ICBC Barcelona 2023 Connected Cannabis Businesses From Around the World

Thousands of cannabis business leaders from around the world gathered together on March 9, 2023, to put in a full day of work at the International Cannabis Business Conference in Barcelona, Europe’s premiere business-to-business cannabis event.

Despite the Spanish city’s tendency to keep people out until the wee hours of the morning, the bustling L’Auditori de Cornellà was packed with people from the very beginning of the day. Two floors of exhibitors kept attendees moving, hoping to connect with everyone from hardware manufacturers to seed banks and everyone in between before the day was done.

International Cannabis Business Conference—also known as ICBC— originated in the US nearly a decade ago and has made its mark on several countries, including Canada, Switzerland, and Croatia, with its flagship shows occurring annually in Barcelona and Berlin. Focusing on high-impact education and strictly business-to-business networking, ICB creates a professional landscape perfect for deal flow.

“The cool thing about what we do here at ICBC Barcelona is we create the b2b element,” said Alex Rogers, founder and CEO of ICBC. “We’re getting everybody coming together to talk and do business—we’ve become the b2b meeting point here in Barcelona for Spannabis week.”

The professional environment ICBC provides is crucial for many cannabis industry entrepreneurs and thought leaders who come to Barcelona every year to celebrate Spannabis. Having a day solely focused on building relationships and advancing the global conversation around the plant ensures movement for the space, something that is not lost on the attendees, exhibitors, and sponsors.

“Our team always finds ICBC of the highest caliber in terms of all of the opportunities to connect with professionals that are truly doing amazing work and are excited about the future of the space,” said speaker Luna Stower, chief impact officer at Ispire. “It’s the premier networking space for those looking to do good business with good people—everything from the main conference to the after-party was well organized and run like a well-oiled machine.”

Alex Rogers, founder and CEO of ICBC.

The ICBC Barcelona 2023 agenda was jam-packed, with programming in Spanish and English covering topics such as comparing medical marijuana regulations across Europe, media and marketing, advances in cannabis technology, and the state of the international cannabis landscape, all featuring heavy hitters representing every side of the vertical—and every corner of the globe.

One of the most talked about panels was “Squaring the Circle of Industrial Hemp in Spain.” While it mainly focused on the country’s domestic hemp space, it raised important questions about the potential industrial hemp has around the globe. At a time when climate change is ravaging the planet, the myriad uses for hemp as an energy source, building material, and plastic alternative cannot be ignored any longer.

“Jack Herer used to tell me hemp can save the planet,” Rogers said when asked about the popularity of the panel. “I wasn’t sure if I believed him back then. But now I am a believer.”

All Eyes Are on Germany

While many of the conversations at ICBC Barcelona 2023 centered on Spain, the real buzz centered on Germany. German officials, who legalized medical cannabis in 2017, have been working diligently to introduce adult-use legalization—a first for the European Union. The plans are expected to be announced any day and were recently given the thumbs up from EU officials—a precedent that signals a significant shift for the region.

“This is the biggest news in cannabis right now—Germany is the big dog in the EU,” Rogers remarked. “Once Germany (legalizes), it basically gives permission for other countries in Europe to do it also.”

Ngaio Bealum, comedian, writer, and longtime master of ceremonies for ICBC, also predicted big things for Deutschland.

“I think Germany is really going to blow up. And it will also open it up for everybody else in Europe to see how it’s done; we can generally trust the Germans to be relatively efficient.”

Despite turmoil facing mature markets in the US, the booming international market led to a renewed sense of vigor among event participants.

“The ICBC Barcelona 2023 event was one of the best we have been to in the past couple of years; we felt we got a lot out of our main sponsor role,” Stower said of Ispire’s engagement. “Considering the news that just dropped in Germany and all the excitement around Europe in general, the energy was electric.”

Rogers echoed Stower’s sentiments, encouraging everyone to stay tuned for a very busy ICBC Berlin on June 27—and to think beyond the current market excitement, reminding us all that this is a global movement.

“Europe is the place right now,” Rogers quipped. “But the great thing about ICBC is all the people that come from all around the world, so it’s become a meeting point for the Eastern hemisphere and part of the Western hemisphere. So it is the most internationally diverse meeting point for cannabis in the world.”

