Did Portugal Really Decriminalize Drugs?

Did Portugal really decriminalize drugs? This seems like an obvious answer. In 2001, the European country decriminalized drugs. While possession and use were (and still are) technically illegal, the authorities treat it as a public health issue rather than a criminal offence. The success of this program has prompted other jurisdictions, such as British Columbia, to try their hand at decriminalization. However, there are substantial differences between the two. Whereas Portugal has over sixty therapeutic communities designed to eliminate addictive […]

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House of Kush to Go Global with Clever Leaves, Bringing Classic Strains to the Masses

Classic genetics such as Bubba Kush Pre-98 and OG Kush varieties will be available on a global scale, as two powerhouses team up. On September 21, Colombia-based multinational juggernaut Clever Leaves announced a partnership with legacy brand House of Kush, to be the exclusive grower and distributor of genetics globally.

Clever Leaves will produce genetics for House of Kush—thus expanding their reach outside of the United States and Canada.

Clever Leaves will cultivate House of Kush’s genetics at facilities in Colombia and Portugal over the course of the next three years. Clever Leaves’ footprint is global with smokable flower already being sold in Germany, Israel, and Australia.

Clever Leaves will produce House of Kush’s signature strain—Bubba Kush Pre-98—as well as other classics such as San Fernando Valley OG Kush. Different theories abound, but Bubba Kush appeared on the market in the ‘90s, noted by its sedative effects. People have turned to it to help with pain, anxiety, and insomnia.

The scale is massive: In Colombia, Clever Leaves boasts 18 hectares (44.4 acres) of cultivation. More importantly though, the company holds European Union Good Manufacturing Practices (EU GMP) Certification, a Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) Certification by Colombia National Food and Drug Surveillance Institute – Invima, and Good Agricultural and Collecting Practices (GACP) Certification.

In Portugal, Clever Leaves operates on about nine million square feet of land, with 260,000 square feet of greenhouse facilities. They also have regulatory privilege there with a license from INFARMED I.P., the Portuguese pharmaceutical regulatory authority, with (EU-GMP) certification and are (GACP) certified.

Courtesy House of Kush

House of Kush Genetics

The partnership will deliver House of Kush’s genetics to a wider market. “Going international was really a big step,” says House of Kush co-founder and Chief Sales Officer Steve Gardner. “Clever Leaves do such good work. And we’ve been so impressed with them. And we’ve really been working on this deal for almost a year. But when you get plugged in with a group like that, that can take you all over the place.” Gardner’s roles as serial entrepreneur, advisor, investor in sports and entertainment date back 30 years.

“I would echo that sentiment and also just bring in the point that other countries are more quickly adopting and having more open, flexible laws than what we’re experiencing currently in the U.S.,” says House of Kush co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Reggie Harris. “So having the opportunity to get there early in our growth strategy not only helps us improve our status as a U.S. company, but everybody’s in the game to be able to spread that knowledge and the product and be able to get out there. So [it’s as much of an] exposure type thing as it is a financial benefit as well, that the two kind of go together. It’s not one without the other.” Harris’ background as a senior executive in sports and entertainment goes back two decades.

“Our first introduction to Bubba Kush was actually through Matt Bubba Berger, who was one of the original cultivators, and obviously Bubba Kush was part of that founding group that came up with OG Kush as well,” Harris adds. “And I was looking at it and reached out to Steve [Gardner] and said, ‘You know, I got this interesting call, product opportunity. Let’s go sit down and talk about it.’”

Protecting those genetics is another story. While House of Kush has explored blockchain technology and other ways of protecting their genetics, continuing to develop their reputation as a brand is more valuable.

“The biggest protection for us is quality assurance,” Harris adds. “We’ve created a kush certified program, to where we go through and we tell people, these are the recommended ways of growing the genetics, this is the proper way, the proper soil, the proper water, all that type of stuff, because we know ultimately, right now, federally, we can’t protect it, it’s going to be some somebody could take it, we will lose more money trying to defend it, then we will just go on out being better than they are. So we spent a lot of time just trying to have the great genetics and the great SOPs around that to make sure that it comes out right on the other side and up to our standard.”

