An analysis of Belgian Cannabis Social Clubs’ supply practices: A shapeshifting model?

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The Cannabis Social Clubs (CSC) model has been present in Belgium for over a decade, with at least three phases of renewed activity, shaped by the contributions of multiple CSCs and the groups of users/activists driving those (Pardal, 2016b ;  Pardal, 2018a). To date, Belgian CSCs’ practices have only been analysed circa 2014, in the context of an exploratory study by Decorte (2015) published in this journal. Our analysis builds on that knowledge, and aims to examine the ways in which the Belgian CSCs currently organize the supply of cannabis. Furthermore, based on the insights from the Belgian CSC context and a review of the literature on the CSC model, we aim to develop a first CSC typology in order to capture CSCs’ diverse practices.

By taking stock of the current practices of Belgian CSCs as cannabis suppliers and noting whether these have deviated from the core features typically associated with the model we hope to contribute to a more nuanced understanding of the CSC model (and by extension to the knowledge of broader ‘supply architectures’ – e.g.: Caulkins et al., 2015a). Such analysis may be informative for the development of future policies in this area.


Background and research questions

Cannabis Social Clubs (CSCs) are associations of cannabis users that collectively organize the cultivation and distribution of cannabis. As this middle ground supply model has been active in Belgium for over a decade, this paper aims to examine CSCs’ supply practices, noting any shifts from previously reported features of the model.


We draw on interviews with directors of seven currently active Belgian CSCs (n = 21) and their cannabis growers (n = 23). This data was complemented by additional fieldwork, as well as a review of CSCs’ key internal documents.


Most Belgian CSCs are formally registered non-profit associations. One of the Belgian CSCs has developed a structure of sub-divisions and regional chapters. The Belgian CSCs supply cannabis to members only, and in some cases only medical users are admitted. CSCs rely on in-house growers, ensuring supply in a cooperative and closed-circuit way, despite changes to the distribution methods The associations are relatively small-scale and non-commercially driven. The introduction of formal quality control practices remains challenging.


As the CSC model is often included in discussions about cannabis policy, but remains in most cases driven by self-regulatory efforts, it is important to take stock of how CSCs’ supply function has been implemented in practice – as doing so will improve our understanding of the model and of the wider range of cannabis ‘supply architectures’. This paper highlights the continuity and changes in CSC practices, noting the emergence of several different variants of the CSC model, which are classified in a first CSC typology.

An analysis of Belgian Cannabis Social Clubs’ supply practices: A shapeshifting model?

International Journal of Drug Policy Volume 57, July 2018, Pages 32–41
Mafalda Pardal, Institute for Social Drug Research, Department of Criminology, Penal Law and Social Law, Ghent University

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