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Week in Review: Germany Likely to Legalization; Politics a Hot Topic at SXSW

Germany’s Health Minister Indicates That Legalization Will Proceed

The German health minister has indicated that adult-use legalization will move forward in the European country, reports Marijuana Moment. Minister Karl Lauterbach said on Tuesday that he has received “very good feedback” from the European Commission and expects his bill to be formally presented “in the next few weeks.” 

“We’ll soon present a proposal that works, that is, that conforms to European law,” Minister Lauterbach said. Throughout the lobbying process, the minister has indicated that his efforts aim to improve public health in Germany via regulating adult-use cannabis. In 2022, the Federal Cabinet of Germany adopted a preliminary outline for legalization legislation. Still, the government required EU approval to ensure that adopting the change wouldn’t violate their international duties.

Under the government’s soon-to-be-revised proposal, which is currently only a 12-page framework and not actual legislation, adults 18 and older would be permitted to purchase and possess up to 30 grams of cannabis from establishments with federal licenses, potentially including pharmacies. Moreover, they may raise up to three plants for their own use.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Andrew DeAngelo. Photo courtesy of SXSW

Legalization the Hot Topic at SXSW 2023

Global Cannabis Consultant and Strategic Advisor Andrew DeAngelo, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) gathered onstage to discuss federal cannabis legalization at this year’s SXSW conference in Austin. The panel, called “Which Political Party Will Legalize Weed?” gave the two representatives an opportunity for a lively discussion on the end of federal cannabis prohibition. Moderator DeAngelo pushed the politicians on the lack of progress in the Capitol, according to Green Market Report.

Blumenauer is said to be “more optimistic” than last year, referencing President Biden’s pardoning of cannabis prisoners and the fact that Biden is also keeping the possibility of descheduling on the table after initiating a review of cannabis classification. However, he was said to be more critical of Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D-NY) inability to get a voting measure passed by the House, quoted as saying their desire for perfect legislation is behind the continued stalling but believes the two had “learned their lesson” and are more open to compromise.

Mace was reportedly less optimistic, saying if any change is going to happen, it needs to be done before June, as after that, “it’ll be about the presidential election,” she said. The South Carolina Republican also noted that President Biden could use it to his advantage to boost his reelection hopes.

Photo couresy of Death Row Cannabis

Snoop Extends Death Row Cannabis Product Offering 

 Following the sold-out first product drop of its debut offerings LA Runtz, Trop Cherry, Strawberry Garry and SFV OG, Death Row Cannabis has launched two new additions, True OG and Strawberry Gelato (Apple Fritter x Lemon Cherry Gelato hybrid), on March 10. Plus, fans of LA Runtz can be reassured that the popular strain also be returning. Like the first fire drop, these new cultivars were carefully by Death Row Cannabis’ Head of Operations, AK, a longtime West Coast legacy cultivator. 

“We’re very excited to introduce California consumers to Death Row Cannabis’s newest heavy hitter, Strawberry Gelato,” Travis “Shaggy” Marshall, head of product, said. “It has a loud, unique strawberry nose that’s tart and sharp on the front but sweet and creamy on the back. To me, it’s what I’d imagine a strawberry shortcake-flavored milkshake would taste like. Not only is it uniquely delicious, but testing at over 35% it also packs a punch for heavier smokers like me.” 

Arkansas Police: Medical Marijuana Causes Other Crimes

No Increase in Traffic-Related Hospitalizations Following Cannabis Legalization

The introduction of adult-use marijuana sales in Canada isn’t linked to a rise in hospitalizations for traffic-related injuries, according to data published in the journal Addiction, reports NORML. Researchers compared the national rates of hospital admissions and emergency room visits in the years before and immediately after legalization. 

 “Overall, there’s no clear evidence that RCL [recreational cannabis laws] had any effect on rates of ED visits and hospitalizations for either motor vehicle or pedestrian/cyclist injury across Canada,” the authors concluded.

The results align with an earlier Canadian study from 2021, which “found no evidence that the implementation of the Cannabis Act was associated with significant changes in post-legalization patterns of all drivers’ traffic-injury ED visits or, more specifically, youth-driver traffic-injury ED presentations.”