Gustavo Escobar / Courtesy Clever Leaves

Regulatory Perks of Going International

Clever Leaves’ footprint is all over the globe, but each facility has a distinctive purpose. “We have two facilities, one in Colombia, one in Portugal,” says Julián Wilches, co-founder and Chief Regulatory Officer of Clever Leaves. “The Portugal facility is focused on flower. And in Colombia, the Colombian facility has been focused on extracts, raw materials, and finished products such as oils. Now, we have the opportunity, also of exporting flower from Colombia, which is something that we plan to do in the coming months. But now it is very important for us and we’re going to have access to additional genetics.”

One of Clever Leaves’ advantages is holding certifications in Europe. But one of the keys to growth is expanding internationally to improve chances of success.

“If you cultivate in the U.S., you cannot export it, because of the federal prohibition in the U.S.,” says Gustavo Escobar, co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of Clever Leaves. “So the fact that we can cultivate in Colombia and export it for medicinal purposes, opens the global market. We’re focused on four markets in addition to the U.S.: Australia, Israel, Germany, and Brazil. In Brazil, we cannot sell flower. So I would say three markets for flower: Israel, Australia, and Germany. But there are additional markets like Portugal and Italy, U.K., Ireland, most likely France, and Spain. Now we have Thailand. So the world is moving towards medicine and medicinal legalization.”

The partnership benefits both companies in ways that were not possible before.

“Working together, you can do better things,” Wilches adds. “So partnering with people with good genetics, and having the capabilities that were described—that will give us a better opportunity of success in those markets. So we believe in partnerships and we believe in working together and creating long-term relationships for being in the market in the long term with really high quality and good product.”

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Summer 2022 European Cannabis Roundup

Looking back on the trajectory of reform in Europe from the vantage point of 2032, a decade from now, this year, and particularly the spring and summer of 2022, will almost certainly be recognized as the European-wide tipping point for cannabis.

This is largely being driven by current events in Germany. The government just wrapped up several weeks of hearings on how to implement recreational reform. A white paper containing the recommendations of the same will be released in the fall, with draft legislation expected to be published by the end of the year. Beyond that, the timing is understandably a bit hazy, but the bill is widely expected to pass in the early part of 2023, with a recreational market on track to begin by the first part of 2024.

However, Germany is not the only game in town, as much as its impact on the conversation across the E.U. is huge.

The Domino Countries

There are currently several E.U. countries on the verge of recreational reform that stand poised to follow Malta into recreational reform this year by legalizing home grow. These are:

Switzerland – The country is launching its recreational use city trials this year. While outside of the E.U., the country’s forward progress on recreational reform is one of the key markets to watch in Europe right now.

Portugal Now established as one of the most important medical cultivation countries in Europe, the country is on the verge of formal recreational reform—and will proceed with home grow as a first step to creating a fully integrated recreational market with international juice. Portugal also has the distinction of being the most liberal country on drug policies across the E.U.

Luxembourg – The country’s current government promised to implement recreational reform before the end of their first term (which ends next year). Medical reform was implemented during 2018. Currently, the first step into the adult use market will be home grow also, although given the size of the country, it most likely won’t be a large producer.

Austria – The country will certainly follow its DACH trading partners—Germany and Switzerland—across the recreational line in the near future. Medical reform has already been implemented here and the country as a strong hemp industry.

Medical Reform Is Still in Motion

Adult use reform of course is not the only discussion in the room. Medical reform has also been moving forward in important jurisdictions this year—leaving no major country within the region that does not recognize at least medical efficacy of the plant. Even Albania, in accession talks with the E.U., is moving ahead with medical use.

