Cannabis in Europe is currently wildly inconsistent when it comes to legislation, requirements, and even the product itself. However, several EU member countries are opening their minds to the benefits of both medical and recreational cannabis. These potential markets present huge opportunities for cannabis operators to break into Europe.
The future looks bright for European cannabis. With major players such as France, Belgium, and Luxembourg paving the way for other member countries to follow in their footsteps, Europe is well on its way to becoming a cannabis-friendly continent.
Here’s what we know about the current state of cannabis in Europe and where it might be headed.
The Current Climate of Cannabis in Europe
In the United States, each state enacts its own legislation and requirements that govern how the cannabis industry operates. Similarly, in the European Union, each member country has its own opinions and regulations in regard to cannabis. That’s 27 competing, sovereign views across the continent that differ significantly.
For example, in the United Kingdom, medical cannabis has been legal since 2018, but it’s virtually impossible to find a doctor who’ll prescribe it. In fact, a recent survey found that 46% of respondents didn’t even know that medical cannabis was legal! On the other hand, recreational cannabis use is commonplace in countries like the Netherlands. Amsterdam, the Dutch capital, is home to many cannabis cafés — or coffeeshops, as they’re sometimes called — that serve a variety of coffee, tea, and cannabis products.
The EU’s Novel Food Process
Although opinions on cannabis in Europe vary, the European Union’s Novel Food regulations apply to each member country. These regulations are meant to analyze and evaluate foods that weren’t “consumed to a significant degree by humans in the EU before 15 May 1997.” Novel Food products include certain vitamin K supplements, Antarctic krill oil, chia seeds, and UV-treated milk.
In January 2019, the European Food Safety Authority decided to apply the Novel Food classification to CBD products. The authorization process, which regularly takes around two years to complete, is an exhaustive evaluation of a product’s raw ingredients. For this reason, the Novel Food application is usually submitted by the manufacturer, since they have the most detailed product information.
That being said, not all EU member countries enforce the Novel Food regulations equally. Some countries, like Spain and Austria, strictly maintain compliance while other countries act like the regulations don’t exist. However, some member countries seem to be cracking down. The UK, for instance, has issued a March 31, 2021, deadline for products to conform with Novel Food regulations or be pulled from shelves.
Cannabis Licensing & Emerging Markets in the European Union
Although getting licensed as a cannabis operation in Europe isn’t necessarily difficult, the process can be confusing. Some countries have clear but restrictive regulations, while others’ policies are vague and seemingly permissive. At the end of the day, work with a professional familiar with the regulations in the country you’ll be operating in.
CBD products are legal in most European countries, but regulations for recreational cannabis use — and even medical use, to an extent — vary from country to country. Still, there’s a growing acceptance of cannabis in Europe that may inspire more hesitant member countries to get on board.
In particular, the French government recently announced that it would begin a limited medical cannabis “experiment” in the spring. During this trial, up to 3,000 patients will be eligible to participate to receive cannabis in a country where it’s still technically outlawed. Furthermore, due to the prohibition of cultivating high-THC cannabis in France, the products used in the trial will likely be foreign imports.
Luxembourg is another likely emerging market. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed Luxembourg’s rollout of recreational cannabis legislation, the country now has time to remedy any lingering doubts about cannabis. Medical marijuana prescriptions have spiked this year and the recreational demand grows, putting Luxembourg in a position to potentially surpass the Netherlands as the most 420-friendly nation in the EU.
Similarly, neighboring Belgium may soon see a greater demand for recreational cannabis. Due to a legal loophole that allows hemp-derivations to be sold as CBD products, retailers can sell cannabis flowers containing less than 0.2% THC. This anomaly has revealed the powerful monetary benefits of cannabis to the Belgian government and may encourage further legalization of cannabis products.
Recommendations for European Operators
With so much inconsistency across cannabis in Europe, there’s a huge — and daunting — opportunity for operators to come in and solve problems. Particularly, introducing consistently high-quality products that comply with regulations is something that hasn’t been done yet in Europe. Additionally, the traceability of your product is critical; always keep track of everything from seed to shelf.
Although Novel Food applications are tough and country-specific licensing can be confusing, opportunities are growing for cannabis in Europe. Countries like France, Belgium, and Luxembourg present huge potential markets for future European operations.
Is your cannabis operation looking to break into Europe? Reach out to us and schedule a consultation today.