Despite a year of mixed blessings, there have been significant positive developments in the Cannabis world, paving a promising if bumpy road ahead for 2021

What has happened this year for cannabis in Europe? Have we successfully rebranded cannabis? How has Covid-19 impacted reform and what must we do going forward in 2021?

On a global level, the UN rescheduling cannabis as a medicine is a huge development. Although symbolic, this will have a huge impact on cannabis globally, giving countries a necessary stamp of approval from the UN. This has the potential to advance reform in certain countries.

We’ve seen plenty of momentum for reform in Europe. The EU Court of Justice ruling that CBD is not a narcotic is significant. No longer will CBD face a blanket ban within the EU, an important stepping stone for the European cannabis industry.

France committing to a national medical trial in 2021 is a big step for developing the French sector and facilitating patient access. 

We’ve seen success with increasing medical cannabis access and significant growth in the German market. Reimbursing two thirds of prescriptions is a major positive development, resulting in an increase of prescriptions.

 

“Allowing for medical cannabis to pick up so much steam and seeing patients starting to use this product is a real win for not only for Germany but the European medical cannabis movement. The rest of Europe is looking toward them, and how to get onto their standard” – Deepak Anand, Founder & CEO – Materia Ventures

The Danish pilot programme has been a success with access to medical cannabis increasing, undoubtedly making Denmark a key player in the European industry and supply.

The Dutch experiment is one of the most exciting things happening for European recreational cannabis. It is an excellent opportunity to create a regulated and prosperous market as the first truly legal recreational market in Europe.

The Irish Minister of Health has confirmed individuals prescribed medical cannabis products will no longer have to travel to The Netherlands to collect their medication.

The UK has seen positive momentum for reform. The launch of the Cancard scheme is important for protecting vulnerable groups from criminalisation. The scheme also sheds light on the problem of prescriptions remaining extortionately expensive and inaccessible in the UK. 

Cannabis is being rebranded as a health and wellness product this year, has this been done successfully?

The changing legality and recognition of the medical value of cannabis has led to alternative consumption methods. Rebranding it as more than a recreational drug opens the industry to a larger audience.

“I think some of the cannabis stigma is mainly around smoking, moving to other product formats opens up to a much wider audience through drinks/edibles. If the product is in a drink or a snack, consumers are more willing to try it” – Lily Temperton, Analyst – Hanway Associates

Shifting toward various product formats is massively beneficial for rebranding cannabis. However, it is incredibly important that we separate ‘wellness’ from medical cannabis.

 

“Wellness is one thing and medicinal cannabis is another. We understand why this CBD movement is occurring as brands can only sell CBD, but for us patients it is really important to have products with THC and other cannabinoids. There is always this misunderstanding with recreational use being confused with medical use” – Carola Perez, President – Spanish Observatory for Medicinal Cannabis

 

It is important we make this distinction. The industry has a responsibility to ensure that products are doing what they claim to and that companies are not making false promises.

 

“The patient suffers the consequences of an industry when they do not do things properly. So many patients try CBD oils without medical advice and they are waiting for some relief which does not happen. We need regulation, we need doctors to know what is going on and because people are using cannabis but 90% of the population in Spain doesn’t use cannabis properly” – Carola Perez, President – Spanish Observatory for Medicinal Cannabis

Furthermore, the lack of regulation around the dosage in CBD products creates a significant problem.

 

“We are seeing a lot of people saying that CBD doesn’t work, but what do they mean it doesn’t work? Many are actually consuming products with THC in it. The other side of this is whether there is actually something in it? That is a conversation we need to get ahead of as an industry. We need to start testing and labelling, making sure the products contain the correct product” – Deepak Anand, Founder & CEO – Materia Ventures

 

“There is a big responsibility from the industry, it’s very important to be very clear and transparent about what is in the product and what the dose is” – Lily Temperton, Analyst – Hanway Associates

Alongside fixing regulatory holes it is essential that the industry continues to address various misconceptions surrounding CBD. One in particular is “CBD not being psychoactive”

 

“I think what people mean to say is that CBD is not impairing like THC is. I think it is very important that we as an industry make sure we are saying the right thing. Let’s make sure we know what we are saying as an industry – Deepak Anand, Founder & CEO – Materia Ventures

Although cannabis is being rebranded, the industry has a responsibility to ensure products are rebranded successfully, the key way being through regulation.