France – The country formally (and finally) moved forward on a pending medical trial earlier this year. The jury is still out on whether the country’s president Emmanuel Macron, will be pushed by his more liberal government to move forward on some kind of recreational discussion. As the cradle of hemp production in Europe, the country has also been the testing ground for changing CBD policy across the E.U.

Spain – The home of the cannabis club announced their recognition of medical efficacy this summer. This is significant for several reasons, including the fact that Spain is also apparently ramping up its medical cultivation while allowing the clubs to continue to operate.

As a result, Europe is very much having its “2012” moment. By 2024, it is almost certain at this point that there will be, beyond Holland, several European countries where recreational cannabis is legal.

The Global Impact of European Reform

While it is still hard to predict accurately, make no mistake about it: This change is seismic, worth a great deal of money, and will have huge repercussions.

It is unlikely that in the U.S., for example, serious arguments will hold much longer against finally legalizing cannabis on a federal level.

Beyond this, it is almost certain that multiple countries in Asia will follow both events in the E.U. as well as Thailand and probably Indonesia’s early lead. Even if this change is also “only” medical for now, as has been seen worldwide at this point, this is only the first step.

From this vantage point, it is also not hard to envisage a world where the plant is finally, formally recognized, and at an international level.

Does This Mean Smooth Sailing from Here?

Just because legalization is moving however, does not mean there will be no detours much less distractions. This starts with a domestic rollout of reform, which on the recreational front will almost certainly also include some states, cities, and towns also placing a ban on sales.

The discussion about tourism is also much in the balance as Holland continues to make noise about banning cannatourists from Amsterdam. However, it is hard to believe that this will last, even in Holland. Greece, for example, which is already inviting German pensioners to spend a warm winter away from higher gas prices and lower temperatures, will ignore this valuable segment of the market.

On the regulatory front, Novel Food looms as a large and unsolved problem—and not just for CBD but also the full plant discussion.

All of these issues will take time and money to resolve. However, the most important step has clearly been taken in Europe this summer—and that will reverberate in turn, as perhaps the last major push necessary for the final dominoes to begin falling. Regionally and, of course, globally.

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Portugal Group Demands Freedom to Vote for Personal Use of Cannabis

For those watching the swing of European states into the pro cannabis column, the developments in Portugal have been a source of both optimism and frustration for the past several years.

The production of cannabis for medical export purposes was initiated by Tilray as they looked for a country more open to cannabis cultivation than Germany in 2017. Since then, commercial cultivation and extraction has blossomed domestically. Indeed Portugal is now seen as one of the most important feeder countries for the German medical cannabis market.

As a result of this as well as the general tolerance of cannabis in the country, the legislature was widely expected to introduce and pass formal recreational reform legislation late in 2021 or at the latest, by early this year. However, the issue stalled when the sitting government failed to pass the 2022 budget and a snap election was called for the end of January. The swearing in of the new Parliament was also delayed by a month and a half due to controversies that arose from the counting of overseas ballots.

In such an environment, cannabis reform is not going to be the priority.

European Cannabis Reform Is a Zeitgeist Topic

However, those advocating for reform have not just gone away. Further, it appears that as of this summer, the prioritization of legalization has re-entered the political room.

The Left Bloc party, one of the political groups that helped bring about the fall of the old government by voting against its budget, is renewing its calls for cannabis legalization—even if it is of the personal, home-grow variety. However, they also are expecting support from the ruling Socialist Party in going a bit further than this—namely the establishment of a formal industry.

According to Left Bloc member Catarina Martins, “One year ago this week the initiative of the Left Block was debated in the parliament: the legalization of cannabis. As you know, this process did not come to an end.” The party believes that this is the time to push for reform because of a collective agreement amongst elected officials (if not Portugal, traditionally beyond this) that Prohibition has never worked.

“To defend public health is to end hypocrisy,” said Martins. “And we believe that there are now all the conditions to end this hypocrisy in Portugal. We know that there are so many people, on all sides of the parliament, which have already realized that the hypocrisy of prohibition has been a way of putting young people at risk.”

