The Top 5 European Countries Moving On Cannabis Reform in 2018

German activists march for cannabis reform in Frankfurt

For those who have been under a rock of late, it might be news to learn that the legitimate, legal cannabis industry has now arrived, in Europe, outside of Holland. Even in the land of the coffee shop, there are massive changes afoot.

That said, it is not Holland, but its neighbours to the East and West, (notably Germany and the UK), which have really pushed the debate forward this year.

The following is a look at which countries are leading cannabis reform across the continent as the German cultivation bid comes due and the UK reschedules the drug.

Germany

The Deutsche medical cannabis machine is clearly beginning to hum, even if still at a low level. Last year, in 2017, the German government changed the law to mandate that public health insurers reimburse patients whose doctors had prescribed the drug. As of early this summer, the official numbers from the largest public health insurer came in at 15,000 approved patients, with at least that number again with prescriptions and applications that have not been approved (yet).

While access, in other words, is easier than it used to be, it is still difficult. Why? Cannabis is now not an orphan drug anymore, but it is still being treated as a narcotic of last resort. The only condition that is “on label” for cannabis is MS. Everyone else, from cancer and chronic pain patients, must go through a lengthy, paper and bureaucracy-heavy preapprovals process — and in the meantime face huge monthly bills of up to 2,500 euro ($3,000) at the pharmacy if they buy before insurance approval (that may or may not get reimbursed).

Most German patients also still receive Dronabinol, a synthetic THC alternative, because of the cost.

The federal cultivation tender to begin growing cannabis will be due in October, however cultivation will not begin here, at the earliest, until 2019. It is also clear that the market will remain dominated by imports from global producers for the foreseeable future.

In addition, the Deutsche Börse (the German stock exchange) is still deciding its policy on clearing public cannabis stocks. Earlier this summer, all North American cannabis stocks listed on German exchanges were in danger of not being cleared in Luxembourg (because medical reform had not yet taken place there). Now, most of the North American companies are off the restricted list, but it is not known what the impact of Canadian recreational sales will do to future European regulator decisions about allowing these companies to be listed as “medical cannabis” companies (and therefore traded and cleared).

UK

The fight was on earlier this year to finally address the issue of medical cannabis. The UK is one of the more interesting cannabis battlegrounds in Europe (for the moment). Brexit notwithstanding. British GW Pharmaceuticals has held a medical cannabis monopoly on both cultivation and drug production since 1998. This year, after GW Pharma failed a critical drug trial in Eastern Europe and increased activism by patients, the British government finally relented. Cannabis will be rescheduled to a Schedule II drug in the UK in October. That said, it is anybody’s guess what comes next. Patients will be allowed, on a personal basis, to “import” cannabis if their conditions are not treatable with GW Pharmaceuticals drugs (which include Sativex and Epidiolex). There are also huge concerns about cost — and who will ultimately pick up the tab.

Greece

Greek officials have seemed to welcome the development of a medical cannabis industry for the past 12 months or so as a way to invite foreign capital into the country and to begin to develop both a burgeoning medical trade if not the medical tourist industry beyond that. No word on where Greek medical exports will land first in Europe, but many of the firms now investing in cultivation infrastructure are international — including Israeli firms. The country formally legalized medical cannabis earlier this summer.

Spain

The country is turning into a major cultivator of medical cannabis for export, even though the medical reform is still largely in limbo. The cannabis club scene in Barcelona is also still proceeding apace. For this reason, it is likely that Spain may follow a model similar to Canada and the U.S. where access will be largely determined by local and “state” laws (even before federal reform moves forward).

The Rest of Europe

It appears that France is finally beginning to move forward on some kind of medical reform — a campaign promise by Emmanuel Macron yet to be fulfilled. Holland has also recently revised its export rules to allow more medical cannabis to be exported across the German border to meet medical demand, and the entire Dutch industry is (finally) becoming more regulated. Switzerland is also moving forward on implementing a large CBD industry, but there is no news yet of either medical progress that includes THC or recreational reform. Both Denmark and Sweden are also moving forward on cultivation and listing of pot stocks on the public exchanges.

There is also now clear signalling that at least medical cannabis will be legal across Europe sooner rather than later. The European Parliament is also now getting involved. There will be a public hearing on normalizing if not standardizing medical reform across the continent on October 1, 2018.

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Marguerite Arnold

Marguerite Arnold

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Marguerite has covered the legal cannabis industry internationally from Germany for over six years and is the author of several books plus a Cannatech geek