Barcelona: Where Cannabis Comes For Catharsis

Fresh from attending the International Cannabis Business Conference (ICBC) 2022...

Dave Barton
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Fresh from attending the International Cannabis Business Conference (ICBC) 2022...

From the outside looking in, Spain might not be the first place that springs to mind when picturing yourself indulging in your strain of choice.

But Barcelona’s… well... different. Arguably, it’s always been different. Proudly Catalan-first – but accommodating to all – Spain’s second-biggest city has a vibrant ongoing relationship with our favourite plant.

Home to a suite of social clubs, the ever-popular annual Spannabis (!) event, and some of the most progressive attitudes to recreational usage; Barcelona is where the cannabis connoisseur comes to let off some steam.

But I only came to realise this from being there on the ground. And while, admittedly, I was there to explore the industry firsthand, I left with an overwhelming sense of hopefulness for the cannabis industry this side of the pond.

From Bhang To Belushi

My primary MO for attending ICBC was to meet some movers and shakers. And yup, there were plenty of those there. The day kicked off with a rousing speech from Jamie Pearson, CEO of Bhang Chocolate – whose most poignant message, was one everyone in sector should hear:

“No one should be in prison for possessing a plant that grows in nature when some companies are making millions of dollars from it.”

Similar sentiments were echoed by several other speakers throughout the day. And (to be clear), it was pretty evident that the issues of social equity and justice are never far from any conversation around the US cannabis sector.

But does this issue carry the same weight in Europe? That was one of the questions raised in another panel discussion on International Cannabis Markets – in which the speakers outlined progress being made in both Switzerland (where a 10 year non-medical cannabis study is underway) and Germany – where despite full legalisation being agreed upon, may take another 2-3 years to properly define (given recent and current Ministry of Health concerns).

The idea of a legacy market in Germany – and indeed in Europe more broadly – cropped up in what was probably the most informative and inspiring panel discussion: Keeping Legacy Alive. While the discussion began as a US-focused one, it became clear the challenges and the stigmas associated with cannabis in Europe – while not as deeply entrenched in social justice as across the pond – has a thriving legacy market to tap into.

And if we can learn anything from our friends in the US, it’s that the same call for authenticity, honesty, and advocacy prevail in Europe – and that they should be taken just as seriously.

Similarly strong calls for more women to play an active role in the sector were heard loud and clear – with trailblazers like Ispire’s Luna Stower and Leune founder, Nidhi Handa sharing their own stories, details of their advocacy work, and setting out ambitions to change perceptions.

'Co-opetition’ was a term used to describe how cannabis companies should view each other. The more we lift each other up, the more opportunity there is for us all.

More calls for change and clarity came from Nic Easley, founder of Multiverse Capital; especially given the scope of the market potential – $35 billion by 2025: globally. The key to unlocking it? Moving fast and right at the same time. And by ‘right’ he meant correctly – in line with legislation, compliance, and opportunity. No easy feat in such a fragmented sector; but a worthwhile one, nonetheless.

To finish up the day, we heard from Oregon’s (and Hollywood’s) favourite cannabis farmer; actor Jim Belushi.

After a wee plug for his farm’s Cherry Pie strain – along with its partnership with Bhang chocolate – and before unsettling both his interviewer and the chap in the front row who had the audacity to leave the room part-way through, Belushi dutifully doffed his advocacy cap to the great green goddess.

His central message was one that resonated with everyone in the room: that there was nothing wrong with feeling good. Music, comedy, cannabis all make you feel good – which for him, was a reason to continue being an active participant in all.

Oh yeah, there was an evening reception/networking event – a chance to mingle and tingle at the swish Hotel Arts in the more glamorous part of town. After being welcomed by copious glasses of cava, we were treated to a series of impromptu performances – courtesy of several dancers (barely) dressed as what can only be described as ‘the embodiment of cannabis’.

Then things really got weird (but the less said about that, the better…).

Super Strong Spannabis

It didn’t surprise me in the slightest that the 28th annual Spannabis event was awash with hues of red, gold, and green. Nor did either of my eyebrows raise at the pervasive haze that dominated the show’s out- and indoor areas – or the liberal use of all manner of paraphernalia (goes with the territory, right?).

What did surprise me was just how varied the mix of brands showcasing their wares were – everything from neon skull bong vendors through to those peddling mechanical sifting machinery; via (highly questionable) edibles, electric dabbing ribs, glass pipes, vapes of all ilks, LED lighting, and seeds. Looots of seeds. All the seeds.

Aside from gathering as many stickers, lanyards, and brochures as I could carry, one of my intended stops was the Pax stand. After fanboi-ing for a good ten minutes (mostly watching a custom design being etched onto a Pax 2 using a ‘laser’) a friend and I had the privilege of being shown how the Pax 3 operates.

(Yup, we knew it was a sales pitch, but it’s such a neat piece of kit. And the result? She walked away with a limited edition model, complete with all the branded paraphernalia she could carry for a mere €125.)

For sheer entertainment value, there was a (official?) Netflix Narcos-branded range of plant nutrients; outdone only by an ‘intimate’ cannabis oil vendor – whose stand was staffed by young women dressed as nuns.

Somewhat hackneyed? Outdated? Unwoke? Sure.

Impactful? Very.

And my favourite stand (for the sheer lack of effort on their part) – a company peddling oversized plant pots. Nope – not decorative, themed, or even handcrafted plant pots. Just large, black, plastic ones: the cumbersome cousins of those you’d find in any garden centre (“Hi! We sell massive plant pots! Yes you can put the cannabis in them…”)

If you want eclectic, then you’re in for a definite treat at Spannabis. Of that, there can be no doubt. However, nicest of all was the fact an actual physical gathering was taking place. There was a real sense of community – a homecoming, it seemed. And all were welcome.

In The (Social) Club

And did I sample any of the delights on offer? It’d have been rude not to. On my final night, I ventured out into the pouring rain to the Dona Flor social club. Admittedly, when investigating the social club scene several weeks before, I’d requested membership, as is customary, receiving an email instructing me to bring a copy of this message, along with €20 to cover my ‘membership’, and proof of i.d. to the club in question.

Which I did. Only they didn’t take cash (note to self for next time). So back out I went into the storm to an ATM a stroll away… only to discover the €7 fee attached to any cash withdrawal. By the time I headed back – before a single, solitary, smoke – and managed to get in, I was already €27 down.

But my mood changed as soon as entry was granted and I was presented with an array of sublime-sounding strains: Nutter Butter, Wedding Cake, Gelato, and many more. Opting for the indulgently monikered ‘Ice Cream Cake’, I was assured this sativa* would put the right amount of ‘pep in my step’.

Another €20 down, 30 minutes, and half a joint later, and the entire world began to slip through my fingers: casting my brain adrift into a blissful sense of oblivion.

Lightweight though I was/am, it was time for me to take my leave. I had an early flight.

So, after handing the remaining half (to be honest, more like two thirds) of a joint to the similarly spun out guy sitting next to me and shelling out a final €7 for a taxi, I arrived back at the hotel in good time.

Thank God they sold potato chips, cookies, and cola.


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Dave Barton
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