How to thrive in a rapidly changing Europe?

As European cannabis undertakes its most significant evolution, how do businesses thrive, and avoid the many potential pitfalls?

by Katya Kowalski

As European cannabis undertakes its most significant evolution, how do businesses thrive, and avoid the many potential pitfalls?

The European cannabis market is undertaking one of its most significant evolutions this year as Germany legalises cannabis for adult use creating a market worth an estimated $1 billion in revenue in 2024 and serving a population of 83.8 million people, accounting for approximately 3.8 million current consumers.

At the moment, a lot of capital is being deployed in Germany. As a result of legalisation, medical distribution in Germany has quadrupled, according to some of the leading German distributors.. The availability of quasi adult use has actually pushed the demand for medical cannabis through the roof, demonstrating that it always comes back to awareness.

Germany might make the headlines, but it is not the only European country in which there is an exciting commercial opportunity to be had. Across Europe medical cannabis markets continue to expand and in response to such expansion new commercial businesses are consistently springing up. 

With new regulations and policies, there are business opportunities. While these can be challenging to navigate, there are plenty of companies thriving in what is still a nascent sector. To explore what recent developments mean for the European market, we spoke to two highly regarded experts on the cannabis sector – Thomas Gray and Nikita Cretu from Lumino. Lumino is a recruitment consultancy firm specialising in the European cannabis industry.

Thomas and Nikita provided us with 6 key pieces of advice for what companies should be looking to do, in order to thrive in the industry.

  1. Knowing when to recruit a cannabis ‘expert’

First things first, you don’t always need sector specific knowledge to work in the cannabis industry. There’s often an assumption that you need to be a cannabis wizz to work in the industry but that isn’t necessarily true. 

In a compelling discussion, Nikita Cretu elaborated on the strategic approach to recruitment within the cannabis industry. He stressed the importance of understanding the core functions of job roles and how they affect team dynamics, operations, and overall business objectives. This comprehensive understanding allows decision-makers to determine whether a candidate from the traditional cannabis talent pool or from larger, more established industries like Tobacco, Alcohol, Pharma, or Horticulture would be best suited for the role at hand. Additionally, Nikita emphasised the critical need to ensure that every recruit not only fits the specific job requirements but also aligns well with the team dynamics and the broader company culture. This dual focus on professional capabilities and cultural fit is essential for building a cohesive and effective team.

“Cannabis is a unique industry, but it also shares a very similar regulatory environment to the alcohol, tobacco and gambling industries. So, it’s important to understand which industries share the regulator and finding people or companies that have dealt with the same systems. We aren’t the first people to do this and with similar challenges overlapping with more ‘traditional’ sectors, it’s important to find the right people to deploy the same strategy and process.” – Thomas Gray

It’s not about reinventing the wheel when it comes to cannabis recruitment. But instead understand where similarities lay and use this knowledge to your advantage. At the end of the day, cannabis is just another industry and there are things we can learn from more mature industries. The key is to understand when it makes sense to find a cannabis expert or pull in more general, regulatory knowledge from elsewhere. 

A great example of this is when CBD and FMCG products and brands were originally looking for cannabis experts to sell their products. When instead they really should have been looking for someone that has sold multiple products to the accounts there were trying to sell to market in Boots or Holland & Barrett. 

“Strategies often lack sense and forget regulations or processes that need to be adhered to. Cultivators are a good example of this. There are countries that are commodity hotspots for growing cannabis due to the climate, i.e. Thailand, Macedonia, Greece. There are cultivators popping up left, right and centre here but lots of them have a lack of understanding what producing an API actually entails, consumer needs and trends, the competitive landscape, what and how to enter the right markets for their product offering, and even a lot of the time don’t have an prior experience in horticulture or plant production.” – Nikita Cretu

This isn’t to say that cannabis-specific knowledge is not valuable. It absolutely is. And Lumino’s key value is bridging the gap between the legacy and the legal market with recruitment. 

According to them it’s all about the ‘roots and suits’, making it important to understand when you need a broader fit individual for a role of cannabis-specific expertise. 

“The closer an individual is to the plant, the more they need to understand it. If you are handling the cannabis plant, you need to have plant-specific expertise and cannabis-based knowledge. This for instance is where having expertise in horticulture generally is not enough in senior roles.” – Thomas Gray

So, it’s essential that recruitment is in line with the requirements of the role and ensuring that your business has a diverse team ticking the boxes for cannabis-specific knowledge and more general regulatory expertise.

2. Use strategic hires instead of M&A

Raising capital in the current financial climate can be challenging, particularly in the cannabis sector. At the same time bringing in new ideas, talent and networks can quickly unlock the challenges a business is facing and create growth. Traditionally one way of achieving this has been a classic merger and acquisition, allowing a business to bring in key people quickly along with their assets.

In their world around the globe Tom and Nikita have seen companies executing strategic hires as an alternative to M&A deals, allowing companies to grow through high quality targeted strategic recruitment.

“One trend we are beginning to see in the industry is using strategic hires instead of M&A. With the cannabis industry not having tons of spare cash, M&A is difficult to carry out. Instead, it’s worth focusing on who the key people are in a business that is leading to its success, and bringing them in. 


