Europe as a cannabis centre
Europe is the new frontier for the cultivation, research, and production of cannabis for medical usage. In the last few years, the legal framework of many European Countries has undergone substantial change in this respect. Several governments have understood the potential benefits that medical cannabis can have on patients’ lives and on the economy overall. Consequently, they have adopted friendly approaches towards investors, especially the Mediterranean Countries, which have only recently recovered from the devastating world financial crisis in 2008. Moreover, the favourable climatic conditions for cannabis cultivation in the Mediterranean area, compared with Canada and Northern Europe, has opened the doors to this area to investors from abroad.
With Malta and Italy at the forefront, many other Southern European Countries are currently active in the cannabis market, through the investments made by Canadian and US companies in particular. Greece, with its 11 million people, is taking important steps in cannabis cultivation and the medical use of whole-plant extracts. Since June 2017, it has been possible for doctors to prescribe cannabis medications. In March 2018, the Greek Parliament approved a law authorising the cultivation and production of medical cannabis, prompting the Prime Minister of Greece, Alexis Tsipras to comment enthusiastically: “from now on, the country is turning its page.”
Costas Vamvakas is the owner and managing director of VK PREMIUM Business Consultants Ltd, which is actively involved in facilitating Medical Cannabis investments in Greece. Costas has long-standing experience in guiding, consulting and obtaining funding for businesses from a wide spectrum of industries throughout their development or restructuring phases. Costas is now liaising with investors who intend to expand their business to Greece – from Canada, the US, Dubai, Sweden, and Israel.
DC: How would you describe how you and your staff work with potential investors?
CV: Since many investors come from abroad and experience different realities, the first step is always for us to provide updates on the legislative framework in Greece and on the investment environment, followed by detailed strategic planning for the timely implementation of their investment projects.
DC: What kind of difficulties do investors encounter?
CV: This stage is fundamentally important, especially for investors from non-EU Countries, who have limited experience of the co-existence of national and communitarian regulations and their interplay. However, if things are done properly – and this is exactly the reason why we are here – the process tends to be quick and procedures run smoothly.
DC: What are the next steps?
CV: After the initial orientational steps, we need to identify suitable land for cultivation and operate a series of controls to make sure that everything is in the right place, including property titles, land uses, environmental restrictions, etc. Company structure, shareholders’ participation, management team and representation are key factors that need to be taken into consideration in order to achieve fast licensing and access to structural fund and investment incentive schemes. Then, the crucial step – we help the companies in their licence applications.
DC: What kind of licences are available? And how do you work on these applications?
CV: There are four main types of licences issued by the National Medical Organisation:
- Installation Licence
- Operation Licence
- Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) Licence
- Licence for distribution of medicines
First, we work on environmental studies, facility layout and the processes involved for all the necessary documentation to obtain an Installation Licence. This is followed by the building permit, which gives the green light to start building the facility. Once the business gets this licence and the facility has been built, we help them in their application for an Operation Licence, the GMP Licence and the Licence for product distribution. Note that many of these tasks can be carried out in parallel in order to save time.
DC: Talking about numbers, can you give us an idea of what is going on?
CV: So far more than 40 investment applications have already been submitted. The total amount of investments out of these applications is more than €350 million (~ £305 million). Overall, these are expected to create more than 1500 new jobs. Up to this point, three companies have been granted licences, with the third one being the Israeli company TIKUN OLAM, the largest so far. TIKUN OLAM will be probably the first to build a facility here in Greece in an area of 40,000m2 an investment of approximately €9mil and production may start as early as 2020. There are 3–4 more licences about to be announced over the next couple of weeks.
DC: Cannabis cultivation facilities are usually held indoors, especially in Canada, where climatic conditions are not always ideal. Can you tell us how companies in Greece intend to exploit the favourable weather?
CV: According to legislation, cultivation facilities should be enclosed (greenhouse, indoor). However, they will be different from what we see in Canada in order to take advantage of the beneficial climatic environment. Such facilities will be enclosed but allow the benefit of the weather: in Greece the sun shines for more than 270 days a year, over about 8 months. There are regions in Greece where the average temperature is 16–24C for most of the year, which is ideal for cannabis cultivation.
DC: What can you tell us about medical products?
CV: Products are intended for medical/therapeutic use such as:
- prevention and management of nausea or/and vomiting due to chemotherapeutic agents
- neuropathic pain or cancer pain, persisting for longer than three months, not responding to other therapeutic regimens or interventions or when available therapeutic regimens are not tolerated well or are contraindicated for the specific patient
- products for the treatment of spasticity and pain in patients with multiple sclerosis
DC: Europe is attracting the interest of many companies from the other side of the Atlantic. How are American companies entering the European market and what possibilities are there for European companies?
CV: Canadian and US companies understand that there is a very high potential in Europe and are establishing facilities to access the biggest markets. They are moving fast. These companies have a sound knowledge of how the cannabis business works and can rely on long-standing experience in the field. However, as soon as European companies get a deeper knowhow, they will become more focused and start investing.
DC: Talking about politics, 2019 is a very important year for both Europe and Greece. Do you think that political changes will have some impact on the cannabis market?
CV: Elections are approaching. Citizens are summoned to the ballots to elect the new European Parliament in May 2019. Also, the next General Election in Greece will be held on or before 20 October 2019. The Greece Government has been a very active listener, supporting this kind of business. The opposition wants to attract investments too and is in favour of the medical use of cannabis. Similarly, European Elections are unlikely to affect the cannabis business in a negative way – I don’t think the new EU Parliament will create an unfriendly environment.
DC: Last question, Brexit: what possibilities are there for the UK?
CV: The whole situation is a mystery, and no one can be confident enough about it. I feel that the UK will continue to attract investors and hopefully will find a good framework to do it. I believe that the UK will be a major player in the cannabis market.