The European medical cannabis industry in general is currently following a pharmaceutical model. However, interestingly a few countries are following the US model by opening up recreational cannabis use.
There are many forces at play in Europe. For one, health agencies want to ensure that medicine is properly used and cannabis is not falling into their traditional model. Also, the pharmaceutical distributors and individual pharmacies are vast and logistical distribution channels to disburse medicine already exist. On the other end of the spectrum, Europe is the front yard of big pharma and regulatory agencies like the United Nations’ WHO are kicking the can down the road on cannabis approvals.
A good way to get an idea of the European market, in general, is to take a more granular look at the individual nation players.
The EU Leader: Germany
Germany is currently leading the cannabis charge in Europe with pharmacy distribution. The nation recently reported approximately 250 million Euros in sales. But the rules are just developing as they learn what is best for their patients. One of the few cultivators to sell in the market is Bedrocan, which is a 25-year-old cannabis cultivation company with the highest standards of production. Bedrocan is unique due to its close nexus with the Netherlands government and health insurance coverage. In essence, it’s the Netherland’s government that is the seller to Germany. There are also Canadian companies like Canopy, Tilray, and Aurora working to bring products to the German market.
Most patients are hoping for more variety but Germany only permits a producer to have less than 5% variation in the product. That is extremely hard to accomplish in high THC bud. Extracted products are becoming accepted but the rules are still developing. Also, some restrictions that all extract products must have over 10mg of THC are prohibitive for less tolerant patients.
Other Pharmaceutical Model Countries
Other countries like Italy have older medical programs with government distribution to pharmacies. Whereas countries like Ireland are doing small tender offers for a very finite set of ailments like stage 3 cancer and severe epilepsy. Malta has fully embraced medical marijuana and has a shortage of cannabis for local patients. Greece has a pro-cannabis export model with very little internal use of the medical cannabis program, which is currently run by the government.
The majority of EU countries that are exploring cannabis follow the Irish model. That is, they are trying to understand where cannabis fits in for their population and how to get relief to people that need it most. Typically, that means a doctor gives a prescription at their discretion and a pharmacy dispenses the medicine.
There are also early pioneers in recreational use, among them, Denmark, Luxembourg, and Switzerland. These countries exhibit very early stage expansions to adult-use and, to some extent, mimic the American approach. Of course, the Netherlands is the oldest recreational market still, but employs antiquated rules and little advancement of products other than flower. The UK is toying with medical cards like some US programs to differentiate medical users from other users, albeit recreational use is not legal yet. Portugal is expecting to vote by the end of the year on adult-use legalization and is one of the more pro-cannabis countries in the EU. And, Spain is in the grey zone similar to California 20 years ago, where they have social clubs in the Catalon regions, but no legal cannabis yet. Also, there are social clubs popping up in major cities like Barcelona, Copenhagen, and Berlin, lending to the idea that change is coming quicker than expected.
Europe is a mixed bag of cannabis legalization, but most agree that the pharmaceutical market is the current path towards increased acceptance. It is becoming harder and harder to deny that cannabis helps a variety of ailments and nervous system disorders in a safer manner than most prescribed treatments.
From a recreational standpoint, most of Europe is pro-decriminalization. The average government realizes that with or without legalization, cannabis will be sought out by a large portion of their populations. Consumer demand will drive the governments to adopt rules to control the flow of cannabis and being in pharmacies is the largest distribution channel for the industry.