Flying High at HQ Barcelona

Although the legalization of marijuana has grown into a global movement, advances are being made one step at a time. Each country must wrestle with cannabis reform in the context of its own unique culture and history with the drug and its prohibition. Signs of progress, however, are appearing with increasing frequency.

Germany, Europe’s most populous country, is decidedly on the path to legalization, perhaps as soon as this year. Thailand has taken a lead on the issue in Asia, and in 2021, Argentina legalized hemp and cannabis for medical and industrial uses, continuing the progress spearheaded in Latin America made by Uruguay when it legalized cannabis in 2013.

In Spain, constitutional rulings have led to the de facto decriminalization of marijuana possession and cultivation for personal use, although commercial cannabis production and sales remain against the law. But the legal-grey area created by a lack of regulation has spawned a healthy community of cannabis clubs throughout Spain, particularly in Barcelona, the capital of the autonomous region of Catalunya. Operated on a strictly nonprofit basis, the clubs give their members a place to purchase and consume cannabis while they socialize with friends.

One of the city’s most famous clubs, HQ Barcelona, can be found in the Eixample neighborhood near the city center. Best known as the site of the basilica La Sagrada Familia, the as-yet-unfinished masterpiece of art nouveau architect Antoni Gaudí, the area is also home to posh boutiques and hip restaurants. A few blocks south of the Passeig de Gràcia and another Gaudí gem, the Modernista building known as the Casa Milà, HQ Barcelona welcomes members to the club with music, activities and a selection of cannabis products including flower, hash and other concentrates.

David Madilyan, the president and founder of HQ Barcelona, is originally from Moscow, where he was born during the era of the Soviet Union. The son of Armenian parents, he has lived in Europe, Asia and North America. For the last 22 years, however, Madilyan’s home has been Spain, where he lives with his wife and children.

“Barcelona is my place under the sun, that’s for sure,” he says.

David Madilyan and DJ ZEACK at HQ Barcelona
David Madilyan and DJ ZEACK at an anniversary party at the club.

Madilyan has been a cannabis consumer since his college days in Moscow with dreams of creating a consumption lounge. “I’m a smoker,” he says, with a smile in his voice. “I’m a heavy hitter.” He has also been deeply ingrained in the underground industry, “moving a lot of weed” in Europe and beyond. Moreover, he was involved in the nightlife party scene, but as he matured, he longed for a spot where he could hang out and chill while the sun was still up.

“Why don’t we have a daytime club, instead of a nighttime club?” he remembers asking his friends in Moscow during the late 1990s. That was when he decided that one day, he’d open a club along the lines of the famed coffee shops of Amsterdam. Fast forward to 2012, when Madilyan had been living in Spain for a decade. After leaving the country for a year for a sabbatical in Bali, he returned to Barcelona for business. While back in his home city, a friend invited him to one of Barcelona’s cannabis clubs for the first time. 

It was an experience he had a hard time believing, even as he watched it with his very own eyes.

“I was there just smoking, and it was crazy,” he remembers. “I was like ‘what the fuck is actually happening?!’”

Almost immediately, Madilyan decided that the time had finally come for him to open his own cannabis club. After going back to Bali to tie up loose ends and end his residency there, he returned to Barcelona in 2013 and started making plans. “It was all a dream, and I was chasing my dream,” he says.

Madilyan went to work, hiring lawyers to tackle the paperwork and substantial red tape. At the same time, he began scouting locations and started the creative work of envisioning and designing the club and how it would work.

“We can open a lounge, we can open a space and we can open a brand—all together,” he remembers thinking as he considered the possibilities. “It was like the whole realization of my life in the weed industry as I always wanted it. I always wanted to create a space where people could meet each other, smoke and chill.”

The result is HQ Barcelona, which opened in 2014. Keeping with the peculiarities of Barcelona’s grey market for cannabis, the club isn’t a retail cannabis dispensary as many have come to know in the US. But after joining, members have access to a wide variety of cannabis products to purchase for onsite consumption.

“HQ is a private smokers club,” he says. “It’s a social club.”

HQ Barcelona cannabis club employees
HQ Barcelona employees react during at the same party.

