- On 10 and 11 March the "Pannagh" association in Bilbao faces a hearing whose decision could be decisive for the whole process of legalising social cannabis clubs in Spain. Thus, the entire community of activists wishes to show its support to the group and its five indicted members, who face 22 years of prison and millions of euros in bail.
#FreePannagh has been the most used "hashtag" in the Spanish cannabis community over the last few days. The objective is none other than to rally support and transmit messages of encouragement for the Basque ‘Pannagh’, association, which tomorrow faces a hearing to clarify in court the case that just over three years ago forced it to close, leading to the indictment of several of its members.
The case is widely known, both for its implications and the notoriety of those indicted, pioneers in the process of SCC legalisation and establishment in our country. In 2011, the "Pannagh" association of cannabis users was raided by Bilbao city police. Some of its members were detained for several days, the premises were shut down, and the judge decided to close the association and prohibit it from any type of activity.
We talked with Martin Barriuso, who was the president of "Pannagh" and, since then, one of the five accused parties, along with Igor Gaminde, treasurer, and the association's secretary. The three are accused of a crime of drug trafficking, for which they could face 4 ½ years in prison, and of belonging to a criminal group, which could earn them another 1 ½. Bail was set at one million euros, and their assets have been seized. The other two defendants, working partners, are accused of drug trafficking and face a sentence of two years and 1,000-euro fines.
On 10 and 11 March the proceedings will take place at the Provincial Court of Vizcaya, even though, as Barriuso tells Dinafem “the case should have been thrown out a long time ago”. The activist is sure that at the trial it will be made clear that his association acted in a licit manner, that its collective growing, between its members, was not for profit, and that the allegations levelled against them are groundless.
This is not the first time that they have been through this, and all the previous cases were dismissed via firm judicial decisions, including rulings by the Provincial Courts of Vizcaya and Álava. They even had the marijuana seized from them returned on two occasions.
Nevertheless, this time 6-year sentences are sought for the three defendants at the top of the organisation, and two years for the others, in addition to a fine of about 800,000 euros for each one. All this even though, as Barriuso explains, some of the things the prosecutor alleges in his complaint have been refuted over the course of the proceedings thanks to the participation of witnesses.
Even though the association is confident that “they have no case”, they are speaking prudently “because with the courts one cannot let his guard down.” The president reports that their books were in order, they paid taxes, and they were compliant with Tax Office and Social Security Administration requirements. The money that was confiscated during the raid had been duly earmarked, and the marijuana they held was in the necessary quantity (neither more nor less).
In addition, all its members clearly understood how the association worked at all times. “In reality we did the same thing as hundreds of other associations, but we got a tough investigating judge,” - who, in his view, has dealt with them in a discriminatory way. Although other Spanish associations have been shut down, this is the only one closed for as long as three years.
Why, then, was the association shut down and accused in this way? Perhaps because there are sectors that seek to saddle the cannabis community with a bad image, “because there are people who do not want cannabis to be regulated, who want us to continue with a system of prohibition”, adds Barriuso. Or because at the time the club was a landmark, its president the spokesman of the FAC, or because some, like the anti-drug public prosecutor and the instructing judge, have adopted positions siding with that of the prosecution, explains the activist.
For this reason, and because their case could affect the rest of the cannabis community, there are many individuals, companies and associations showing their support for "Pannagh" on the social networks, demonstrating that people's spirit and will to fight have not decayed over time. And that they have to be more alert than ever as the proceedings begin tomorrow.
The Federation of Cannabis Associations (Spain's "FAC") has been called upon on the Web to raise awareness of a case that “could set a precedent” for all those who favour the regulation of marijuana in Spain,” according to Secretary David Rabé, who adds that “we are looking at the initial stages of what could be a witch hunt”.
The judge's ruling could do away with the credibility that cannabis clubs have earned, over time and thanks to their efforts. Rabé explains that, after all, "Pannagh" is the association that served as the model for social clubs in Spain, a landmark for the whole sector, “and it may be used as a scapegoat”.
The association's former president believes that, although the judge has still not made a decision on the case, some members have already been "sentenced"; not only did they have to close, but they lost their jobs, their assets were seized, they received no indemnification for dismissal, they lost their cars, they had to report to the courts to sign every 15 days, and members have not been able to collect what is owed them.
They've had to put up with a series of obstacles “that can be considered punishment already”, says Barriuso. This is why Rabé says that it is necessary to understand that we are dealing here with a very serious case, and that other parties involved must be aware that a lot is at stake. This is why everybody must get involved and do their part: “The faster we spread a message of support, the better for everyone”.
Barriuso is hopeful and is keeping his calm. He knows that there are other cases that have reached the provincial courts whose decisions have been favourable for clubs. “Ours is just one more hurdle along the way.” In addition, he also firmly believes that the most important thing is the change that has been taking place in public opinion for some time now, as a “clear majority” of the public now supports marijuana. This is what will really impact the future of the cannabis community: that Spanish society has changed, that people know that “it is better for there to be associations than dealers”.
Thus, he argues, this is not really a judicial fight, but a political one, and it is just a matter of time before things go the way of those favouring marijuana regulation. “We hope to win. Whether we win or we lose is important, but what's really important is our impact on the institutions, on the Parliament, where we have been winning for a long time. The movement is already underway, and nobody can stop it”, the activist announces.
And the rest? What we can do? At this time, make a lot of noise on the social networks, with the “hashtag” #FreePannagh. Share it. And, if you can, join the members of the association for these two days at the Provincial Courthouse of Vizcaya (c/Barroeta Aldamar 10, Bilbao), inside or outside the courtroom. The defendants in these proceedings, along with other members, friends and relatives will be thankful for support and feel buoyed by all of you at a trial that may set an important precedent for all cannabis associations. (Read the complete announcement by Pannagh on FB, here).