Strategic hires focus on the strategy, profiles and individuals in the space instead of a company per se. At the end of the day, the success of a business comes down to the people that operate in it. If you truly understand the role, place and business goal and leverage the experience and networks of these individuals in a different environment, it’s likely that it will lead to the success of a different business.” Nikita Cretu

In the current industry climate it is worth focusing on who is making the impact and how, rather than the overall result of a company. With less money floating around generally, it’s important to think of how this can be done strategically.

3. Understand the illicit market

The true competition to medical and recreational cannabis is the illicit market, while of course competing in the legal space we should understand who the real competitor is and work as an industry to compete.

For many cannabis companies with a B2C offer the biggest competitor in the sector is the illicit market. While many consumers are deterred from using cannabis illegally, a huge cohort do so regularly and find the service they receive of a good standard. The challenge for a legally operating entity is that they are up against a market which has no regulations and is able to market and sell its product with disregard to restrictions. 

According to Tom and Nikita having a deep understanding of the illicit market is vital should a company want to effectively grow its customer base.

Although legal cannabis companies have to operate with way more restrictions then the illicit market the fact is those restrictions and regulations are in place to ensure the consumer gets a high quality product. Patients ultimately want stable genetics, stable terpene profiles and an effect which is the same each time. A good quality supply chain can achieve this and provide for the consumers an exceptional service. 


Understanding the consumer’s experience of the illicit market, both good and bad, allows companies to provide a better offer for consumers and ensure their communications around their product offer can attract new consumers. People choose the illicit market for a range of reasons and a company understanding what those reasons are is key to being able to provide a more attractive offer. (To much “offer” and “consumers”)” Thomas Gray

4. Both recreational and medical users of cannabis want choice

There are hundreds of different strains and thousands of different names for identical strains of cannabis in the world, all of which have a unique profile and experience. Furthermore everyone’s endocannabinoid system is different and the experience one person has with a particular strain can be very different from the next person. This means that choice is key and to crack the emerging market the industry needs to understand patient and consumer preference.

“Europe and North America are taking different approaches to cannabis, Europe primarily expanding via medical access and North America with a much more recreational focus. While these two approaches from a regulatory perspective are different we are seeing very similar patterns of behaviour from consumers and patients.


People want choice and the ability to try new products which hit the market. They want to experience different cultivars of cannabis and explore what is on offer. You see this in the UK and Germany with the Reddit forums – as soon as a new product comes out with good reviews or it is a well known cultivar, everyone jumps on whichever pharmacy is distributing it.


Another good example is the Netherlands, where medical cannabis has been available for a long time, but everyone buy there medicine in coffeeshops as it quick easy and allows for choice and products they are looking for, even if there is higher risk that the cannabis is not clean.


This demonstrates the importance and role that patient choice plays in the development of the market. It is also a good indicator that medical flower sales will tank whenever recreational regulation comes in –  there will be way more choice, easier and cheaper for the consumer.” – Nikita Cretu

5. Managing expectations of a complex market

The European cannabis market is complex. Even when reform takes place, consumer and patient trends do not always go as predicted. The unique nature of the cannabis sector means that legal medical and recreational markets are up against the unregulated illicit market. This makes it an exceptionally challenging market to capture.

“It is so important to ensure commercial decisions are grounded in reality with a deep understanding of the consumer. Although the demographic of people who use cannabis is changing, there are a number of factors to take into consideration when providing a product that is either recreational or medical. Three key pieces to consider are:

  • Ensure financials are grounded in the reality of consumer choice and preference.

  • Ensure the products that are available are diverse and able to compete with the illicit market.

  • Deep research and understanding of the history of the illicit market and current trends and preferences.” – Thomas Gray

6. Don’t get too excited, look at the data


In the context of the rapidly evolving cannabis market in Europe, particularly with the recent changes in Germany’s cannabis classification, Nikita Cretu underscores the importance of strategic restraint and data-driven decision-making. While the declassification of medical cannabis and the introduction of a quasi-recreational market in Germany have significantly heightened awareness and demand for both medical and recreational cannabis, this surge presents both opportunities and challenges.

Nikita advises that companies should focus on the health of their core metrics rather than getting swept up in the initial excitement of increasing demand. “It’s crucial not to merely chase sales volumes but to cultivate customer loyalty,” he explains. The surge in prescription numbers, patient registrations, and the noted undersupply of quality cannabis underscores the growing market appetite. However, Nikita cautions against the pitfalls of over-expansion without adequate market understanding, drawing parallels to the Canadian market experience post-legalisation, where an initial sales boom led to overproduction and subsequent financial strain on companies due to unsustainably high overheads and dropping sales.

“The key is to hone in on meaningful data during these booming times,” Nikita suggests. “Understanding consumer behaviour, their preferences, and what makes your product stand out is vital. Focus on building loyalty and ensuring that your product consistently meets consumer needs and expectations. This approach not only mitigates risks but also establishes a sustainable business model that can adapt to market shifts and consumer trends.”

This strategic focus on data and consumer loyalty over sheer volume can guide companies in navigating the complexities of a newly liberalised market, ensuring long-term success and stability in a highly dynamic industry landscape.


There you have it, 6 key pieces of advice for how your business can thrive in the current cannabis industry climate. The take home piece of advice from Lumino is that executive decision makers should be focused on what is actually happening on the ground right now in Europe, not on what could happen. The industry should be focused on how we make money today, rather than waiting on matters that rely on regulatory change.

If you’re looking to recruit for your cannabis business, be sure to speak to Lumino to ensure you are hiring the best and most appropriate individual for the role.

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