Unlike some clubs that can be cramped and smoky, HQ Barcelona boasts more than 4,300 square feet of space for members to stretch out and get comfortable or participate in activities. High ceilings (15 feet) are capped by skylights to let in natural light, and an effective ventilation system keeps the air free of smoke to protect members’ eyes and lungs.

Membership in the club is by referral from current members to comply with requirements that cannabis clubs not be open to the public. But that doesn’t mean that it’s difficult to join in the fun. Madilyan says that members of the cannabis community who become friends of the club are likely to be invited to join.

While enjoying cannabis with friends is the main attraction at HQ Barcelona (the HQ stands for, naturally, hempquarters), the club also hosts activities and entertainment, including live music, DJs, exhibits and athletic competitions. For many members, the club is the focal point of their social life, forming “a close-knit community of people who live in Barcelona or visit the city frequently,” Madilyan says.

HQ Barcelona has been offering a festive and welcoming spot for cannabis lovers for nearly a decade now. In that time, the club hasn’t had even one fight on the premises, Madilyan proudly shares. Looking at the bigger picture, however, Barcelona’s cannabis club scene has experienced the ups and downs that often come with grey markets. In the early months of 2022, city officials and law enforcement doubled down on enforcement of the clubs with a series of raids and heightened inspections.

“We’re under big pressure from police and the City Hall of Barcelona,” he says.

Madilyan looks forward to a time when Spain joins the growing league of nations that are truly legalizing cannabis, including regulated production and sales. But he acknowledges that as a nation that’s more conservative than many, his adopted home is unlikely to take the lead on reform any time soon.

“We’re in Spain,” he says. “It’s a very Catholic country.”’

HQ Barcelona cannabis counter

While the political will to legalize cannabis in Spain continues to build, Madilyan plans to continue serving his city’s weed community through HQ Barcelona. Eventually, he believes that lawmakers will realize that the cannabis legalization movement is too big to contain to private clubs.

“We really want them to understand that this shit is global,” Madilyan says with conviction. The man’s not wrong.

This story was originally published in the print edition of Cannabis Now.

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Cannabis Leaders and Politicians to Join Forces in New York

Business of Cannabis, the host of quarterly events and annual cannabis conferences in North America and a premier publication of cannabis news, is gathering an esteemed group of leaders, policymakers, industry pioneers and investors for its second annual Business of Cannabis: New York conference. The one-day event will take place at the New York Academy of Medicine on November 3, just as New York’s Office of Cannabis Management is to begin distributing cannabis retail licenses.

Delays for New York’s Adult-Use Cannabis Market Launch

New York’s recreational cannabis market is still not off the ground 18 months after the passing of the state’s Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, which is touted as one of the most equitable and robust programs in the US. The bill prioritizes racial equity, reinvesting 40% of tax revenue from adult-use cannabis sales into minority communities most impacted by the War on Drugs and automatically expunging or resentencing people with previous marijuana convictions that are no longer criminalized. The law also sets a goal of awarding 50% of all adult-use cannabis licenses to social equity applicants, which includes but is not limited to BIPOC, women and veterans.

However revolutionary, the rollout has proven burdensome. Originally expected to launch in the spring of 2022, bureaucratic delays have pushed back New York’s timeline. As voters in seven states get ready to vote on cannabis legislation, all eyes are focused on whether New York will remain a model for others to follow, or become a cautionary tale.

Residents of legal age in Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma will vote on the legalization of adult-use cannabis while those in Maryland, North Dakota and South Dakota will vote on decriminalizing cannabis. Nebraska Secretary of State Bob Evnen recently ordered a recount of the petition signatures acquired for the ballot proposal to legalize medical marijuana in the state. If all of these ballots are passed in November, it will represent a huge step forward for sensible drug policies which defend the rights of patients and users in the country. It would also mean a large influx of addressable consumers for the adult-use cannabis industry.

