Stoner Symphony

Cannabis Europa 2024 Day 1 – Europe’s ‘Tipping Point’


This year’s Cannabis Europa London event was abuzz with positive energy following a year of significant developments across the cannabis world. 

Welcoming thousands of delegates from the country’s leading cannabis companies, patient representative groups and politicians, this year’s conference once again heavily focused on the German market, alongside deep dives into Europe’s second largest market, the UK. 

It also saw an expanded roster of speakers, and featured heated debates on cannabis liberalisation from some unlikely guests, as the event sought to welcome voices from outside the cannabis bubble. 

Despite the eclectic range of topics and speakers, one theme remained consistent. The cannabis movement now has some real, efficacious momentum following a period of bleak financial outlook and lacklustre regulatory progress. 

Opening remarks  

Prohibition Partners CEO, Stephen Murphy, set this tone from the outset, looking back on the start of the conference in 2018, just months before medical cannabis was legalised in the UK and the initial ‘green rush’ accelerated into a full frenzy.

With 19 legal markets now open for business and the ‘US on the cusp of rescheduling’, Mr Murphy exclaimed that this was now an ‘exciting time to be in cannabis’.

Yet, pointing to the lessons the industry must learn from its past, he suggested that it was now ‘our collective responsibility to build an industry with morals and a positive legacy’.

“Now the cannabis industry continues to open the door for opinions, attitudes and social debates, beyond cannabis. Not put too much pressure on everybody this morning, but your actions and your decisions have a much larger effect.”

He was quickly followed by Prohibition Partners’ leading analysts, Alex Khourdaji and Lawrence Purkiss, who delved into their recent European Report: 9th Edition, laying the foundation for the dicsussions to follow.

The pair discussed the surprising findings of this report, and after causing some controversy with their findings, they dove into the methodology behind their figures.

This centered around the discrepancies between Germany, which remains 1.7 times larger than the UK market, but the drastically higher consumption rates in the latter.

It was surprising to us that the import numbers are fairly similar on a monthly average basis in the UK (2600kg) and Germany (2700kg).

With around 60,000 patients thought to be prescribed medical cannabis in the UK, their figures suggest that these patients consume around twice that of German patients on average.

Despite growing nearly fourfold in 2023, they suggested that the industry was still only growing as much as the strict regulation would allow. Furthermore, the industry remains hamstrung by the limited number of doctors actively prescribing, suggesting that only 200 out of a possible pool of 80,000 were doing so. This was, however, being mitigated by the growth in telehealth clinics.

UK Growth 

Staying in the UK, a later panel that morning discussed their outlook for the UK’s market and the potential for change with a new government expected to be established next month.

It was the first lively session of the day, seeing panellists and audience members butt heads on the direction of the UK’s booming medical industry.

CEO of Grow Pharma, Pierre Van Weperen, argued that he expected to see 100,000 patients by the end of the year, despite believing that there was no ambition among any of the political parties likely to take power to change the current framework.

“People forget that even if you do change that, we’re working with a crippled healthcare system. You’ll still have a private market.”

However, he suggested that the UK was unique in its skepticism of private healthcare, and argued that he was unconvinced that price was the key factor preventing patients from moving into the medical market, but that it was more about awareness.

He suggested that ‘anything we can do to raise awareness was a good thing’, and that the industry should push to advertise more amid strict marketing limits.

This was challenged by Jorja Healthcare’s Managing Director, Robin Emerson, who believed brands that appeared to appeal to adult-use consumers brought the medical industry into disrepute.

Curaleaf International’s head of UK and Nordics, Jonathan Hodgson, seemed to agree that awareness was the key anchor around the neck of the UK’s growth.

“Market is snowballing, it hasn’t yet reached a tipping point That’s what we have to do better as a sector, find those patients and bring them in, which is hard to do with the regulations, rather than fight over 50,000, 60,000 patients,” he said.

Suggestions from the panel and audience that the industry should band together rather than compete, drew yet more suggestions from the room that few have committed any money to campaigns aiming to raise awareness.

