On the 30th of November, politicians from the European Parliament gathered with a range of patients, activists, campaigners, entrepreneurs and scientists from the European cannabis community to discuss the future of the industry at the inaugural International Conference on Medical Cannabis.
The event was organised by the European United Left/Nordic Green Left European Parliamentary Group, led by German MEP Stefan Eck and Greek MEP Stelios Kouloglou.
The aim of the Conference was to share knowledge about the state of legislation around the world today, and to educate regulators present about the importance of building legal, regulated cannabis markets in Europe.
Kicking off proceedings was Irishman Graham de Barra from Help Not Harm. De Barra highlighted the progress that has been made in North America, coming off the back of the successful ballot initiatives in the US and the growth of the Canadian cannabis industry. The thrust of de Barra’s argument was that the continued criminalisation of patients was counter-productive, and that the only compassionate response was to allow patients to access medical cannabis.
One of the key themes to emerge from the conference was the confusing regulatory landscape of the cannabis market across the EU. Alessandro Piccioli from the European Parliament Research Service gave a comprehensive overview of the regulatory frameworks applying in different EU countries. There is a somewhat fudged approach to cannabis regulation, characterised by inconsistencies both within individual countries and more broadly across countries within the EU.
The outcomes of these confused regulatory frameworks create were conveyed powerfully by the patients and carers who were present. For Carola Perez of the OEDCM, the lack of medical grade cannabis forced patients to testify in public as she shared pictures of her injured back with implanted neurotransmitters. Jackie Poitras from Greece shared practical advice from treating her disabled daughter, drilling down into the interaction between cannabis and other drugs. Bertrand Rambaud, founder of the UFCM in France spoke of a 30-year battle with both the HIV virus and with the French authorities who refuse to allow him to use cannabis to treat his condition. Rambaud finished his presentation by saying “the situation in France puts the lives of patients in danger and ignores the research from the rest of the world”.
The business of cannabis was highlighted by Majda Robic, who stated that there is the need for an EU-wide, standardised market for cannabis products. The US industry is forecast to be worth more than $40B by 2020, and for the European industry to reach the same scale requires a common language across the EU. The creation of this market was being driven by regulators who don’t understand cannabis, and so more education is required at all levels of the market.
Saul Kaye of iCan provided the diametrically opposite view from Israel, which is potentially the most advanced medical cannabis market in the world. Kaye spoke of the confluence of enlightened regulators, supportive politicians, scientific progress and an entrepreneurial spirit to the emerging cannabis industry in Israel; the Israeli high-tech ecosystem is being translated to the cannabis industry with the same level of innovation and collaboration.
The scientific community shared the latest research and initiatives on cannabis. Pavel Kubu from the International Cannabis and Cannabinoid Institute in the Czech Republic spoke of the need to “unlock the database of nature” through a multi-disciplinary approach to scientific research. Kubu also led the calls for internationally agreed standards in the cannabis industry, which is something that the industry needs if it is to truly scale globally.
The last scientist to speak was the pioneering Manuel Guzman from Madrid Complutense University. Guzman is a world authority on cannabis and began by describing the well-established therapeutic effects of cannabis in neurology and oncology. Further research needs to be carried out into the therapeutic effect of cannabis in gastrointestinal, musculoskeletal and skin conditions, but the real focus of research over the next decade will be to determine whether cannabis can also be prescribed as a remedy or even preventative measure for a range of conditions.
In a passionate final intervention from the floor of the conference, Irish medical cannabis campaigner Vera Twomey shared the story of her daughter Ava. Ava suffers from Dravet Syndrome, and had to endure up to 20 seizures a day before finding that cannabis drastically improved her quality of life.
Ms. Twomey closed her speech by saying that she had just learned via SMS that the Irish Parliament had announced that it was going to legalise medical cannabis; it was a fitting end to the inaugural medical cannabis conference, and perhaps a prompt for those EU countries that are yet to legalise to catch up.
Gavin Sathianathan is the CEO of Forma Holdings. Tweets @gavinho