Further, in what seems to be a page out of the developments in Austria right now, the Left Bloc is pressuring their colleagues to pass this reform based on the principal of personal freedom.

Serious Momentum or More Stalling in Portugal?

For those following the political particulars on the ground, this is apparently the beginning of a new domestic momentum to finally pass meaningful legislation. This is the case because of Portugal’s history on drug use. The country infamously decriminalized the personal use and possession of all drugs in 2001 (which as a byproduct also influenced the Oregon decriminalization measure in Oregon in 2020).

The legitimacy of this call for legalization may also sound a bit strange to foreigners because of who is pushing for the reform to progress. The Left Bloc party is a product of the merger of several groups on the left side of the political discussion including the Marxist People’s Democratic Union, the Trotskyist Revolutionary Socialist Party, and Politics XXI.

Mention the word “socialist” much less terms like “Marxist” or “Trotskyist” in any political debate in the United States, and one is laughed out of the room.

This is, of course, also quite different in Portugal, where the party has elected members in the national legislative body.

While the constituent parties that have made up its base sound radical, particularly to Americans, the party also has a reputation as the country’s largest supporter of women’s and gay rights, with a strong civil liberties platform that takes vocal stands against racism. In Portugal at least, they are seen as “socially libertarian.”

“Controlling the risks and putting an end to hypocrisy is public health policy and this is also the commitment that the Left Bloc is making in a month in which we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the national strategy to combat drugs,” said Martins.

It will, as a result, surprise nobody watching this discussion, even outside of Portugal, especially considering Germany’s decision to legalize recreational use this year, if Portugal does the same this year—even, despite all the delays, beating Deutschland to the punch.

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2021 Roundup of Cannabis Reform in Europe (and 2022 Predictions)

As the world contemplates a whole new year, whether or not COVID will finally recede, there are a few things to cheer about, including cannabis reform. Namely, no matter how many uncertainties face us all, as grey January stretches beyond the holiday lights, there is certainly cheer in the air that will last much longer than the season.

Indeed, there are plenty in Germany right now who are already making plans for infused Weihnacht treats just a few years hence. It is now clear that cannabis will take its place quickly in German traditions, Christmas being just one of them. Canna-Glüwein (hot, mulled wine), anyone?

Beyond this, the rest of the EU now teetering on the edge on this issue, has now woken up to the reality that no matter what they decide to do (Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece, Malta and, of course, the current laggard, France), now that Germany has just uttered the declaration that is the beginning of the end. If not an inevitable form of economic development and tax money in a world starved of the same.

Cannabis has turned a major corner in Europe in 2021. Here are the major hallmarks of the year.

Red, Amber, Green, Go Deutschland!

Germany’s new “Traffic Light” political coalition has promised to address the issue of recreational reform legislatively in 2022. Unlike the U.S. where multiple attempts to pass federal cannabis reform have failed, this is likely to happen. 

In the initial rollout of reform, however, do not be surprised if the Germans decide to follow the Swiss and allow regular pharmacies to be the first port of call for both medical and recreational users. It would solve several issues at once—starting with the establishment of tight restrictions on cultivation and retail supply chain. 

A short term, interim solution such as this will knock out a far more contentious issue—how to structure a licensing system for everything from cultivation in the country (and by whom) to specialty shops that resemble American or Canadian “dispensaries.” Namely not medical establishments. Plus, online sales.

This is for both Germany and cannabis reform, expect there to be several iterations of reform, starting with state and city experiments that will inevitably see Berlin, Bremen, Dortmund, Frankfurt, Dusseldorf, Cologne and Munich on the front lines (because such ideas have been avidly pushed on a municipal level before).  

Also, don’t forget that it basically took four years after the law changed and two after the cultivation bid was finally awarded, for there to be distribution of German cultivated medical cannabis. Don’t expect the details of recreational to be handled or hammered out much more quickly. See Canada.