This lively debate came to a head towards the end of the conference, as cannabis advocate and industry veteran Peter Reynolds faced prominent cannabis skeptic Peter Hitchens to discuss the merits (or dangers) of cannabis decriminalisation.

Mr Reynolds began by suggesting the UK has suffered from poor drug policy since 1928, and prohibition not only represented the worst social policy since the war, but also was far more responsible for societal decline than drugs themselves.

Prohibition, he argued, drove money into the hands of criminals and presented more of a danger to children than cannabis itself, but made it clear he did not believe ‘cannabis is harmless’.

“We have all the laws we need to protect people without banning the personal possession of anything… beyond doubt is that the effect of the law is exactly the opposite. The laws against cannabis are the principal cause of its harm to children, because it’s prohibited.”

Mr Hitchens retorted, focusing largely on the apparent correlation between cannabis use and mental health conditions, adding that he was always impressed by the enthusiasm with which Mr Reynolds argued for ‘what has to be the stupidest cause’.

He continued that the reason prohibition didn’t work was because it was not being effectively enforced, to which Mr Reynolds suggested it is because the police had figured out it was a ‘waste of time’.

“It’s because of this prohibition that police don’t have any time to deal with more serious crimes,” Mr Reynolds added.

The pair, unsurprisingly, could not find any common ground regarding the potential health implications of frequent cannabis use. Mr Reynolds argued that these correlations were ‘tenuous at best’, suggested it was statistically far more likely someone is hit by lightning than develop a mental illness due to cannabis.

Meanwhile, Mr Hitchens made comparisons to thalidamide (an argument often levelled by cannabis opponents), suggesting that without rigorous testing, cannabis remained dangerous.

“We are where we were 50 years ago when research came out suggesting that smoking was bad for you. This was very bad for cigarette companies, as it is now for people who attend cannabis conferences.”

While little common ground was found between Mr Hitchens and the rest of the room, one impassioned audience member questioned why he would deny patients potentially life saving treatments.

Mr Hitchens suggested that he was ‘all for medical research’, and that if it could be proven that it has medical benefits, he was in support of it being used as a medicine, adding that he ‘didn’t deny there were possible medical benefits’.

‘Starting pistol for Europe’

Coming off the back of a series of jubilant cannabis events across Europe, the sense of excitement was apparent in numerous panels throughout the day, specifically in regard to the German market.

Following the removal of cannabis from the list of narcotics on April 01, 2024, the panel quickly turned to the huge growth that had been experienced by medical businesses in the market.

420 Pharma’s CEO Thomas Schatton said that since the change, sales had ‘literally doubled’, adding that some pharmacies were so overwhelmed they were forced to close their hotlines.

Thanks to the streamlined prescription process, he revealed that the numerous staff he once hired to handle inventory were no longer needed.

“This is great for the cannabis industry… something that is really changing within society. We have to take this momentum and build a solid fundamental. This is not only a change by law, but change by people’s minds.”

This was mirrored by the CEO of Demecan, Dr. Constantin von der Groeben, who suggested that Germany had now reached a ‘tipping point’.

“I haven’t ever seen it like this in my years of working in the industry. It’s wonderful to be in this business right now, and it wasn’t always.”

As for Demecan, one of only three German companies currently licenced to cultivate cannabis, he added that now cultivation restrictions have been lifted, his company had already applied to BfArM to grow more strains and add variety to its offering.

“I encourage everyone to look into cultivation in Germany, I believe we can compete with the imports.”

Zooming out, industry expert and cannabis lawyer Kai-Friedrich Niermann said that changes could also soon be on the horizon within the European parliament following the establishment of a cannabis policy-focused working group.

“If they have a new legal basis on cannabis policies in the European Union, it will be much easier for every state to legally and safely legalise cannabis without risking infringement procedures by other nations. That is very, very important and that might be a game changer in the EU.”

However, Dirk Heitepriem, President of Germany’s Cannabis Industry Association, suggested that this could take a long time to push through.

“If we thought the German process was lengthy, the EU takes even longer. But I agree with Kai that change is happening.”

Turning to the prospect of Pillar 2 of Germany’s cannabis act, the panel was more skeptical, suggesting that it was unlikely the legislation would be passed before the upcoming elections.

 



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