 

“People want access to these products, whether you’re going to give it to them or not. I think as regulators and policy makers, let’s not get caught up in pretending like this isn’t going to exist because we haven’t regulated it” – Deepak Anand, Founder & CEO – Materia Ventures

How has Covid-19 impacted cannabis reform in Europe?

Covid has without a doubt influenced all aspects of society. In regards to cannabis reform, Covid has had a mixed impact. The pandemic has certainly had a negative impact in some aspects with delays and stagnated prospects for reform.

 

“The Covid situation has stopped political meetings. All of our medical personnel are not attending to patients now. There is a huge crisis here. We are trying to make it work but for the moment I think that the Covid situation is so severe that they don’t have time to look after this” – Carola Perez, President – Spanish Observatory for Medicinal Cannabis 

However, we’ve also seen some promising and positive progress born out of Covid. Particularly being a large catalyst for online sales and e-prescribing.

 

“A lot of the private clinics have introduced video consultations. Before the patient would have to travel significant distances to see a specialist. If you are traveling hours and really need the medicine, you may not be in a fit state to travel and this is avoidable. Having more video conferences in the healthcare sector and patients getting couriered their prescriptions, is a positive from Covid” – Lily Temperton, Analyst – Hanway Associates

What are the current drawbacks for European cannabis reform?

Europe lacks a sense of harmonisation. It is essential to address this as we see a disconnect in the way regulations are set up. If we streamline, this will ensure patients are helped first. The quicker we address this, the better.

 

“Each country in Europe has its own regulation. I don’t understand why German patients or Italian patients have rights that I don’t have as a Spanish patient…The patient has to be at the top of the pyramid and for the moment it is not happening” – Carola Perez, President – Spanish Observatory for Medicinal Cannabis 

It is essential that we standardise medical cannabis access across Europe. At the moment it is a patchwork, making it a challenge both from a business and patient perspective.

 

“The European market is still relatively small. There is no disputing the market will eventually be huge. I think one of the biggest challenges is that because Germany has decided it thinks one way, Denmark has chosen a different way and so has the UK, which creates a lot of complexity for businesses to operate within” – Deepak Anand – Founder & CEO – Materia Ventures

What is the way forward in 2021?

In order to see progress, Europe must harmonise access to medical cannabis. The job is far from done with a lot of conversations still needing to take place, but things are moving in the right direction.

In regards to recreational reform, Ireland has plans to put together a bill in 2021 to end prohibition. Ensuring that the bill is practical and sensible could allow us to see real change taking place, or at the very least get a conversation going.

 

“I think people’s attitudes have changed in Ireland in the last 10 years. It is a slow process as things are not done overnight. However, once we get a debate going and a piece of legislation, things could change. Whether Ireland is ready for legalisation, I think the debate should start at least. The most important way forward for Ireland is putting a piece of legislation in and getting that debate going about prohibition not working” – Gino Kenny, TD

In regards to medical cannabis, Europe has to address the overarching problem of patient access.

 

“The sooner we can all get on the same page in Europe, the better. I think that we are starting to have these conversations in France, Spain and Denmark but we need to take a European perspective and follow one standard” – Deepak Anand – Founder & CEO – Materia Ventures

As we see the tides shift for cannabis, 2021 will undoubtedly bring more for reform. Although the UN reclassification is symbolic, it continues to strengthen the case for cannabis. Let’s take the many lessons we’ve learnt in 2020, apply them to 2021 to ensure cannabis is successfully rebranded and patient access is harmonised across Europe.

Katya Kowalski is European Stakeholder Engagement Officer at Volteface. Tweets @KowalskiKatya

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