In the meantime, however, full decrim will become the law of the land, and patients will be free of prosecution, both for possession and presumably (hopefully) reasonable home growing. Despite the reluctance to actually have cannabis cultivated in the country, either by patients or companies (see the drama over the first cultivation bid), this is not 2017. Germans, albeit grudgingly, now admit that the drug does work, as a drug, even if they are not yet of one voice in the majority that cannabis prohibition has of course, failed.

Regardless, German recreational, just as medical reform was before it, is a huge, huge step which will drive other countries across the region forward too.

Malta and Luxembourg will Lead the Way

It is a sign of how convoluted the Dutch situation is, if not national position, generally, that the island of Malta led the way on actual, formal, federal, recreational cannabis reform within the European Union (EU). Indeed, if there are analogies to be made, Holland is kind of like the European California—creating a market that exists in the grey areas but is only now facing a discussion (and further one far from complete) about how to federally regulate the industry.

Luxembourg also, it appears, was just hanging back until another country took the leap, despite promising the same in 2018 as a new coalition government took the reins there. Now there is no excuse for any more delays.

Portugal will also inevitably now enact reform as soon as the smoke from the general election early next year clears—and no matter who wins. The country needs an economic boost—either from tourism or exports, and this is a natural solution.

Beyond this, Spain may well follow a Dutch model to formalize production for its clubs rather than coffee shops in the next 12 to 24 months.

Also expect to see Austria, Italy, the Czech Republic, Greece and potentially outliers like Belgium begin to move with the herd, even if in the creation of experimental markets. This may or may not start to happen next year, but it will most certainly catch on within the next 24 months.

The Swiss Wild Card

Do not forget, of course, that the Swiss began preparing for a recreational trial rollout that now has a calendar date set for actual lift off in 2022. Companies have been submitting and obtaining approvals for the last eight months or so.

The beginning of this market, with its own strange requirements and rules, will also inevitably drive discussions and the shape of reform just across the DACH if not other EU borders the country shares with other countries. Everyone will be watching what goes down in Der Schweitz—including the unique waiving and blending of certain kinds of certifications—including but not limited to Novel Food and GMP.

Other Notables (or Not)

Try as they might to get some respect, the British cannabis industry, such as it is, has weathered difficult times, and these do not seem at least for now, to be ending any time soon. 

In contrast to the British on both European membership and cannabis reform, North Macedonia will inevitably play a role in the immediate future, even if just as a source of cheaper flower and oil extracts.

Poland is also still teetering on the brink of actual if not accessible medical reform, but expect this now also to speed up.

The Growth of Import Markets Serving Europe

The year 2021 was notable for another reason. Feeder markets will target EU if not Germany at their founder’s mandate, continued to grow. This means that no matter what happens with future cultivation discussions, in any country, starting with Germany, there will be no shortage of other certified cannabis from countries all over the globe at this point, looking for a German home. 

For this reason, there will be significant downward pressure on both the medical and “other” flower and biomass discussions.

Bottom Line On 2021?

If there is an analogy to be made, the situation in Europe now on the ground looks a great deal like the conversation in the U.S. in 2012, post presidential election that returned Obama to his second term in office. Namely, two states, Colorado and Washington State, voted on state mandates to create state markets. They both bloomed in 2014—and the rest, as they say, is history.

The developments this year in Europe, and even some of the stuttering delays, no matter their cause or ultimate resolutions, resemble this period, in many ways. And that spells great news for the industry, on all fronts.

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Portugal Punts (Temporarily) on Cannabis Reform as Government Collapses

Budget wars, not antipathy to the prospect of the full and final legalization of cannabis, will probably put Portugal behind on the recreational reform question within the European Union (EU). The country’s 2022 budget had included tax cuts and increased public investment to stimulate the economy post COVID. It was opposed by both hard Left- and Right-wing parties. In late October, such political opposition to the budget proposed by Prime Minister António Costa triggered a final meltdown of the coalition that has governed here since 2015. 