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Germany One Step Closer to Legalization

According to a top German official, Germany is one step closer to legalization. The coalition government plans to move forward with cannabis legalization after receiving “very good feedback” from the European Union (E.U.). German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach is confident Germany will introduce legalization legislation “in the next few weeks,” reports the German press. “We will soon present a proposal that works, that is, that conforms to European law,” said Lauterbach. Why Germany Needs the E.U.’s Support Germany took a […]

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What Will Germany’s Legalization Model Involve?

Germany is currently in the international cannabis community spotlight with a national adult-use legalization measure expected to be formally introduced at any moment. The measure will be the culmination of years of effort by activists and lawmakers in Germany, as well as a heavy dose of recent lobbying of the European Union on the part of Germany’s Health Minister Karl Lauterbach. While legalization appears inevitable in Germany, it remains to be seen exactly what the nation’s legalization model will entail.

The current political push in Germany was born out of the 2021 federal election from which a new governing coalition was elected. The “Traffic Light Coalition,” as it’s often referred to, was quick to establish its intent to pass a national adult-use measure and to launch a regulated recreational industry. Many members of the Traffic Light Coalition participated in a historic cannabis policy discussion at the International Cannabis Business Conference in Berlin in the weeks leading up to the federal election. At that time, they indicated that legalization would be part of an eventual governing coalition agreement.

German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach presented a proposal in October 2022 to the federal cabinet, providing the world with a first glimpse at what legalization may look like in Germany. However, what was presented last year was merely a proposal—not a formal measure—and it’s unclear how much of Lauterbach’s presentation will make it to the finish line.

Lobbying the European Union

During Minister Lauterbach’s October presentation, he made it abundantly clear that he would seek the European Union’s approval before  formally introducing any legalization measure. Since that time, Minister Lauterbach has participated in discussions with the European Union. Leaks and comments regarding how the process is going have generated several headlines. Cannabis observers around the globe have kept a close eye to watch for any movement, and a set of comments made by Minister Lauterbach in late January may be the most telling of anything that’s surfaced thus far.

According to reports out of Germany, Lauterbach is “certain” the European Union will grant its approval and that a formal introduction of the legalization measure will occur “in the first quarter of this year.” Minister Lauterbach added, according to the report, that he “has no reason to doubt this schedule.”

Those comments may provide hints regarding the timeline for a formal introduction of a legalization measure. However, they don’t shine any light on what components of legalization the European Union may be OK with, and what components it considers to be potential deal breakers.

The legalization model that Minister Lauterbach presented to the federal cabinet late last year was based on domestic production; home cultivation permitted in adult households (three plants); and the eventual legalization of adult-use sales. The Minister’s reasoning appears to be that treaties prevent Germany from importing cannabis for adult-use sales, but that Germany can legalize a domestically supplied adult-use cannabis industry to “improve public health outcomes.” Minister Lauterbach’s proposed legalization model also includes removing cannabis from Germany’s narcotics list.

A prior leaked version of Lauterbach’s proposal involved THC percentage limits on products, but Minister Lauterbach indicated in his October 2022 presentation that THC limits would need to be researched further. Some of these provisions may have evolved during discussions between Minister Lauterbach and the European Union, although no one other than the parties involved in the discussions know.

Two-Stepped Approach

The push for national legalization in Germany comes after a different European country, Malta, already passed a national adult-use legalization measure in late 2021. Malta was the first country in Europe to pass such a measure. Malta’s population and economy are tiny compared to Germany’s, yet the small island nation’s legalization model establishes various precedents that have undoubtedly benefitted Germany in its discussions with the European Union. This provides insight into what legalization could look like in Germany.

For starters, consumers in Malta of legal age can already possess up to seven grams of cannabis and cultivate up to four plants at their residence. Malta is also starting to accept license applications for nonprofit adult-use cannabis clubs. If Malta can proceed with implementing those legalization model components without the European Union stepping in to prevent it, then presumably Germany (and other European nations) can do the same.

Until a measure is formally introduced in Germany, there’s always the possibility that components of the measure could evolve. Components that were previously omitted in the October 2022 presentation could come back into the fray, such as THC percentage caps and social use licenses. Other components could be watered down a bit, such as the proposed 30-gram possession limit or the three plant cultivation limit being lowered.

