Human societies are becoming increasingly complex due to social, economic, cultural and political reasons. In today’s social fabrics with their high population density, respect and good relations are the cornerstones for avoiding conflict.
In theory the vast majority of people like to ‘live and let live’, but in practice a significant percentage of individuals do things which may annoy others. Cannabis social clubs are no exception and the problems for friendly social relations that they entail are twofold. Firstly, local residents are out of touch with the reality of cannabis and view a cannabis social club as a threat. Secondly, the nuisance they endure in their neighbourhoods as a result of cannabis social clubs’ activities.
Due to stigmatisation and ignorance, a significant number of the cannabis social clubs which have been set up in Catalonia in recent years have suffered from what is known as NIMBY, an acronym that stands for ‘not in my back yard’. Communities experiencing the NIMBY effect acknowledge that some community resources and/or facilities such as incinerators, nuclear power plants, supervised injection sites and also cannabis social clubs are necessary in the social sphere. However, they also think that they ought to be set up in an area, neighbourhood or street other than their own, either because where they live is already packed with unwanted resources or they feel that it is not the right venue due to low demand. In some communities, the opening of a cannabis social club has been perceived as a threat to friendly social interaction. Many people still have a powerful negative impression of drugs in their minds. This means that when talking about a cannabis club, some people think of syringes, drug addicts in poor physical condition and begging, AIDS and, ultimately, death. This image makes good community relations between cannabis social clubs and local residents difficult and in some cases even impossible. The intolerance of some residents to prevent the opening of a cannabis social club has led to real conflicts. In these cases, community working groups are crucial to finding a solution to the disagreement. However, they are not always possible and the solution to the community dispute is often not satisfactory for either side. Raising community awareness to increase tolerance thresholds for cannabis social clubs is an aspect to be worked on to improve neighbourly relations.
Another community conflict is brought about by the activities of cannabis social clubs that engender various kinds of nuisance for local people. This nuisance has to be kept to a minimum to preserve good relations with residents. To ensure cannabis use is neighbour-friendly, work needs to be done to mitigate the stigmatisation and criminalisation of cannabis social clubs. Neighbourhood nuisance arising from cannabis social clubs can be divided into two broad groups. Firstly, incidents for which the club managers are responsible, and secondly those caused by members who do not play any kind of managerial role in the club. In the first category, managers have to create the right atmosphere in the club to make it attractive while ensuring that the pursuit of a suitable ambience does not have undesirable effects for local residents. Here the most important problems are noise, especially music, and smells. In several towns and cities, municipal by-laws concerning cannabis social clubs are very strict about sound insulation and smell extractors. These types of regulations may entail considerable outlay for clubs to prevent noise and smells, yet they are effective in reducing the impact of the club to the point where it goes completely unnoticed by local residents. Where municipal regulations are not so strict, club managers have to work towards avoiding any noise and odour nuisance. Soundproofing and smoke extraction are critical to preventing conflicts with local people. Any investment in nuisance abatement is an effective way to prevent arguments and cannabis club managers need to be proactive in this area.
Conflicts caused by cannabis social club members are the ones that usually trigger the most disputes. Noise and dirt in the street tend to anger residents, who on occasion are quick to call the police to deter any action by members that is seen as anti-social. So cannabis users should enter and leave the cannabis social club quietly and without making a fuss. That means no yelling and no standing outside the club’s door which, for example, might be under the balconies of neighbours who experience annoyance. It should be borne in mind that residents’ lifestyles are obviously different and some of them are early risers, plus it’s well known that a good night’s sleep is a very precious commodity. When it’s disturbed, people will often get worked up. Ensuring local people can sleep properly is up to the group as a whole and doing this will save headaches later on. Additionally, it’s very important not to smoke outside the club’s door or in its vicinity. If users are caught smoking on the public highway, no matter how close they are to the club where usage is tolerated, they will be fined under the Law on the Protection of the Citizens’ Security and this will unquestionably be a problem for the club.
Ultimately, towns and cities are inherently venues for conflict, yet good practice helps to lessen it. Achieving good relations between the community and cannabis social clubs is a sound and solid step towards gaining the legitimacy needed to de-stigmatise cannabis users. It is up to these users to make progress on this issue and this means taking personal responsibility is essential to avert any conflicts with local residents. So let’s get on with building good relations with the local community.