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November 29, 2019

Europe: the cannabis industry´s eldorado


Fri, Nov 29, 2019

LONDON: After North America, the cannabis industry dreams of conquering the European market -- Britain in particular -- and is banking on changing the image of the psychoactive plant, despite regulatory constraints and ethical debates.

Health, cosmetics, well-being and food were at the heart of a gathering dedicated to the promotion of the marijuana sector, organised in London on Thursday by the investment bank Bryan, Garnier & Co.

Currently, the legal cannabis market in Europe -- where medicinal use is allowed in most EU countries -- is worth around $1 billion, Nikolaas Faes, a senior research analyst for the bank, told AFP.

In comparison, the US legal market is worth $12-13 billion.

"It is a very tiny market in Europe because the legal issues are very diverse with very fragmented regulations," said Faes.

"The politicians are not yet on board completely -- but it is coming in."

He said legalisation could pay off in a big way, since the total market in Europe, including illegal trafficking, is estimated at $55 billion.

Industry leaders point towards precedent in North America.

Canada legalised cannabis last year, while in the United States, federal law considers it a hard drug, but 11 states and the US capital have legalised its recreational use.

In Britain, the Liberal Democrat opposition party´s manifesto for the December 12 snap general election proposes legalising marijuana.

Almost half the British population (48 percent) are in favour of legalising recreational marijuana use, according to a YouGov poll in July on behalf of a conservative think-tank.

That said, the debate remains a hot topic and Britain´s state-run National Health Service points out the harmful effects of recreational cannabis use, in particular the increased risk of developing conditions such as schizophrenia.

However, Britain legalised therapeutic use in November 2018 -- a decision that followed the story of two British children with epilepsy who were unable to bring their cannabis-based treatment into the country.

Though doctors can now prescribe drugs based on the controversial plant, it remains tough for patients to obtain them due to a lack of available treatments -- and questions about their effectiveness.

- CBD -

"A legal market doesn´t mean an open market. It doesn´t mean market access," said Stephen Murphy, the co-founder and chief executive of NOBL, a global leader in cannabis data and media.

"We have in the UK legal markets, but we have less than 200 patients."

Beyond the medical field, myriad companies are trying to jump on the trend for CBD products (cannabidiol), one of the active ingredients of non-psychoactive cannabis, unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

CBD is touted as have relaxing and anti-inflammatory effects, and is sold in the form of extracts or oil. However, the market suffers from a lack of clear regulation.

Farzad Moshfeghi, the chief-executive of Winchester MD, a British firm selling CBD products, said: "That vagueness is actually causing more issues because people don´t know what´s legal and what´s not."

Furthermore, in the absence of harmonised regulation, start-ups in Europe are struggling to find financing, while some North American companies are already listed on the stock exchanges, with varying fortunes.

Despite these obstacles, industry professionals are convinced about the European market´s potential.

"It is a sure thing that Europe will become the largest market in the world within a decade," said Murphy.

"The demand is there."