New York’s Cannabis Future

Business of Cannabis: New York will bring together 400+ leaders focused on creating the most successful cannabis market in the US. With a focus on three core pillars—social equity, policy and retail—curated content sessions will cover:

  • The effectiveness of Governor Hochul’s $200M social equity fund
  • New York’s Cannabis Control Board license application process
  • The habits and preferences of the modern cannabis consumer
  • Building an ethical and socially responsible industry that protects consumers
  • Technology innovations on the horizon and how they will shape how cannabis companies do business
  • The future of New York’s medical marijuana program
  • New Jersey’s adult-use market roll-out and performance, and how it might impact New York’s industry

“The program at this year’s Business of Cannabis: New York is designed to challenge leaders on the best route forward while educating, connecting and motivating delegates to shape the future of New York’s cannabis industry,” said Stephen Murphy, co-founder of Prohibition Partners. “We’re approaching an important election season that will significantly impact the cannabis industry. I look forward to engaging with key industry stakeholders to discuss the future of New York’s promising market and the significant impact it will have both in the US and around the world.”

The opportunity of New York’s cannabis market is staggering. The state’s recreational market is projected to be worth $4.4B by 2025, overcoming Colorado’s established market that is estimated to reach $3.8B that same year. Approximately 19.41 million people live in the state of New York, with 8.9 million—nearly half of the state’s population—living in Manhattan. Cannabis has been an established part of New York’s culture for years, making for a potentially massive addressable market.

Tremaine Wright, Chairwoman of the New York State Cannabis Control Board, spoke to the injustices from cannabis prohibition they are now striving to correct.

“For decades, an unjust cannabis prohibition depleted this country of opportunity and denied communities access to resources,” Wright said.  “We have set our sights on demonstrating how an equity-driven market reinvests in all communities creating the most inclusive cannabis industry possible. I’m excited to update attendees at Business of Cannabis: New York on our efforts in the Empire State to build a cannabis market that works for all New Yorkers.”

About Business of Cannabis

Since 2017, Business of Cannabis has highlighted the companies, brands, people and trends driving the cannabis industry in North America. Powered by Prohibition Partners, the Business of Cannabis team brings over 30 years of public and strategic communications, content and campaign creation, and deep sector expertise, relationships and insight.

For tickets and more information on sponsorship and speaking opportunities at Business of Cannabis: New York this year, visit: cannabisnewyork.liv

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How to Harvest Sungrown Cannabis

Up in the Mendocino Highlands, harvest typically starts in late September or early October, depending on the cultivar. Some girls want to come in early, and some may stretch it out until early November. Here at Swami Select, we had an Ethiopian Sativa one year that finished after Thanksgiving—not what you want because of the increased likelihood of fog, rain or frost that late in the season.

This is the tensest time of year, because there are still so many ways that you could lose some or all of the crop. In the old days, the paranoia was palpable as October arrived. While the crop ripened, every day that you waited to cut increased the chances of getting busted by the cops or being robbed by “marijuana rustlers.”

Potential Threats

Franklin putting up the frost cloth. PHOTO Nikki Lastreto

We still need to be vigilant for other threats such as russet mites, aphids and latent hop syndrome. If the rains start in September, or the mornings bring heavy fog, mold and powdery mildew may develop. For the latter, foliar spraying with hydrogen peroxide can help, but the best preventative is spraying with a fermentation of horsetail starting in June.

Frost can also be a threat. The later into October and November the harvest extends, the more likely a heavy frost will hit, especially in mountain valleys. Most hardy plants can survive one early morning frost if it is only in the mid-twenties, but two or three frosts will kill many plants. Be prepared to cover each plant with frost cloth and they will survive.

These days in California and Oregon, outdoor crops face an additional threat from wildfires, which means you need to have an evacuation plan for your crew, plus a survival plan for the crop. An automated irrigation system will keep the girls alive if you need to bail.

If the crop gets dusted with white ash from the fires, use a leaf blower to blow it off the leaves and then spray with diluted hydrogen peroxide (H2O2). If the smoke at harvest is dense for days, after cutting and weighing each plant, dip each branch in dilute H2O2 and then dip in clean water; then hang to dry outside before bringing the branches into the drying room. 

Yellow leafing the plants is paramount, and on the day before harvest, pull off most of the sun leaves from the plants you will take. As the days get shorter, keep cutting back on water, unless it’s super-hot, and stop feeding or using compost teas a week to ten days before harvest.  