It’s also quite possible that legalization in Germany could be rolled out in phases, with the first phase involving the removal of cannabis prohibition enforcement as it pertains to individuals, and the second phase involving the launch of a regulated industry. A two-phased approach certainly has its benefits: The first phase would be easy to implement and instantly save public resources in Germany, as well as prevent more lives from being harmed by prohibition. The second phase would involve the launch of a regulated industry—which is a much heavier public policy and regulatory lift—which could then proceed on its own timeline. As long as progress is being made on the industry launch effort, and there are no unreasonable delays, the two-phase approach could be viable.

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German Opposition Leader Lobbies EU To Nix Country’s Cannabis Proposal

A leader of Germany’s main opposition party took aim at the country’s proposal to decriminalize marijuana on Wednesday, asking the European Union to step in and block the plan. 

Klaus Holetschek, the health minister for a conservative-led state government in Germany, “met the EU’s director-general for migration and home affairs in Brussels on Wednesday to urge an EU veto,” according to the Associated Press.

The proposal was offered up late last month by German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach. If it were implemented, the new law would “decriminalize the possession of up to 30 grams (about 1 ounce) of cannabis and to allow the sale of the substance to adults for recreational purposes in a controlled market,” the Associated Press reported

As the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle reported in June, “legalizing and regulating the cannabis market was one of the progressive reforms promised by Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government when his [Social Democratic Party of Germany] signed a coalition agreement with the neoliberal Free Democrats (FDP) and the Green Party last year.”

Lauterbach, a member of the Social Democratic Party, said in June that he had “always been opposed to cannabis legalization,” but that he revised his “position about a year ago.” 

He stated “his desire to have a new set of cannabis laws to present to Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag, in the second half of the year,” Deutsche Welle reported at the time

But those plans hit a snag in September, when the coalition government of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), the Greens and the Free Democratic Party (FDP) expressed concern that the proposal they had prepared may not be approved by the European Union courts.

“There is a degree of caution about promises of a breakthrough before the end of the year,” a German government official said at the time. “The complexity of all is starting to sink in, and there’s a sharper awareness of the risks involved. We don’t want another autobahn toll debacle,” a reference to a plan to build a toll road that was abandoned when the European court of justice ruled it violated an anti-discrimination law because it would disproportionately affect foreign drivers.”

Last month, after unveiling his decriminalization proposal, Lauterbach said that the German government would “check with the European Union’s executive commission whether the plan approved by the German government is in line with EU laws and would proceed with legislation ‘on this basis’ only if it gets the green light,” the Associated Press reported at the time.

Under the proposal, cannabis could be “grown under license and sold to adults at licensed outlets to combat the black market,” according to the AP, while individuals “would be allowed to grow up to three plants, and to buy or possess 20 to 30 grams of marijuana.”

Holetschek blasted the coalition government’s proposal on Wednesday, and urged the European Union to block the measure.

Per the Associated Press, “Holetschek said he told the EU official, Monique Pariat, that ‘the German government’s planned cannabis legalization doesn’t just endanger health, but I am convinced that it also violates European law,’” and  he “argued that two EU agreements oblige Germany and other member countries to criminalize the production and sale of drugs such as cannabis.”

Although marijuana is decriminalized in a number of European countries, full-fledged legalization is still fairly rare across the continent. 

Last year, the tiny state of Malta became the first country in the European Union to legalize pot. The new law allows individuals to posses as many seven grams and to grow up to four plants in their residence. 

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Can Hemp End the War?

Can hemp end the war between Russia and Ukraine? Probably not, as Russia’s claim to Ukrainian territory goes back centuries. The war today is a result of multiple things. One, poor Soviet policy from the 1960s gifted Russian-speaking regions to Ukraine. Which, at the time, didn’t matter because everyone was under the control of the Kremlin. With the collapse of the USSR, Russia and Ukraine became two separate nations. Being two separate nations wasn’t a problem since NATO agreed not […]

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EU Cannabis Consumption Increased and Ecstasy Use Decreased in 2021

A new survey studying the consumption habits of participants in the European Union (EU) reveal that cannabis use has increased, and the use of ecstasy has decreased considerably.

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) recently found that cannabis and ecstasy saw the strongest changes in consumption habits. The European Web Survey on Drugs was conducted online between March and April 2021 with the intention of illuminating patterns of drug use to consider in future regulation. Throughout 21 EU countries and nine non-EU countries, the survey recorded answers from those who were 18 or older and had used drugs.

