Greek Government Issues First Medicinal Cannabis Licenses
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On Monday 19 November 2018, Greece issued the first licenses to private cannabis companies to begin growing medicinal cannabis in the country. It is thought that the move could generate millions as the companies eye an export-oriented model which could see Greek cannabis cultivators supply other European countries with medicinal cannabis as well as providing stock for domestic use.
It has been a slow process to get these licenses issued, with Greece legalizing the medicinal use of cannabis back in mid-2017, making it the sixth EU country at the time to do so. In March, the country also lifted a ban which prohibited growing and producing cannabis in the hopes of attracting foreign investment in the country.
Biomecann and Bioprocann, based in the cities of Larissa and Corinth respectively, are the two companies to receive the medicinal cannabis cultivation licenses. The Ministry of Economy, Development and Tourism also committed to issuing a further twelve cultivation licenses by the end of 2018.
Addressing a press conference following the announcement, Stergios Pitsiorlas, the deputy economy minister, said that the legalization of recreational cannabis use is not being considered by the government. Pitsiorlas also stated that the government expects the first medicinal cannabis products to be made available to patients in around 12-18 months time. As well as supplying the domestic medicinal cannabis market, Greek officials are also hoping to create an export-oriented cannabis market which will see Greece become a key international cannabis supplier to other countries with relevant cannabis legislation.
“There is huge interest, mainly from Canada and Israel ... some of them [potential investors] are huge,” said Pitsiorlas. This sentiment was echoed by Vassilis Kokkalis, the deputy minister of agriculture, who told the same press conference “our message is that the country is open for investments.”
Under the new system, medicinal cannabis products will be available on prescription from local chemists, but Andreas Xanthos, the health minister, has said that the cost of the medicinal products will not be covered by current state health insurance schemes.
The Greek economy
The issuing of these 14 licenses is expected to create 750 new jobs in the country’s cannabis industry and generate around €185 million (or approximately $210 million USD, where 1 EUR = 1.137 USD at the time of writing) in investment within the country.
As a country, Greece is still suffering from the aftermath of its financial crisis. In 2008, the amount of sovereign debt that Greece owed the European Union started to spark fears that Greece could default on its debt, in a move which could threaten the whole eurozone. In order to avoid default, the European Union stepped in to loan Greece enough money to continue making loan payments to their debtors. This move successfully prevented the situation from escalating into a global financial crisis, but in return Greece had to adopt harsh austerity measures. While austerity succeeded in strengthening the Greek government and financial structures, it also threw Greece into a recession from which the country is only just emerging.
At present, the global cannabis market is worth over $7 billion USD, with this valuation only expected to climb; current projections forecast the market will be worth $31.4 billion USD by 2021, and up to $146.4 billion by 2025. Greek officials are hoping that by establishing themselves in this multi-billion dollar marketplace, they may have found a novel and effective way to strengthen the Greek economy while repaying their debtors.
The state of the European cannabis industry
Presently, 22 European countries have legalized medicinal cannabis, with six of those announcing legalization in 2018: this includes Luxembourg and the United Kingdom. However, no European countries have legalized recreational cannabis use. There are certain special cases such as Portugal, who decriminalized the possession and personal use of all drugs in 2001, and the Netherlands, where cannabis sales of personal use amounts are “tolerated” despite remaining officially illegal, but these are certainly the exceptions and not the norm.
But still, if the general trend of relaxing cannabis prohibitions takes hold in Europe as it has done across the United States - and in the countries of Canada and Uruguay - it is easy to imagine Europe becoming a major player in the global cannabis market. With a population twice that of North America and a high concentration of countries with government-subsidized healthcare programs, many experts feel that a strong European cannabis market is an inevitability.
“We not so much believe, but very much know that Europe will become the biggest cannabis industry in the world, it’s just a matter of when,” said Stephen Murphy, Co-founder and Managing Director of the market intelligence and advice firm Prohibition Partners, in an interview with CFN Media. “The European market has grown faster in the past six months than it has in the past six years. It presents an opportunity for both investors and entrepreneurs with experience in the space to develop a market that is fresh and already thriving economically and ready to support the growth of a new legal cannabis industry.”