Spain is a popular holiday destination, and for many people that means enjoying a few drinks and soaking up the sunshine. However, for others, it means excessive drinking and perhaps even using illegal substances, which can see them end up on the wrong side of drug and alcohol laws in Spain. Unfortunately, a small number of British people see Spain as a fairly liberal and open place where they can indulge in drinking and partying without consequences, but it’s easy for them to fall foul of the Spanish authorities, who often don’t hesitate in putting drunk tourists in the cells overnight. Here’s some information on the laws around drinking and drug use in Spain to help you avoid legal issues.
The minimum buying and drinking age in Spain is 16, which is fairly young compared to the rest of the world. This includes buying alcohol in bars and clubs, restaurants and shops. However, those under the age of 16 can buy beer or wine if they are with their parents, and there’s no minimum age for drinking alcohol inside the home, so it’s up to parents to decide whether they think their child should be allowed to drink.
There have been issues around underage drinking in Spain in recent years. You may hear locals talking about botellón, which literally translates as ‘big bottle’, a practice that sees youngsters hanging out on the streets getting drunk. The government has proposed that underage drinkers and their families be fined if caught, but the more liberal Party Podemos has suggested family counselling should be offered instead, attacking the cause of the problem. In many areas, shops that sell to underage drinkers face big fines or closure.
Some of the strictest drug and alcohol laws in Spain pertain to drink or drug driving. In the UK, the drink driving limit is 0.8 milligrams of alcohol per millilitre of blood, while in Spain it’s 0.5. It can be extremely difficult to determine what your limit is, as it depends on your body weight, how much you’ve eaten and factors such as your metabolism, so if in doubt, don’t drink anything when driving to stay on the right side of Spanish laws.
Drivers who have had their licence for less than two years, or those driving what’s deemed a ‘passenger vehicle’, i.e. a minibus, face an even lower limit of 0.3, so if you’re a new driver or driving a larger vehicle, be especially cautious.
There are many reasons why the Guardia Civil might pull you over for a breathalyser, and it doesn’t just happen after accidents. If they suspect you’re under the influence of alcohol or drugs, if you’re caught speeding, or even if you come across a random checkpoint.
There can be a number of penalties for drink driving. For serious offences, this can mean three to six months in prison, community service, or a suspension of your licence. If you’re just over the limit, you’re more likely to get a fine, which can be as much as 600 EUR or 1000 EUR if you’re more than double the limit.
Spain has fairly relaxed drug laws when it comes to private consumption. You can grow and smoke drugs in your own home, or in other private places such as ‘Cannabis Clubs’ which you’ll see around the country. Public health organisations are also in the process of legalising medical marijuana for medical purposes.
However, when it comes to owning drugs in a private place or selling them, the laws in Spain can be harsh. Many tourists see the Cannabis clubs in places such as Barcelona and assume that the local police will turn a blind eye to all drug use, but there are strict drug and alcohol laws in Spain in these cases. Even having a small amount of drugs in a public place can see you arrested and detained, while those who are caught selling drugs may find themselves facing prosecution and a prison sentence. Those who sell to minors or have particularly large quantities of drugs, sentences can be up to 21 years.
Despite tough drug and alcohol laws in Spain, Spanish people have one of the highest rates of drug use in Europe. Cannabis and cocaine are among the most used illegal drugs, according to the police force and government agencies, but the availability of over the counter drugs such as tranquilisers and sleeping pills means that there are large numbers of people addicted to these substances too.