The Science (and Art) of Harvesting Cannabis

Swami talking to plants at harvest muscle testing. PHOTO Nikki Lastreto

Assuming that you’ve done all the preparations mentioned in the previous article, you now must devise the exact procedure of harvest. This involves several steps: 

  • Deciding the exact moment to cut each plant. 
  • Whether to take the whole plant or make two or three cuttings. 
  • How to transport the cut plants to the drying facility. 
  • For legal growers in California, how to weigh and record the wet weight immediately after cutting.  
  • How to keep track of each individual plant and not lose its Metrc tag.

Every farmer has their method of deciding when to cut. We harvest in the dark— very early in the morning—so that we finish that day’s cutting before first light. This ensures the maximum saturation of all the aromatic compounds in the plant, because they off-gas during the day.

When it’s clear that the “girls” are close to harvest, as our crew is yellow leafing, I literally ask each plant individually if it’s ready to come in. With no judgement preferences as to who should be cut next, I use kinesiology (aka muscle testing) to determine who gets cut the next day. 

Strong muscle resistance is “Yes” and weak is “No.” I touch a leaf on a plant and ask: “Are you readyto come in tomorrow?” Strong response. Then I ask again: “Do you want to come in tomorrow?”  Strong response. Then a third time I ask: “Would you rather stay for a few more days?” Weak response. The answer to the first two inquiries is “Yes!” and to the third is “No!” so I mark that plant for harvest and write down the number of its bed on a list for the morning’s harvest. If on the contrary, the answers are “No,” No,” and “Yes,” then I leave the plant for a later day.

The crew starts at about 5 a.m., donning warm clothes and gloves. With head lamps on and clippers in hand, we take the whole plant, full branch by full branch. That is, unless it’s a very small plant and then we just cut and hang the whole thing. The stalk is left in the bed until springtime.

Harvest Day

Some farmers cut just the top 10 to 12 inches off each branch and leave the rest to mature for another week or two. We don’t do that because it’s difficult to keep track of two cuttings at different times to report to Metrc.

We usually cut about 20 plants on each harvest day and cut for three days in a row. To transport them to the barn we use a 6×12 foot trailer, which I hook up to the car and park next to the garden gate the night prior. 

When we arrive at the garden in the morning, we split into two teams. One goes around to the designated plants and cuts away the trellises by clipping the nylon zip ties and pulling away the horizontal bamboo sticks. The other crew picks the plants closest to the garden gate, cuts away the trellises and proceeds to harvest the whole plant. When the first crew is finished cutting away the trellises on the designated 20 plants, they switch over to harvesting also. 

Transporting the Harvest

cannabis plants after harvest
PHOTO Nikki Lastreto

We have 20 clean blue tarps, one for each plant. In the dark, the tarp is laid on the ground next to the chosen plant with the cut branches gently laid on the tarp. When finished, we use carabiners to hook the tarp grommets together to make a large pouch. For legal growers, the carabiner is the place to attach the blue Metrc tag, which must stay with each plant until it becomes a batch. 

The tarp is carried to the trailer, and when full, we drive the trailer to the back of the barn, unload and go back for more. To prevent any crushing of the plants, we are careful not to pile them up too high in the trailer.

The carabiner holding the tarp together also easily goes over the hook on the scale for weighing the whole wet plant, required for legal California cultivators. We attach a 4×6 beam between two trees, hang the scale in the middle and use a small ladder to reach the scale. Besides the weight, we note the Metrc number, the bed number, and the cultivar of each plant.  

Drying Time

Swami cleans cannabis plants
Swami cleans cannabis plants before drying. PHOTO Nikki Lastreto

After weighing, the tarp is carried into the barn and the plants are hung on nylon netting hung from the ceiling, and the blue Metrc tag is attached to the netting.

By the time the last plant is in the barn, the sun is just starting to come up and we head to the house for a hearty breakfast of pancakes or cheese omelets. After breakfast, we return to the garden and gather up the bamboo trellis sticks to save for next year.

Stay tuned for the next article about proper drying and curing methods. Happy Harvest!

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