The survey results, published on January 20, recorded the drug use breakdown of the 48,469 participants. “Cannabis was the drug used most, with 93 percent of survey respondents reporting to have used it in the previous 12 months and with little variation between countries,” the survey results state. “MDMA/ecstasy (35 percent), cocaine (35 percent) and amphetamine (28 percent) were the next most reported illicit substances, with the order of the three drugs varying by country. Around a third of respondents (32 percent) reported using more (herbal) cannabis and 42 percent using less MDMA/ecstasy.” The results also show that a group of participants had used LSD (20 percent), a new psychoactive substance (16 percent), ketamine (13 percent) and heroin (three percent).

Furthermore, participants from the Western Balkans (which is made up of a Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Kosovo) also echoed the high consumption of cannabis, and decreased use in other substances—especially ecstasy. “Most respondents (91 percent) reported using cannabis in the previous 12 months, followed by cocaine (38 percent), MDMA/ecstasy (22 percent) and amphetamine (20 percent). Again, around a third of respondents (32 percent) reported using more (herbal) cannabis and 34 percent using less MDMA/ecstasy.”

In terms of where these substances were consumed, 85 percent of participants in the EU and 72 percent of the Western Balkans used these substances at home, rather than at public venues. It also takes into account that the motivation for cannabis use at home was because of a multitude of reasons. Participants wanted to relax, get high in order to improve sleep, but their use of MDMA or ecstasy was used to attain “euphoric and socialising [sic] effects.”

The study result breakdown states that the information shared by the 50,000 people included in the survey is just a small portion of the EU, but still offers a useful glimpse into the changing habits of residents. “While web surveys are not representative of the general population, when carefully conducted and combined with traditional data-collection methods, they can help paint a more detailed, realistic and timely picture of drug use and drug markets in Europe. Over 100 organisations [sic] took part in the initiative, including the Reitox national focal points, universities and NGOs.”

EMCDDA Director Alexis Goosdeel shared a statement regarding the goal of this survey, and the amount of participation needed from organizations to sort and analyze the data. “Web surveys are a key ingredient in our monitoring of Europe’s shifting drugs problem,” Goosdeel said. “They help us reach an important target population through innovative online methods. Today’s results reveal the wide variety of drugs available across Europe and provide valuable information on emerging trends and changing patterns of use during the COVID-19 pandemic. An impressive 100 organisations [sic] joined us this time in building, translating and disseminating the survey, ensuring that this is now an invaluable tool to help tailor our responses and shape future drug policies.”

Other studies in the U.S. have shed light on other topics related to cannabis, such as targeting teens with ads on social media or an updated Gallup survey that shows that a majority of Americans support legalization.

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Vive La CBD Revolution: The French Ground War on Regulated CBD

As with many things in the cannabis revolution, there are moments when achieved reform or market creation feels bittersweet. Certainly, most within this industry, having attained a hard fought and well-deserved, even litigated, or legislative victory have also had the experience of realizing that such a development is both a step forward but also two back. 

Thus is the case in France right now.

On one hand, the order by the French Ministry of Solidarity and Health, issued on December 30, 2021, implementing Article R.5132-86 of the Public Health Code is a victory for the industry. In direct response to the KanaVape case, where the European Court of Justice decreed that imported CBD sold in France (and produced elsewhere in the European Union (EU)) was legal and by extension that the cannabinoid was not a narcotic, the French government has essentially enshrined an EU decision into French law.

Namely, that CBD can be sold and further that it is clearly not a narcotic.

However, it is what forms that cannabis could be available to consumers that are creating consternation if not a direct rebellion from some in the industry.

The Basics

Here is what the new order does. It legalizes the CBD industry and products. Here is the bad news. It specifically bans the retail sale of cannabis flower. This includes the smokable and tea varieties.

The positives? This development means that the purveyors of any CBD containing product that has been certified in the required regulatory pathways are finally in a position where there is a legal market for their products. 

No French police raids on grocery stores for CBD cookies loom in the horizon as a result. 

Merci beaucoup.

On the other hand, here is the merde a la mode.