In a rare event for the country, indeed one that has not happened since Portugal transitioned to democracy in 1974, the government was dissolved two years early by the right-wing President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa. National elections will be held on January 30 of next year.

What happens next, even on the cannabis discussion, is anyone’s guess. That said, it is also very unlikely that any new government here will oppose forward cannabis reform. The country has a vested interest in the development of the sector. And even though the licensing process on the medical side has been fraught with difficulties if not delays, it is clearly proceeding.

Why is Portugal Important in the European Cannabis Discussion?

Portugal is famous for its liberal approach to all drugs, although it is inaccurate to say that everything has been “decriminalized.” There have been various attempts to reform the country’s drug policy ever since the 1970s. In the present, cannabis is not technically legal here, although the medical cultivation sector has certainly taken off since 2017.

In early June, a bill to formalize the legalization of the personal use of cannabis was proposed by two parties, the Left Bloc and the Liberal Initiative and forwarded to the Health Commission for debate. This debate never happened due to repeated requests for postponement.

Now that the government has been dissolved, the legislation will have to be re-introduced by the new government.

Regardless, since 2017, when Tilray began construction on its cannabis facility, Portugal has begun to play a larger and larger role in the entire European cannabis discussion. This, so far at least, is less about the liberalization of policy domestically and more about the ability to obtain cultivation licenses (although this too is not as “easy” as many in the industry have infamously claimed). That said, the country has the most operating regulated cultivation facilities and licenses of any EU sovereign state outside of Holland. Of course, unlike the Dutch, these are all of the internationally regulated, GMP variety.

As it stands, the market is geared towards the production and, coming soon, extraction of the plant primarily for export (and even more specifically, targeted at and for the German medical market). Indeed, production and labor costs here put the country, along with Greece and evolving African cannabis cultivation economies, roughly on par in terms of cost per gram (both for flower and extracts).

What Would a Portuguese Rec Market Actually Impact?

The answer is, quite obviously, that a recreational market here would positively affect not only the broader economy but the tourist sector, in the process creating a booming market with a canna flair.

That said, it is also clear that this might in turn be a bit of a stretch for a region where the most forward cannabis reform country (Luxembourg) just punted on the question and took a slower path to the entire conversation with a home grow provision (along with supporting a regulated cannabis seed market).

However, after Europe emerges from what is likely to be another hard COVID winter, such sensitivities could well be overrun by politics and politicians who are looking for economic stimulation any way they can get it. This entire conversation, of course neatly fits that bill, no matter how contentious economic development with a cannabis flair still is outside of Greece (at least within the EU). Certainly, the medical sector has gotten more respectable over the last four years. Even the German government is now considering the same, in part because of the estimated tax revenue that is likely to come of the formal development of this market.

Bottom line? Portugal is no longer the outlier it once was on the topic. Indeed it may now fall behind full reform in other countries even within the EU, starting with both Luxembourg and Germany.

That said, the development of a fully legit market here will undoubtedly continue to impact the entire industry across the continent—starting with sourcing medical production bound for elsewhere, but undoubtedly, as the entire discussion progresses, recreational cannabis products too.

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Few Medical Cannabis Licenses in Portugal Have Been Awarded

Ever since Tilray decamped for Portugal during the early days of the German cannabis cultivation bid circa 2017, the country has been touted as “the place” within the European Union (EU) for the German distributors to source their product.

That said, the actual progress of the industry has been a little slower than that—in part because of the length of time it takes for legislative change to happen. Indeed, it was not until April 15 of this year that Ministerial Order No. 83/2021 was finally published. According to local legal practitioners, at least, this order also has clarified a great many practical aspects of the application process. This includes reference prices.

Looking at the progress of cultivation licenses, however, and the proof is in the pudding. To date, there have been 114 applications for the cultivation of cannabis to the National Medicines Agency (Infarmed). Of these, just 23 are “under analysis,” 11 are awaiting a response from the cultivators, and 61 are waiting to be inspected (a major issue facing almost every budding cannabis cultivator thanks to COVID.)

