Cannabis for Disease Treatment: Experience of Legalization in the European Countries
In the modern world, hemp as a medication has been legalized in many countries, including the European states. Currently the use of cannabis for medical purposes is allowed in Austria, Italy, Denmark, Poland, North Macedonia, Finland, Switzerland.
And in Belgium, Germany, Spain, Norway, the Netherlands and some other countries, it is partially allowed, i.e. with certain restrictions on growing, storage, marketing or consumption. However, the partial authorization does not prevent the use of cannabis for treatment, which is why it can also be found there in the form of special medication in the pharmacies.
It is expected that by 2025, the European medical cannabis market will be valued at more than $800 million. Analyzing the experience of some of these countries will help to understand the prospects for the legalization of medical cannabis in Ukraine.
Legal use of cannabis-based medication in Italy has been allowed since 2013. The plant, its oil, extracts or tinctures can be bought in pharmacies or special coffee shops, but they should contain not more than 0.5% THC (the main psychoactive component). Medicines with a THC content of more than 0.5% can only be purchased with a doctor's prescription.
Several years ago, there was a rapid growth in demand for this product in Italy. Thus, in 2018, residents purchased 578 kg of medical hemp, and in 2019 the volume comprised almost 900 kg. With such numbers, Italy ranks second in Europe.
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The vast majority of the inflorescences was imported into the country from the Netherlands. Medical cannabis is supplied to Italy by Bedrocan. In 2018, the Canadian company Aurora Cannabis won the tender for the import of 100 kg of raw materials. Italy itself produces up to 150 kg of the substance. It is grown only in one place - Florence. However, only the Ministry of Defense has the right to such internal proceedings.
Cannabinoid treatment is supported on the state level: in most regions of Italy, legislation provides a compensation for the purchase of cannabis by a prescription.
The German government legalized medical cannabis in 2017. Germany is considered a country with partial legalization, since there are a number of restrictions on the use, storage and cultivation of this plant. For example, individuals are prohibited from growing hemp. It can be freely purchased at a pharmacy or special store, but absence of doctor's prescription allows you to buy only a product with less than 0.2% THC level.
Germany ranks first in Europe as the country with the highest consumption of medical cannabis. In 2018, it imported about 3 tons of medicinal cannabis inflorescences, and in 2019 this figure more than doubled.
The main importers are Canada and the Netherlands. Products from Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Israel, Uruguay and several other countries are also supplied to the market.
Since the end of 2019, Germany has been organizing its own production, since such impressive volumes of imports do not cover the existing demand. The process is delayed due to the fact that the German regulatory authorities set very strict requirements for the selection of local producers. Nevertheless, within the next four years, the country is aiming to harvest 10 tons of inflorescences.
The Czech Republic
In the Czech Republic, same as in Italy, medical cannabis was legalized in 2013. However, the issue of making amendments to the legislation has been discussed in the country for a long time. This involved the licensing process for the cultivation and export of medical cannabis to meet the growing demand.
The variety of the plant that was produced in the Czech Republic was no different from the one imported from the Netherlands. Drugs based on this type of cannabis were prescribed mainly for cancer patients to weaken the effects of chemotherapy and reduce pain.
The lack of alternative types of medical cannabis on the market that could be more effective in treating other diseases prevented a certain part of the population from receiving the necessary treatment. That is why in the spring of 2020, the government approved a bill to issue licenses for the cultivation and export of medicinal cannabis.
It is expected that this decision will foster the growth in the range of medical cannabis in the country and competition between manufacturing companies, causing a drop in prices and making the medication more affordable. Additionally, the Czech Republic subsidizes its citizens with up to 90% of the cost of cannabinoid medications.
During the first few years after legalization, the countries reviewed in the article achieved approximately same results.
Thus, the legalization of cannabis has sparked a surge in demand among patients. A much larger number of doctors began to prescribe such medication.
In addition, countries are actively developing opportunities for local production and further export of medical cannabis. This will help a large number of seriously ill patients, meeting the internal needs of the market, as well as attract significant cash inflows to the state budget.
More details about foreign experience in legalizing medical cannabis will be discussed on May 13 at Medical Cannabis Kyiv Conference. Learn more about event program here >>>