The order is devastating to hemp producers and small stores who sell flower and products that contain the same (like hemp tea). While the legal limit for THC in hemp was also raised (from 0.02 percent to 0.03 percent), this means that cultivators must rely only on B2B sales to those who will further transform (usually extract) the CBD for use in other products (from cosmetics to food).

The new order also does not move CBD out of the Novel Food category. This could also be a ripe territory for legal challenges, particularly for CBD cultivated in France itself. However, given the blow just directed in the direction of the French cultivation industry, a by-product of this decision could very well move cultivation of even hemp outside the country’s borders.

A Whimper Rather than a Bang

The bottom line is that this development is hardly a French Revolution on CBD. Further it may well be a cynical move by French President Emmanuel Macron, who as of January 1 took over the next six month tenure as the President of the EU on his way to facing national voters in the near future. Namely, inch a conversation which is much despised at the nosebleed level of European politics only as far forward as absolutely necessary.

Indeed, this kind of unfortunate mindset is still much in keeping with the general attitude about cannabis cultivation, even of the medical kind, in Europe. Politicians in Germany were so opposed to legalizing home grow that they banned even registered German pharmaceutical firms from participating in the country’s first cultivation bid for the regulated pharmaceutical market. Beyond that, there are still many questions still open on the hemp side of the conversation.

It is trickle down reform and of course, as a result, will be fought, again, in court.

The Industry Strikes Back?

On January 3, industry groups including the hemp union and the trade association of CBD sellers, the Union des Professionals du CBD, for whom flower sales can represent as much as 80 percent of their business, issued a challenge to the new order. They are asking the government to suspend the same because at an EU level, there is no distinction between flower and extract. The application was submitted to the highest administrative court in France—the Council of State. It has so far not been rejected (meaning that the court could side with the industry).

Indeed, many on the ground feel that this is just another way of setting back the industry if not reform itself—and further apparently fairly similarly at the nosebleed level of European politics. For example, the discussion about the sales of both flower and CBD containing products has also been contentious in places like Germany (which has seen both police and court action against firms selling either or). In the UK, the sale of the same is explicitly banned. 

Yet this is not the trend in Europe. In most places, although not explicitly stated as such as in Belgium and Luxembourg, CBD flower is more or less treated like tobacco. In both Malta and Italy, home grow is also now explicitly allowed—even if just of the hemp variety. Indeed, that is one of the more intriguing aspects still outstanding of the KanaVape case (namely that the imported extract at the centre of all the hullabaloo was for inhalation). 

Obviously, since 2017 in Germany, there are very clearly medical flower sales that are smoked by patients and nobody is talking (yet) about removing flower from the high THC, adult-use market, coming hopefully now sooner than later aus Deutschland. There is also no guarantee that those patients now participating in French trials are only consuming their dispensed flower by approved medical vape.

Regardless, no matter the hypocrisies and inconsistencies, on both the smoking argument, and of course the perennial pushback from the police (on issues from not being able to tell the difference on the street, to driving issues), these are the issues much in the room across the European discussion right now. This newest development in France is no exception.

Further, the underlying assumption being made about even CBD flower is also highly significant. Not only does it rule out the opportunity of consumers and patients to make their own products using extraction methods, but it also continues to categorize all cannabis flowers in a highly harmful category.

This is concerning for two reasons. The first, obviously, is that this is potentially a major blow to the hemp industry in France, an industry with about $180 million in sales last year. More worryingly, it may also have an impact far beyond French borders. European countries are looking to each other to figure out a pathway to legalization that can be both accepted and implemented given the current state of international regulations on cannabis. Namely the still unchanged classification of cannabis and cannabinoids by the UN as a Schedule I drug.

Indeed, the many wrinkles in the path towards even CBD legalization seen in France, among other EU countries, are just a small precursor to the now looming fight over THC.

It is for all these reasons that the hemp industry at both the French and increasingly European level is watching this case actively, if not preparing strategies on how to fight back not only on the ground in France, but use similar tactics unleashed locally in every sovereign nation in Europe.

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Malta Becomes First European Country to Legalize Cannabis

Malta’s parliament on Dec. 14 voted 36-to-27 to approve a measure legalizing possession, cultivation and regulated sale of cannabis. Malta has been a European Union in 2004, which puts this deeply conservative archipelago ahead of continental leaders like the Netherlands as the first in the EU to legalize. 

