Friday, June 6, 2014

Carlos and Franco, Hashish and Me.

One of the great advantages I have had in life is being in places when extraordinary changes were taking place. Beirut in 1981; Turkey in the late 1970’s during a coup, and then again in the early 1980’s when Democracy was restored; are 2 places and times which come readily to mind as examples. But until the news came over about Juan Carlos stepping down after almost 40 years as head of his country, I had forgotten about one of my favorite events. And that was in Spain the night that Juan Carlos decriminalized possession of hashish and marijuana. I suppose a bit of history is in order here.

Spain’s 1936 alliance with Hitler and Germany; which actually helped keep Spain neutral in the coming Second World War; set off the Spanish Civil War, which many people point to as the first real battle of the Second World War. It pitted Generalissimo Franco’s Nationalists (read as Fascists) against an International Brigade of volunteers (read as Communists) from countries as diverse as the Soviet Union and the United States. Ernest Hemingway even went there; a visit which would give rise to his novel “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” Franco won and became Spain’s dictator for the next 4 decades. In the late 1970’s he relinquished his power to Juan Carlos, who became King.

The rule of Juan Carlos was filled with all the usual troubles of running a kingdom; or any country for that matter. He had his own terrorists to contend with way before we did. They were separatists from the North, and were still active as recently as the Madrid train bombing early in this century. Economically Spain has had its ups and downs; just like the rest of the world. And now his son will be taking the helm of leadership in a mostly symbolic position; much as the Queen rules England. All indications are that he will be well received by about 70% of the population, and we wish him luck. End of history.

And now, the night Juan Carlos decriminalized hashish. If memory serves me correctly it was March 1st, 1984. I was in Alicante, a port on the Cost de Sol to catch the USNS Sirius, a ship which had been home to me several times in the past few years. This was a small port by comparison to the ones we usually hit. I was also just fresh from stateside, having landed in Madrid that morning direct from New Jersey by way of Baltimore. I had just gotten my 3rd Mates License, but was shipping as an Able Bodied Seaman instead of as Third Mate. There were no slots open at the time and my money was running low.

There was something festive in the air, like the sharpness you can almost feel before it snows. There were Federal troops, complete in 3 cornered hats, at every intersection. The sight of automatic weapons in the hands of someone with a 17th century headpiece was incongruous, but the lethality of the modern weapons was not lost on me. So, I went to the nearest bar to get the lowdown on what was happening.

Walking in I was surprised to see so many people openly smoking hashish. Hashish was very common; after all there is only a 7 mile strait between Spain and Morocco at Gibraltar. But it was always on the quiet lest you be arrested. It was a bit unsettling to see everyone smoking with all the troops just outside. I started asking questions in my broken Spanish; and getting answers in broken English. So I was only getting small pieces of the story at a time.

Turns out that this was the night when hashish became decriminalized in Spain and I was lucky enough to be there. The troops were there for everyone’s protection, and also as a warning not to let things get too out of hand. The wine flowed, the hash burned and everyone had a great time. And that is what came to mind when I saw that Juan Carlos was stepping down this week. Now here’s the fun part. I am going to google this and see how accurate my memory is for date and event. Be right back.

Well, I couldn't find what I was looking for; namely a date; but here is the status of the law in Spain, where possession is a misdemeanor; sale is illegal; but growing it is not. This is from Wikipedia;

“Selling cannabis is a criminal offence punishable by law at any quantity. Buying anywhere, possession and consumption at a public place constitutes a misdemeanor and is penalized with a fine and confiscation. Growing the plant on private property for personal use, and consumption by adults in a private space is legal.[121]”

Here is the link to the whole article, which lists all the countries alphabetically;

And finally, thanks Juan, for a night I will always remember.

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