- These are turbulent times for the Spanish cannabis movement. After being acquitted by the Provincial Court of Vizcaya in March, the members of the Basque association Pannagh have now been sentenced for a crime against public health. The Supreme Court has partially upheld the appeal lodged by the Prosecutor following the previous sentence, this time imposing prison sentences for the president of the association, the secretary and two of its members. Pannagh has condemned the ruling as “full of errors and blatant contradictions” and encourages people to keep fighting to change the current policies that govern cannabis in our country. #YoSoyPannagh.
"At Pannagh we encourage people to continue fighting for a change to drug policy that puts an end to the unfair current situation, and to keep driving forward the promising debate about cannabis regulation that is taking place in a large part of the world, a debate that Pannagh has tried to contribute to since its establishment in 2003". This is the concluding phrase of the announcement issued by the Pannagh Association of Cannabis Users after the ruling from Court II of the Supreme Court that partially upheld the prosecutor's appeal against the ruling of the Court of Bizkaia that absolved them of the crime of drug trafficking for growing cannabis for their members.
The ruling, which was made public this week, has serious consequences for some of the members of the pioneering association from Bilbao and a benchmark in the cannabis association movement in our country: the sentence for the president and the secretary is one year and eight months in prison, while the two members will have to serve six months in prison. On the other hand, and without prejudice of the above, the magistrates have imposed fines of the 250,000 euros on the first two. The treasurer was absolved through an omission by the Court.
Pannagh believes that "this is a political sentence, aimed at dismantling the cannabis association movement and based on a completely distorted view that is behind the times in terms of the social reality of cannabis in the Spanish state". The Federation of Cannabis Associations and other organisations have already shown their support to the members and encourage people to denounce and spread word about the situation on Twitter with the hashtag #YoSoyPannagh.
Mañana no conseguiremos ser TT !!! #MentirasMasUsadas pic.twitter.com/B6rSkX0yN1- FAC (@FederacionFAC) diciembre 29, 2015
This is the end of the last legal chapter faced by the management of this social cannabis club in Bilbao, since legal authorities closed it and forced it to cease activities four years ago. In November 2011, agents from the municipal police entered their headquarters and arrested five of their members, including the president of the association, Martín Barriuso.
That was not the first time that the association had suffered a blow: in 2005, four members were arrested and their crops were seized, although the case was finally shelved and the crop was rightfully returned to its owners.
In 2011, unfortunately, the situation did not end in the same way. Along with Barriuso, the treasurer and the secretary were accused for a drug trafficking crime, for which the Prosecutor called for sentences of four and a half years. Furthermore, the Prosecutor felt that it was appropriate to have an additional sentence of a year and half for belonging to a criminal group.
After a long trial, in March the hearing that seemed definitive was finally held in Bilbao. As a consequence, the Provincial Court of Vizcaya absolved the association of the charges after concluding that Pannagh fulfilled the conditions to continue with their activity as a cannabis users association.
"No desire to traffic, or an intention to promote, encourage or facilitate the illegal consumption of drugs, or to spread them to third parties, have been proven. There is no crime against public health", Barriuso explained to Dinafem, after they found out the ruling that freed them from the charges. However, the good news did not last for too long: soon afterwards the Prosecutor's office lodged an appeal that the Supreme Court has partially upheld.
The members of the cannabis association find that the reasoning behind the recent ruling is "full of errors and blatant contradictions" and they believe that it does not consider crucial data brought forward that was "relevant for the defence".
Pannagh alleges that, despite the fact that its activity was deemed to be criminally irrelevant by the Provincial Court of Vizcaya (in 2006) and by that of Álava (in 2012), the ruling states that the accused parties acted in a way that was "encouraged by the unfounded hope that their actions could be tolerated or believing that some judicial authorities could accept the thesis putting forward the criminal irrelevance of the actions". However, "those sentenced did not have an 'unfounded hope' but rather the certainty, based on previous legal proceedings, that their conduct was not criminal".
The ruling also states that "the association hid its true purposes" and was indifferent to possible illegality, thus it ignore the initiatives to request protection that Pannagh took with different institutions, such as the Ararteko and the Basque Parliament, which among other things led to the creation of a parliamentary committee in the latter. "Pannagh is an historical institution that has always had a fully transparent profile and fought continuously in the movement, and is a benchmark for good practices for hundreds of bodies in the Basque Country, on a state level and internationally. The regulation of these bodies within the Basque Country, will be dealt with in the future Addictions Law, while activists that collaborate on its developments are being massacred with these types of sentences", they state at Eusfac (the Basque Country Federation of Cannabis Users Associations) regarding the appeal.
On the other hand, they assure that new evidence has been used without having been confirmed beforehand by both parties in a hearing, and they are being sentenced for "supposed intentions", without having posed this question to the involved parties before passing the sentence, as required by law.
The result is consistent and almost similar to the previous ruling for the Ebers and the Catalan association, Three Monkeys, thus paving the way towards criminalisation of the activity of cannabis social clubs in Spain. According to the Supreme Court's Criminal Chamber, the structuring and functioning of these two clubs went beyond the limits of shared consumption and infringed upon public health.
Pannagh criticises the fact that the text is practically identical to those that preceded it. "The new ruling is limited to reproducing almost literally, the previous rulings against the Ebers and Three Monkeys associations". This is so much the case that "the sentenced members are even incriminated for matters that supposedly feature in the Pannagh's statutes, when in reality they refer to others", they argue.
....Y no te olvides de @Pannagh !!! #FreePannagh #Regulación20D #SiembraElCambio #YoUsoCannabis pic.twitter.com/7jFa8tBqQa- FAC (@FederacionFAC) noviembre 27, 2015
Many of the allegations in the ruling also contradict those made by the Provincial Court, the association explains. While beforehand there was evidence of "management of the delivery of substances and of the person carrying it out", now there is "a lack of control". Likewise, the entity has gone from being comprised of members that accepted "growing for private consumption", to being "a nucleus of people" who "organise the association's structure; they provide and prepare management, supplies, distribution and growing and they make these structures serve a wide and indiscriminate group of users".
The sentenced parties intend to lodge a suit for nullity of proceedings to the Supreme Court, and a subsequent appeal to the Constitutional Court, as they believe that their "right to the presumption of innocence, to a trial with due processes and proportional sentences" has been violated. They even propose submitting an appeal to the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg if necessary. The members of Pannagh are going to hold a press conference over the next few days to assess the sentence and announce the initiatives that they intend to carry out in order to denounce this genuine judicial abuse of their rights.
"The Pannagh association want to denounce the fact that several of the association's workers have been punished for activities that, as shown in the trial, and as outlined in the revoked sentence, were the initiative and responsibility of all of Pannagh's members, according to its statutes and through an assembly agreement", they state. The association also makes it clear that they will not be intimidated or throw in the towel, as this is clearly "a political ruling, aimed at dismantling the social reality of cannabis within the Spanish state".
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