The law allows people to hold up to seven grams on their person, and to grow up to four plants and keep up to 50 grams of dried cannabis at home. It also establishes a framework for regulated sales, and for expungement of past convictions.

“It’s groundbreaking,” Equality Minister Owen Bonnici, who introduced the bill, told the New York Times. “Malta can be a model for harm reduction.” 

Conservative Opposition Outmaneuvered

This is indeed a counterintuitive development. The overwhelmingly Catholic archipelago had notoriously been under the rule of a Crusader military order, the Knights of Malta, for more than two-and-a-half centuries starting in the late Middle Ages, and this cultural stamp is still very much in evidence. Divorce was only legalized in Malta in 2011.

The cannabis legalization bill was carefully crafted to reassure the conservative opposition, and portrayed as strategy to undercut criminal networks. “We are going to curb drug trafficking by making sure that people who make use of cannabis now have a safe and regularized way from where they can obtain cannabis,” Bonnici told Reuters

Retail outlets will be confined to nonprofit associations, to be registered with an Authority on the Responsible Use of Cannabis. These association will be able to sell no more than seven grams a day to their members, for a maximum of 50 grams a month. Public smoking will remain illegal, and fines of up to €500 are imposed for smoking in the presence of a minor. Those found to be holding in excess of the modest seven grams but still below 28 grams (about an ounce) are slapped with a fine of €100. Above 28 grams, the criminal penalties remain intact.

But Malta’s conservative bloc was not appeased. The bill was the work of the leftist Labor Party, which has ruled since 2013.  And the vote was on party lines, with the opposition Nationalist Party voting against. Nationalist leader Bernard Grech charged that the bill would “only lead to the strengthening of the illegal market, with organized crime taking advantage,” BBC News notes.

President George Vella signed the bill into law on Dec. 18, which was a mere formality—under the Maltese system, the presidency is a largely ceremonial post. Real power lies with parliament and the prime minister. Nonetheless, Vella had to resist demands from the opposition that he not sign the bill, Malta Today reports. He forthrightly refused this demand, saying he had no power to withhold his signature from legislation passed by parliament. He even went on TV to scold the opposition: “The head of state cannot capriciously create a constitutional crisis.”

As the law took effect, the Nationalist Party issued a statement pledging to “take the necessary measures in the parliament to repeal it,” and accusing Prime Minister Robert Abela of “normalizing drug use.” However, as Malta Today notes, if they didn’t have enough votes to block the legislation, they probably don’t have enough to repeal it.

A Changing Malta

Malta has been opening up considerably over the past years of Labor Party rule. In March 2018, the government legalized medical marijuana, allowing doctors to prescribe cannabis for chronic pain, multiple sclerosis and side effects of chemotherapy. This replaced an earlier law that only recognized prescriptions from medical specialists, and was so restrictive that not a single Maltese had yet been treated legally with any cannabis-based product. 

Today there are 40,000 enrolled members in the medical marijuana program, and the list of qualifying ailments has greatly increased. However, with domestic cultivation barred, supply was dependent on imports from companies such as Bedrocan of the Netherlands. Given the global supply-chain crisis, this has led to severe shortages in the archipelago, as LovinMalta website reported last year.

This is set to change now. And Malta’s loosening up is in part a response to the global crisis. The Ministry for Equality, Research & Innovation, Bonnici’s post, was just created this year to coordinate post-COVID strategy, as the Times of Malta reported in July. 

On the day the legalization measure was passed, Malta Today ran an angry opinion piece by Andrew Bonello, president of the reform lobby Releaf Malta, and Robert Fenech of the progressive youth organization Moviment Graffitt. Noting the continued high level of cannabis arrests on the island, the editorial accused the opposition of “exhibiting arguments borne out of a medieval mindset.” 

Wrote Bonello and Fenech: “Calls for zero-tolerance and witch-hunts…are reflective of a society rooted in vindictive moralistic stances, instead of a society geared towards education and sound scientific and empirical research on social and health issues, such as the widespread consumption of cannabis.”

The First Domino of European Prohibition? 