Here are a few more dampening statistics. Of the 19 currently operational cannabis cultivation facilities, only three can manufacture medical grade extracts and products. One of these is in business solely for the purposes of providing “quality control.” The remaining facilities are in business to cultivate the plant as a “raw material,” or, of great interest of course to every German distributor looking for new sources of EU cultivated product, “active substances.”

What, exactly, is going on?

EU GMP Is Not an Easy Certification

Despite its reputation to the contrary, including the now pending legislative move to formally legalize adult-use cannabis, the medical authorities here are very strict. They must be. They are the country’s version of the Federal Drug Administration (or FDA).

Indeed, it was only this February that Tilray announced that it had received the first and only market authorization for medical cannabis products in Portugal. This means that everyone else is cultivating for export to other countries (notably Germany). Many German distributors (for starters) are currently importing raw flower (or flos) as “Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients” or APIs. There is clearly a market for the same.

Getting a medical license also takes capital. And it is also very clear that Portugal is also not the only game in town. Greek, Macedonian and, as of this year, African cannabis is also starting to enter the room.

Further, while there is a great deal of enthusiasm, generally, about the coming cannabis revolution on the recreational side, the medical game remains, as always, a difficult nut to crack, even after the capital has been raised. This is not always a popular task to take, but it is clear that when the dust clears, Infarmed is not interested in being just a pass-through agency.

According to Rob Smallman, a highly experienced Canadian cultivator who has been involved in multiple European projects, including in Portugal, “experience and a focus on the actual business in the room is a far better strategy than just satisfying investors.”

Michael Sassano, CEO and founder of SOMAI Pharmaceuticals as well as the recent recipient of an innovative product grant by the Portugal 2020 committee, concurs. “Cannabis entrepreneurs need to know exactly what they are doing to succeed and receive full certification,” he said. “Medical cannabis growing, and manufacturing requires more than just a lot of capital. It requires deep knowledge of regulations and GMP standards plus serious knowledge of the cannabis plant to surpass timely building, operational, and international sales goals.”

Portugal 2020 is a partnership agreement between Portugal and the European Commission to fund policy goals of interest to both member states and the EU as a whole.

Domestically, however, there is another catch. In a land known rather infamously if not accurately as “anything goes,” on the “illicit drug” front, cannabis as medicine is just as foreign here as it is everywhere else. Not to mention, just like everywhere else, medical cannabis is very expensive. The monthly price tag of about $600 is out of reach to most, if not many.

What Impact Does Pending Recreational Reform Mean for Portugal?

There are several answers to this question. The first and most obvious one is “nothing” since Infarmed only regulates a medical market, not a broader consumer one (more like BfArM in Germany than the FDA in the United States).

However, this is also not the only answer. Forward reform of Portugal’s legislative approach to recreational reform has repeatedly stalled, even as both Switzerland (outside of the EU) and Luxembourg (within it) have progressed.

There is of course this twist. Just like the Czech Republic (and Switzerland) have now started to discuss (and Holland has been in the midst of the same since 2017 when Dutch insurers stopped covering the drug the same month the German Bundestag or Parliament, voted to cover it under Deutsch public health insurance), the entire discussion of “medical” cannabis is coming under scrutiny. Particularly for domestic use, rather than foreign export.

This is a simmering issue. But it is bound to stay in the room, particularly given the advance of overall cannabis reform across Europe.

In the meantime, it is clear that Portugal is proving to be a stringent port of call for all things medically cannabis related—and far from just a pass-through cultivation or extraction state.

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Fact Check: Is Luxembourg the First European Country to Legalize Cannabis?

