Reflections from Cannabis Europa 2023
Having rapidly garnered a reputation as the UK’s prime summit on the cannabis industry, Cannabis Europa utilises its high-value ticket sales to reel in ambitious entrepreneurs. But with time, it’s become glaringly obvious that not all that glitters is green. Attendees of the conference are now pivoting towards the lessons drawn from traditional markets as solutions to issues faced over the past five years, mirroring the challenges experienced by our Canadian counterparts.
At Cannabis Europa 2023, I probed into key discussions, making connections with an international array of cannabis industry stakeholders. Yet, with the UK market currently limited to patients, with fewer than 20,000 receiving prescriptions, the industry seems like a big pond with only a few fish.
Two Steps Forward, One Step Back: Understanding the Industry's Evolution
In this industry, one could liken progress to a foxtrot dance: two steps forward, one step back. The initial optimism that drew profiteers is fading, as demonstrated by the spate of closures among small-scale cannabis producers in the United States. “Companies are dropping like flies,” warns Sean Stiefel of Navy Capital, prophesying a future dominated by a handful of large companies, with smaller ones beneath them.
Profitability in the industry is not black and white. The illicit market has thrived for decades, suggesting some level of profit. But is it enough to satisfy investors who were sold dreams of generational wealth? Legacy growers have been forced to evolve to keep pace with the modern market. While many have opted to exit, a few stalwarts remain, innovating traditional grow methods and maintaining regulatory compliance necessary for their cannabis products to be fit for a legal market.
Consumers have started to notice their needs are being overshadowed in the scramble for market dominance. This year, Cannabis Europa is focusing on the optimal model of regulation. Consensus leans towards cannabis social clubs, as seen in Spain and increasingly adopted by Malta, the Czech Republic and Germany. These member-led organisations favour experience over profit, cleverly sidestepping United Nations’ conventions on drug misuse.
Consumer Needs and Industry Response: The Shift Towards Cannabis Social Clubs
Conveniently, the UK could legalise cannabis social clubs overnight without the need for new cannabis-specific legislation, thanks to existing allowances in the Misuse of Drugs Act (Section 26).
While the COVID-19 pandemic has had mixed effects on the industry, on the whole, it seems to have improved patient and consumer services, largely due to technological innovations, including mobile devices and apps. This includes remote consultation services and roadside drop-off services, introduced to adhere to social distancing measures.
The Push for Better Policies: Learning from Global Models
Despite these advancements, the cannabis industry still yearns for improved policies and less restrictive access to medical pathways. Boris Moshkovits, co-founder of Aleph Sana, notes, “[Cannabis] needs to be more accessible and less restrictive, more prescribable.”
Learning from Canada’s model is vital. Dr Shane Morris from Morris and Associate Consulting Inc. stresses the need for strong but flexible regulations. However, overregulation risks suffocating budding industries.
A standout comment came from Professor David Nutt, former head of the UK Home Offices Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, who called for a “reassessment” of the MHRA’s regulatory framework. He argues for compassionate access and grant schemes, with robust evidence from clinical trials to further progress.
Statistics from Michael Sodergren of Curaleaf indicate that 40% of recreational consumers have qualifying medical conditions. This year, we’ve seen Brazil’s top ten pharmaceutical companies engaging in medical cannabis research, spurred by Brazil’s national legalisation of medical cannabis. These kinds of studies, although costly (potentially reaching a staggering £1.046 billion), could generate invaluable research on THC.
The Road Ahead: Conclusion and Future Directions
Currently, only Jazz Pharmaceuticals, who acquired GW Pharmaceuticals in 2022 for a hefty £5.8 billion, possesses the resources for such expansive research. As the industry continues to evolve, it will be interesting to watch how it manoeuvres through the dance of progress.
In conclusion, the cannabis industry is in a state of flux and evolution. From the rise and subsequent bursting of the investment bubble to the paradigm shift towards more consumer-centric models, Cannabis Europa 2023 served as a platform to discuss, debate and gain insights into these changes. The industry now appears to be seeking balance, treading the line between profit and patients’ needs, legacy markets and modern regulatory demands, and cautious growth amid an uncertain global context. It’s a pivotal dance of progress that warrants continued observation. The future will be shaped by robust regulations, technological advancements, global collaborations and insightful research, with consumer needs taking centre stage.