FOUNDERS of a North-East cannabis club announced their intention to open branches across the UK as they welcomed the latest high profile visitor to their illicit speakeasy.
The Police and Crime Commissioner for North Wales lent his support to cannabis clubs after spending an evening at a secret venue operated by Teesside Cannabis Club on the outskirts of Middlesbrough.
Arfon Jones, who has called for marijuana to be legalised for medicinal use, visited Club Exhale when he was in the region to watch a football match last week.
Mr Jones joins Jeremy Kyle and Durham’s Police, Crime and Victims Commissioner Ron Hogg as the latest in a line of public figures who have asked club members to share their experiences as they consider the debate around marijuana use, which is now legal in a number of countries.
Founder John Holliday said the visit had gone well as he announced plans to franchise Club Exhale and in doing so, provide “safe and regulated” venues for people to consume the Class B drug across the country.
Taking influence from Spanish cannabis clubs, Mr Holliday opened Club Exhale around a year ago to give supporters of Teesside Cannabis Club the opportunity to socialise while using marijuana.
It now has around 150 members who pay £35 a year for access and bring their own drugs to the venue, where buying and selling is forbidden. The club is registered as a company, pays taxes and makes money – up to £3,000 a night – by selling refreshments.
Mr Holliday believes a regulated and legal market for cannabis would allow such clubs to sell ethically sourced marijuana, with resulting profits representing a potentially significant funding boost for local authorities.
In the meantime, he says, more branches of Club Exhale would offer a responsibly run, “safe and regulated” environment for cannabis users, away from drug dealers and other criminal activity.
He said: “The next logical step for us is to establish branches around the region and in the rest of the country, with our name as reassurance that there is a safe and responsible approach.
“I’d like to see other clubs opening up and working with the authorities openly as we do.”
The plans were criticised by Addiction North-East’s Simon Stephens, who believes that substance abuse of any kind can mask or worsen mental health issues.
Mr Stephens said such clubs represented a move towards the social acceptance of marijuana and claimed increased use could lead to problems with dependence.
He said that the argument for legalisation was irrelevant in the context of potential harm to users, given known issues around alcohol and tobacco addiction.
However, following his visit, PCC Mr Jones said: “I visited Teesside Cannabis Club because I wanted to see how it was run.
“The members bring their own cannabis, it isn’t grown on the premises and they’re not dealing or supplying.
“They pay an annual membership fee to be a member of what is a social club where they go to use cannabis.
“There are 150 members paying £35 a year and why not? There are pubs and clubs where people go and drink alcohol so why shouldn’t consenting adults be able to use cannabis recreationally and without causing anyone any harm?
“The location is such that there is no NIMBYism.”