Alvarez, Gamella, & Parra, 2016; Caulkins & Kilmer, 2016;
Decorte et al., 2017).
This issue has also been identified as a potential risk in an earlier
analysis of the CSC model in Belgium (Decorte, 2015). In that country,
CSCs have not been formally recognized by the legislature, thus operating
away from government oversight (Pardal, 2016a). Cannabis
possession, cultivation and trade remain prohibited in Belgium
(Drugswet van 24.2.1921), although a 2005 Ministerial Guideline assigned
the lowest priority for prosecution to the possession of cannabis
when a ‘user amount’ (corresponding to up to 3 g or one cannabis plant)
is not exceeded, and in the absence of other aggravating circumstances
or public disturbance (Kilmer, Caulkins et al., 2013; Pardal, 2016a).
While the Ministerial Guideline did not address the supply of cannabis,
the Belgian CSCs have built their practices upon their interpretation of
that document, cultivating one plant per member only, for instance.
Many of the CSCs have nevertheless encountered legal issues, and a
recent public statement by the College of Public Prosecutors has clarified
that the provisions of the 2005 Ministerial Guideline do not cover
cases of cannabis cultivation and/or possession in the context of an
association (College van Procureurs-Generaal, 2017).
The CSC model has been present in Belgium for over a decade, with
at least three phases of renewed activity, shaped by the contributions of
multiple CSCs and the groups of users/activists driving those (Pardal,
2016b, 2018a). To date, Belgian CSCs’ practices have only been analysed
circa 2014, in the context of an exploratory study by Decorte
(2015) published in this journal. Our analysis builds on that knowledge,
and aims to examine the ways in which the Belgian CSCs currently
organize the supply of cannabis. Furthermore, based on the insights
from the Belgian CSC context and a review of the literature on the CSC
model, we aim to develop a first CSC typology in order to capture CSCs’
diverse practices.
By taking stock of the current practices of Belgian CSCs as cannabis
suppliers and noting whether these have deviated from the core features
typically associated with the model we hope to contribute to a
more nuanced understanding of the CSC model (and by extension to the
knowledge of broader ‘supply architectures’ – e.g.: Caulkins et al.,
2015a). Such analysis may be informative for the development of future
policies in this area.

This link allows also for free download of the article until June:

Mafalda Pardal
Institute for Social Drug Research, Department of Criminology, Penal Law and Social Law, Ghent University, Universiteitstraat 4, Ghent 9000, Belgium

#Belgian CannabisSocialClubs #CSCs #CSC #ENCOD #TuP #Belgium #GhentUniversity #MafaldaPardal #DrugResearch #Belgian

Research Paper
“The difference is in the tomato at the end”: Understanding the motivations
and practices of cannabis growers operating within Belgian Cannabis Social

Background: In Belgium, Cannabis Social Clubs (CSCs) collectively organize the cultivation and distribution of cannabis for the personal use of their members. In this paper we seek to improve understanding of the motivations and practices of cannabis growers operating within CSCs, shedding light on the cultivation process. Methods: We draw on data gathered through face-to-face semi-structured interviews with the directors of seven active Belgian CSCs (n=21) and CSC growers (n=23). These data are complemented by additional fieldwork and a review of policies relating to CSCs’, including bylaws and growing protocols.

Findings: The Belgian CSCs rely on single and multiple in-house grower arrangements. Most CSC growers had been cultivating cannabis prior to joining their current CSC, albeit growing in different contexts (non-commercial and commercial). The CSC growers discussed both ideological and pragmatic motives for operating within a CSC. Cultivation took place indoors and followed organic practices. Despite their small-scale (20 plants on average), the grow sites used specialized equipment. The growers reported receiving financial compensation to cover production costs.

Conclusion: This paper offers new insights into a particular sector of domestic cannabis cultivation – CSC growers and their practices within those collectives – which has not been studied previously. The Belgian CSCs have decentralized production among small-scale grow sites, at a size comparable to that found in other smallscale cultivation studies. In terms of motivations and practices, CSC growers share some features typically ascribed to small-scale cannabis cultivators. At the same time, CSC growers seemed particularly engaged with the CSC model and willing to adhere to the (self-)regulated practices developed by the organizations. This had implications for the way cultivation was organized and for the role of the grower within the CSC.

It is available for free download (until the end of April) through the following link:

Mafalda Pardal
Institute for Social Drug Research, Department of Criminology, Penal Law and Social Law Ghent University – Faculty of Law,
Campus Aula
Universiteitstraat 4
Gent, Belgium

#Small-scale cultivation

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