The scene outside Spannabis, a massive European cannabis expo lighting up Barcelona since 2002, looked like your average weed fest — at first.
Smoke hung heavy in the spring air. Cacophonous waves of reggae blared from every direction. Closed circuit ciphers of backpack trappers, super stoners, and cannabiz bros from all over the world compared indoor flower out of mylar baggies around tiny circular tables.
As a veteran reporter of the cannabis event circuit, I felt oddly at home in the infinite sea of white person dreadlocks and inflatable RAW joints flying overhead periodically.
Even the ubiquitous weed fest characters proved international. There was the dude with a leaf blower rigged as a weed smoke firehose, the girls wearing electric g-strings made from light-up weed leaves, and even a megaphone guy standing on a chair, throwing vape batteries into the crowd.
However, once inside the pyramid-shaped glass building labeled SPANNABIS, the sheer density and scope of the event stunned me into a stoned cold realization.
The term weed world no longer refers only to California and a sparse constellation of forward-thinking places. Now, the weed world is the whole world.
What is Spannabis?
Held in Barcelona, Spannabis is the largest cannabis conference in Europe. Founded in 2002, the conference is now in its 19th year, its second year back since the Great Pandemmy Pause.
While I heard last year was a little slow, this year was extremely well attended, to the point where it was difficult to psychically move through the event.
There were 280 international exhibitors, 500 companies, 5,000 industry professionals, and over 25,000 people from 50 countries in attendance overall.
While Spannabis is the main draw, it dictates a litany of other parties, panels, cups, competitions, and seshes. All in all, the week of the event(s) generated about $8 million for Spain’s local economy, and (let’s be honest) probably way more for the black market.
Because weed is still technically illegal to sell in Barcelona, the festival hinges on being hemp adjacent, with exhibitors employing creativity to skirt any obvious associations with THC plants and products.
How legal is illegal?
The laws around cannabis in Spain are like the laws around cannabis anywhere — unnecessary and nonsensical — so let’s break it down real quick.
In Spain, it is legal to grow and smoke weed for personal use, as well as to consume it in private places, whether it be your home or a business.
It is illegal to sell THC products in any capacity or to consume them in public spaces.
Thus, there are hundreds of cannabis clubs around Barcelona, similar to consumption lounges in LA or coffee shops in Amsterdam, where you can become a member, pay for a “membership” to obtain products from them, and legally consume in their private space.
Top takeaways from Spannabis
This year is set to be a big one for the plant in Spain as lawmakers recently announced plans to quadruple medical cannabis production. Advocates hope medical cannabis will become fully regulated before the end of this year, which would make next year’s 20th anniversary of Spannabis even more monumental.
This year was epic in its own right, serving as a staggering reminder of weed’s growing acceptance and accessibility on the international stage.
Here are my top four takeaways from Spannabis 2023.
The European market is booming
While Spannabis initially seemed comparable to its stateside counterparts like MJ Bizcon, the vibe overall was entirely different, as was the conceptual weight of the event existing at all.
The fact that Spannabis had 25,000 attendees and was almost as packed as MJ Bizcon (the largest B2B cannabis conference in the world held each fall in Las Vegas), which last year drew 35,000 people, is pretty insane when you consider the maturity of the US market versus this relatively new landscape.
Since the near-collapse of the US market (caused by impossible regulation, insane taxation, and unchecked corporate consolidation), the savvier American players are looking to Europe as one of the most promising frontiers.
It was amazing to exist at an event that felt hopeful about the future of the industry, instead of Cali events, where much of the energy is spent lamenting the past and feeling pessimistic about the future.
The European market is voracious, excited, and coming in hot.
B2B = business-to-black-market
The (dark) grey legal zone in which cannabis exists in Europe was reflected by the range of brands and products shown on the floor.
A network of claustrophobic conference halls unfolded with booths housing every ancillary canna-business you could think of.
Tons of brands we know and love like Pax, Puffco, and Storz and Bickel were present, plus countless others from around the world varying from sketchy as hell to super legit, all pushing products that either help you grow weed, or help you sell weed, or help you get high.
While there wasn’t the industrial pre-roll and packaging machinery found at the American B2B canna conferences, there were tons of low-tech, small-scale production tools that would be perfect for an underground operation, with a specific emphasis on seeds, nutrients, joint fillers, vac seals, and, unfortunately, unsafe, hemp-derived semi-synthetic cannabinoid consumables.
Misinformation runs rampant
The most upsetting trend I saw at Spannabis, as well as the legal cannabis market existing in “hemp” shops around Barcelona, was the prevalence of semi-synthetic cannabinoids like THC-O, HHC, D-8, etc.
There is a litany of complex issues that make these products unsafe for consumers. For those of you who may not be aware of this issue, the problem with D-8 and other semi-synthetics (natural cannabinoids that have been chemically modified), is the lack of residual testing in the unregulated market.
D8 can be produced safely, but unless you are shopping for D8 products in a licensed dispensary, there is no way to know what kind of chemical intervention was used to create them — and if there are residuals of any of those chemicals left in the product you are vaping, smoking, or eating. Even D8 products that claim to be lab-tested but are sold on the unregulated market are unsafe because there is no way to prove if the “labs” they are claiming to test with are legitimate — or if the products were really tested at all.
Much like in the US, there is no regulation on these semi-synthetic cannabinoids in the European market. They are marketed and sold like CBD, with no consumer warning of any kind.
It was disappointing to see how many booths in Spannabis — as well as stores around Barcelona — were slinging this shit and calling it weed.
Cannabis culture exists in the clubs
Spannabis gave awesome insight into the business side of the European market, but the culture and the REAL weed exist in the cannabis clubs.
There are close to 500 clubs in Barcelona, which is way more than I expected there to be. I was impressed at the level of personality each club possessed, ranging from high-class bar vibes to coffee shops, hangout hideaways, and so on.
While the Barcelona cannabis scene can learn a lot from us in terms of cultivation and education, we need to catch some of their vibes in the consumption lounge arena. The effortless chill of the people of Barcelona translated perfectly to their fantastic consumption scene, something that the US simply hasn’t been able to nail.
Watching the culture of cannabis swirl across the world is delightful and surreal. I walked away from Spannabis knowing one thing for certain: it’s an exciting time to be stoned.
Photos by Lindsay MaHarry