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Makoki

 
Felipe Borrallo
President of ARSEC
Representative for the Cannabis Social Club Candidacy

From bookstore Makoki, in the Square of the Pine in Barcelona's Gothic Quarter, Spain's cannabis movement took off in the early nineties under the leadership of flamboyant counter-revolutionary Felipe Borrallo. Native of the town of Badajoz, on Spain's western border with Portugal, Felipe was sent to boarding school in Madrid upon his father's death. "These years were marked by discipline and hunger", but all that was left behind when he went to Barcelona and fell in love with the city, never to look back. He studied economics for a couple of years at the University of Barcelona and changed to cultural anthropology before letting his hair grow long and embarking for Geneva to become a hippy. Returning to Barcelona he wrote the story line for a comic based on the escape of a dissident from the psychiatric ward with the electroshock helmet still tied to his head. Thus Makoki was born, and grew to become an icon of the Catalan underground culture during the last quarter of the 20th century.

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Being an avid comics reader Felipe opened the bookstore Makoki, which specialized in comics and science-fiction literature. In 1981 he was instrumental in organizing the first Barcelona International Comic Fair, which has since developed to become the referent for the medium in Spain. As comics became big business, the content of the stories became ever blander, and whereas the stories had centred around local people and events, the comic commerce imported increasingly North American and Japanese comics, irrelevant to the cultural fortunes of the Catalan underground. It is against this background that Felipe decided he didn't want to sell 'infantilizing' comic books, and having been a habitual marihuana consumer, opened his store to whatever was being published about the herb and other prohibited substances. This led to the Makoki bookstore becoming a meeting point for cannabis consumers and in 1991 to the formation of an association of cannabis students, since the authorities refused to register an association of consumers, which in their eyes would be tantamount to promoting the use of the herb.

Irrespective of the name under which the association operated, it was dedicated precisely to sing the glory of 'Maria'. Like for the overwhelming majority of cannabis consumers, the herb had led Felipe to moments of extreme happiness, 'feelings of sympathy and solidarity, and the possibility to understand other people'. In the 17 years that he would be ARSEC's natural and never contested president, it would be on the basis of these ideals that he would steer the association to become a beacon for the Spanish cannabis movement.
Starting in 1991 Felipe used the Makoki magazine to inform about the association's intentions, and when in the following year the public possession and consumption of marihuana became a criminal offence, he decided to challenge the authorities into judging ARSEC for the communal cultivation of plants for individual consumption. Even though the issue remains unsolved until this day, ARSEC's call to arms was heard across the Spanish peninsula, where citizens responded with enthusiasm.

 
"ARSEC was never short of money, especially after the publication of the Manual for the Cultivation and Consumption-for-personal-use of Cannabis, which made the association self-sufficient and able to sponsor other associations that needed economic support. And it allowed us to go to Madrid to present the campaign 'Against prohibition, I stand' (Contra la prohibición, me planto), out of which grew the 'National Coordinator of Associations for the Normalization of Cannabis' (Coordinadora Estatal de Asociaciones por la Normalización del Cannabis).'¹
 

It was also from a gathering convened by ARSEC in Barcelona, that in the fall of 1996 a delegation of Spanish cannabis activists left to participate of an Encod meeting in Turin, Italy, which would lay the basis for a Europe wide organization of cannabis users. Felipe understood early on that re-legalizing the plant was not an issue that could be taken care of by one government, or in a short period of time. Even if in Spain cannabis consumption had been legal till quite recently, the authority over its legal status had changed from Madrid to New York and was now subject to a "supranational organization that doesn't even consider a mechanism to exclude a substance from its lists, only is instructed to include newly prohibited substances"². Therefore, cannabis users likewise had to unite across borders into coalitions able to sway transnational public opinion and the representatives of the newly developing transnational political institutions.

According to Felipe, the war on drugs is not just a misguided endeavour in defence of public health, but a consciously orchestrated policy, "the engine to augment the supply and demand of prohibited substances, that endangers not only the social fabric, but democracy itself"³.. Therefore, we may never acquiesce, but have to continue on the road to complete re-legalization of cannabis:

 
"Till the cultivation, the distribution and the consumption have been legalized, we will accept "regulation" or "normalization" only as a step towards total legalization."⁴

In an interview with historian Juan Carlos Usó, on a question about the commercialization of cannabis seeds, Felipe elaborated a bit more on his views on cannabis:

 
"We think that marihuana should be for free, and the seeds too, offered by the cultivators to supply patients and club members who don't cultivate. With the arrival of the 'avid' dollars from the Dutch seed banks everything turned into business and the associations were replaced by 'grows', magazines and cannabis fairs. .../... the infectious Dutch compulsion for profit, which they call entrepreneurial spirit, caused many activists to look for benefits in their activities, which up till then had been for free and voluntary."⁵
 

It is a shame indeed that the tolerance of Dutch politicians for the cannabis using youngsters in the 70's of the twentieth century has led to the dominance of the cannabis entrepreneurs. In Barcelona it used to be that those ARSEC members that had learned how to grow their own weed would give it to the other members; there never used to be a shortage of the herb. All that changed when cannabis changed from being a sacrament of companionship into a commodity for individual wellbeing, at the other's expense.

Luckily that's not the whole picture, because also in Spain, as everywhere else in the world, people enlightened by marihuana, still love to share their joint. Per force of nature!
Under Felipe's presidency ARSEC, while awaiting a lengthy review of its court case, changed its radius of action. With associations and clubs around the country fighting for their own right to the use of the plant, ARSEC took a step back from political activism and concentrated instead on informing patients about the curative and palliative properties of the plant. Teaming up with AGATA, a local association of women with breast cancer, it got the Catalan parliament to approve resolutions allowing the legal use of cannabis for medical purposes.
In 2008 ARSEC was dissolved after having attained its foundational objectives: to take the debate about cannabis to civil society and to end the demonization of the plant. Looking back in 2016 at the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the founding of the association, Felipe ends his remarks:

 
"Thanks to the members that cultivated and allowed, with their effort and spirit, the utopia that marihuana and seeds were free in ARSEC." ⁵
 

¹ Cáñamo magazine Nº 243, page 60, July 2016, "25 years ARSEC"
² Ibid, page 60
³ Ibid, page 62
Ibid, page 62
Revista Ulisses,Interview with Felipe Borrallo by Juan Carlos Usó & Xavier Vidal (in Spanish)
Cáñamo magazine Nº 243, page 62