Spain’s foremost cannabis activist is a 76-year-old woman in the southern province of Málaga who has been asserting her right to home cultivation for over a generation now. Fernanda de la Figuera — ubiquitously known as Abuela Marijuana, or Grandma Marijuana — has been busted before, and won a landmark ruling in her favor from the Spanish courts.
In spite of this, she was busted again, and this time convicted and sentenced. But now she says she will appeal to the European Union’s highest judicial body.
On Jan. 30, a Málaga judge convicted de la Figuera of drug trafficking, on the basis of a 2014 raid on her home in the small town of Alhaurín el Grande by a contingent of the Civil Guards, Spain’s militarized national police force. The raid turned up her backyard garden of some 180 cannabis plants.
Prosecutors asked for four years’ imprisonment. The judge gave a sentence of just nine months — which is below the two-year threshold for mandatory prison time. This means she could likely receive a suspended sentence and escape actually going to jail, if she confesses to her “crime” and commits no second offense during the nine months.
But de la Figuera isn’t having it. She insists she was growing for her own personal use, and her collective of medical users, and that she has the right to do so — already upheld by the Spanish courts. She told local media that she will now take her case to a higher authority — the European Court of Human Rights, in Strasbourg, France.
’Apostle of Homegrown’ Won’t Accept Deal
De la Figuera considers herself the “apóstol del autocultivo” — the apostle of homegrown. She smoked cannabis for the first time in Paris in the ’60s, and found that it relieved the epilepsy and rheumatism she had been struggling with since childhood. She has been growing the plant since 1973, and won her ground-breaking legal victory recognizing her right to do so more than 20 years later.
In 1995, her same home in Alhaurín el Grande was raided, and she was brought up on cultivation charges. But the judge dismissed the charges on individual liberty grounds. Abuela Marijuana boasted that she’d become the first legal cannabis cultivator in Spain.
The quantity in the case was considerably lesser than the 180 plants in the 2014 bust. But in the intervening years, she had founded MaríasXMaría (Marias for Maria), an “association” of women from across Spain’s southern Andalusia region suffering from arthritis, fibromyalgia and other ailments they treat with cannabis. She insisted that her cultivation was “therapeutic work,” for members of the association.
And in 2015, Spain passed a law expanding on its 1983 decriminalization of cannabis, allowing personal cultivation — provided it is hidden from public view. However, it is uncertain this could apply in de la Figuera’s case, both because it would have to be retroactive and because of the quantities involved. Additionally, it is unclear if backyard cultivation clearly counts as hidden from the public.
De la Figuera considers the charge against her transparently bogus. “The judge in my town knows that all my life I’ve made my living in the real estate market, and that I don’t dedicate myself to selling marijuana,” she told Andalusia’s El Diario newspaper. “This is not my interest, but to make known this wonderful substance, and how good it is for the health of many people.”
The 2015 law was designed to protect Spain’s cannabis associations. But an unfavorable ruling of the country’s Supreme Court in 2018 imposed strict conditions on such associations, barring them from most public activity and making them nearly impossible to function legally.
Rather than appealing within the Spanish judicial system, de la Figuera announced after the verdict that she intends to bring the case directly to the European Court of Human Rights, where a ruling could set a precedent for the entire European Union.
From Málaga to Strasbourg
Grandma Marijuana just may have the savvy to pull it off. In addition to being a skilled cultivator and medical provider, she is an activist of long years’ experience. In 1995, after her historic court ruling, she founded the Cannabis Party for Legalization and Normalization (PCLYN), Spain’s first national political party dedicated to marijuana liberation.
The following year, she founded the Ramón Santos Association for the Study of Cannabis in Andalusia (ARSECA), named after a late criminal defense attorney who defended many cultivators in the region and dedicated to documenting the medical benefits of the herb.
And MaríasXMaría is a member of another national organization she helped found, the Federation of Cannabis Associations (FAC). She’s also involved in the Action Group for the Legalization of Cannabis in Spain (GALCE), and its affiliated website, Infocannabis.
And she has taken her work to the continental level, as Spain representative of the European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies (ENCOD).
When her new case was still pending late last year, de la Figuera won an important symbolic victory, at least, when her province’s ruling left-wing coalition, Adelante Málaga, came out unequivocally and publicly in her support, with provincial councilors posing alongside her in a photo op.
Her case may soon have an impact that will resonate across the European continent.
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