Malta is on the very fringe of Europe—it is south of Sicily and much closer to Tunisia than to Rome. And it is a relative new-comer to the EU. But while several European countries—most notoriously the Netherlands—have adopted very tolerant cannabis policies, Malta is now the first to actually legalize.  

“Malta has formally legislated what exists in other European countries in a weird gray area,” Steve Rolles of the Transform Drug Policy Foundation, an advocacy group in the UK, told the New York Times.

There is a sense that the European tide may finally be turning, however. Continental leader Germany is said to be considering legalization since a new coalition government including the Greens took over this month. A legalization bill introduced in October is currently pending before parliament in Luxembourg—like Malta a mini-state, but in the very heart of Europe. 

Malta may seem a paradoxical vanguard for cannabis reform, but there is a sense that if it can happen there, Europe’s leading powers may be feeling the pressure to catch up.

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Malta Becomes First in the EU to Legalize Recreational Cannabis Use

In a sign that things are absolutely at a tipping point in Europe, the Mediterranean island of Malta became the first country in both Europe and the European Union (EU) to legalize recreational cannabis cultivation, possession and use. Luxembourg announced similar plans (and a similar model) about a month ago, but this will be (at least initially) limited to the public sale of seeds. 

While the bill still needs to be signed by the President, this is a small detail. In the words of the lawmaker who introduced the legislation into the Maltese Parliament, Owen Bonnici, this is in fact a “ground-breaking” moment. It also marks the first time a European legislative body has enacted recreational cannabis reform at a federal level. 

Despite a greater federal involvement in the regulation of the industry in Holland, even the Dutch have not gone this far. Switzerland is not in the EU.  Portugal and Germany are poised to move forward but have not yet. Luxembourg has come out of the shadows, but only to create a public seed market (for the time being).

Indeed, given the timing of such announcements, it is very likely that the Luxembourgian market and the Maltese one will develop along very similar timelines if not industry constructs.

The only difference of course is that in Malta, there is no grey area left. Cannabis specific outlets will be allowed to operate—albeit at a suitable distance from schools and youth centers.

Beyond this, consumers will be able to carry seven grams in public, grow up to four plants and keep up to 50 grams of cannabis at home.

The Birth of the European Recreational Cannabis Market

This development was only a matter of time. In the past months, recreational cannabis reform has been on the top of the docket all over Europe—even if not moving quite so quickly as in Malta. Most significantly, the new coalition government in Germany, Europe’s largest economy, has announced plans to legalize recreational use as early as next year. 

Luxembourg and Switzerland are both moving forward with limited trials. Portugal is also very likely to follow suit. Italy is also hovering around the edge of this question, with over half a million signatures gathered this summer to force the issue forward at the legislative level.

If there was a parallel, this is now a time very much like 2012 in the United States. Reform is now formally being accepted at a legislative level (although here it is at a sovereign rather than at the state level). In two years, there could be as many as five or six recreational reform states up and running.

What Does this Mean for the Industry?

Now is a very good time for American investors, in particular, to begin staking out a presence here. While flower and product cannot cross the Atlantic (at least not easily and without a few detours), investments can. The British are also circling. While reform has not (and probably will not come) as fast as it has on the continent, the equity markets in London are already a go-to place for those on the hunt for investment.

What has begun as a trickle this year is likely to become a veritable flood within the next six to 12 months.

German firms, particularly those who have managed to get into the medical space with an operational distribution license, have a clear advantage at the moment, across the region, simply because of the benefit of an early organizational head start.

Change at the EU Level

While such developments are clearly exciting, don’t expect all of this to be smooth sailing. There are still several big impediments that remain before the industry can operate more normally. While individual countries will begin to move in the recreational direction, the topic still needs to be addressed at a regional level. So far, the only place this has happened is with CBD (which still has not been adopted by many countries).

This will be an issue in (at least) the cross-border trade of cannabis—and for that reason, EU GMP is likely to play a much larger role, at least at first. German pharmaceutical specialty distributors will also have a clear advantage in the coming market—and not just in one country, but across the region.

Regardless, real cannabis change is finally coming. It just happened in Malta first.

And while it may still not make it into the top 10 most significant events in Maltese history, this development is certainly a marker of great change—and further, not limited to just this one, small European island.

The post Malta Becomes First in the EU to Legalize Recreational Cannabis Use appeared first on High Times.