Has Luxembourg become the first to legalize cannabis in Europe? Reports are circulating that the country of 600,000 recently became the first country in Europe to legalize the production and consumption of cannabis. However, news of this should be taken with a grain of salt. Despite growing movements for cannabis reform in Europe, many countries […]

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Portugal Delays Recreational Cannabis Bills as Luxembourg Also Signals Delay

These are curious days in Europe on the recreational cannabis question. On one hand, the stated intentions of both Portugal and Luxembourg to establish recreational markets as early as next year and certainly by 2023 has been on the drawing board for the past three years. On the other, as the clock ticks down to the final quarter of 2021, politicians in both countries are suddenly pushing the pause if not long-term delay button.

Luxembourg has the longest track record outside of Holland as a country committed to a recreational market, theoretically by 2023. That said, it is suddenly being reported as of the last week of September that the ruling coalition here is now also considering the delay of the same, citing concerns about the legality of the same given current policies at the EU level. This is a little strange given the fact that the Dutch seem to have no issue with the EU policies as they go about implementing a national recreational infrastructure for the first time. Regardless it also points to a need for at least a fig leaf of legitimacy at a regional level so far missing from the discussion.

Beyond the stalling now seen in Luxembourg, for those who were hoping that at least one country in the EU will commit to a recreational market before the end of the year, Portugal had remained a beacon of hope. Portugal has long had one of the most tolerant drug policies generally because of a reaction against the policies of the late dictator Antonio Salazar which ended four years after his death in 1974.

However, the parliament in Portugal has dragged its feet this year and as of last week, began delaying discussion on a bill, which was supposed to go into effect late this year or early next.

Indeed, the timing of both decisions may have everything to do with the German elections in however backward a manner. Namely, that other countries in the EU on the verge of real reform are now stalling to see what Germany will do.

It appears that as of now, Holland remains the only country in Europe with a recreational market that is now federally regulated, and Switzerland the only sure-fire bet to go forward on a rec trial as of next year.

What Gives in Portugal and Beyond?

There are all sorts of rumors flying about why the sudden slowdown of politicians to engage on the recreational reform question especially given the results of the German election. Beyond this, the Luxembourg discussion is particularly intriguing given the fact that Canopy Growth, according to local media, has just inked a deal to sell medical cannabis to the Luxembourgian government at 100 euros a flower gram. To put this in perspective, the German bid set the price of the same at 2.20 euros a gram as of 2017, dropping to 1.87 with volume sales.

The fact that officials in Luxembourg seem unaware of the same is one problem no matter how closely they have studied the Canadian market. The second of course is that this is highway robbery of a kind not even seen so far in the rest of Europe (even as the German market was opening). The closest comparison in fact to this kind of pricing is only seen in the liquid Dronabinol market in Germany (where prices are still at a shockingly high 100 euros a liquid gram wholesale).

The fact that this outrageous sale is occurring almost simultaneously with the news of a now slowed down schedule for a rec market on the timeline since the last national election is just one more reminder of how political the discussions about forward progress are—and how much the larger public Canadian companies still shape debate if not the speed of progress here.

Indeed, the slower the pace of change, the more of these kind of short term, arbitraged commodity medical plays will occur.

Will Germany Really Drive Rec Reform in Europe?

There are all sorts of speculations afoot these days about not only the shape of the coalition that will guide Germany through the next four years, but the pace of cannabis reform here. If the statements coming out of Berlin are to be believed right now, cannabis reform, even if only decriminalization, but probably something more than that (like rec trials) is clearly on the agenda. This is because it is a clear win politically for all those in the new coalition, whatever that is likely to be.

However, Germany is not necessarily the only if not most powerful driver here. The Dutch are proceeding with the region’s first completely federally regulated recreational market. And of course, just across the border with Germany, Switzerland, while not in the EU, is not likely to slow down with its own plans to launch trials next year.

This alone, beyond the elections will certainly allow local advocates in at least Germany and potentially Austria, both in the DACH trading alliance, to face up to the fact that the momentum may be slightly slowed, but there is no stopping the great green train.

The idea of recreational reform has hit Europe, and while it may hit legal objections at every level (see not only the political yellow lights of late but the decision of the court in Strasbourg against Albert Tió), the horse has left the barn.

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