By Massimiliano Sfregola
Translation by Giulia Tirittico

Not everyone would immediately associate the concept of Cannabis Social Club to the city of Amsterdam – not as fast as one would with concepts such as coffeeshop and medical marijuana. If anything, one would more easily associate the idea of cannabis clubs to Barcelona. In the last few years, in fact, by taking advantage of an inconsistency of the Spanish legislation, private clubs of the Catalan capital have proliferated up to become, in an informal manner, cannabis retail stores.

At the end of 2014, however, the first Social Club dedicated to marijuana opened its doors in the Netherlands too. “Opened its doors” can be taken only and exclusively metaphorically: at the moment, in fact, this non profit organisation for cannabis fans has no physical location. “Our intention is to respect the rules. Marijuana plants are the core of our business, and as long as it won’t be possibile to give the harvest to our shareholders, we will maintain our headquarters itinerant” says Rosaria, Italian, in Amsterdam for 15 years. She is the one who presides over The Tree of Life, the first Cannabis Social Club of the Netherlands.

How do you think to fit a Social Club in the Dutch capital, with its about 200 coffee shops? “The concept of The Tree of Life is very different than a coffeeshop” says Rosaria. “First of all, it is not for profit. Secondly, it addresses marijuana lovers and not anonymous customers. Plus, the association also has a political goal: to change the current legislation. The cultivation of marijuana is not allowed at the moment. Finally, it focuses on the therapeutic functions of cannabis from a scientific point of view. All these elements are almost entirely absent within the activity of a coffeeshop.

The story of The Tree of Life is unique, and its activities have been observed with interest by the institutions. Nevertheless, the mayor of Amsterdam and the public prosecutor [state’s attorney] have recently refused to regulate the work of the Club: according to the Dutch law, cultivation is illegal; besides, only and exclusively coffeeshops are allowed to distribute cannabis. “We have asked them: cultivation is for personal use, we register and classify plants and we do not make any profit. Shouldn’t the drugbeleid, the Dutch experiment of tolerance, apply to us as well? The response was negative”.

The case of The Tree of Life has reached the city council of Amsterdam, where the cross-party majority has been trying for some time now to put pressure on the government for the complete legalisation of the cannabis production. The same majority has even suggested that in the future social clubs – like this one – should obtain licenses both to produce marijuana for the members and to sell to the coffeeshops.

In short, whereas the residents-only clubs, conceived by the wietpas, represented a step back, the Cannabis Social Club is not. “We don’t compete with coffeeshops, although some owners may think so. In fact, we are not part of the market. Those who choose to become members of the Social Club also agree to provide their personal details and to expose themselves before the authorities. This is part of our philosophy and should be, for the institutions, a guarantee of reliability.”