When Health Minister Simon Harris recently signed legislation to allow for the operation of the Medical Cannabis Access Programme on a five-year pilot basis, he opened the door wider for an emerging sector which has significant potential to create jobs and a new revenue stream for the Government’s coffers.
The programme has taken two years to establish, mainly due to difficulties in sourcing a suitable supplier of cannabis with the required quality assurances for export into Ireland.
While this outside supplier will cater to the immediate needs of the sector, the legislation does allow for potential local producers to apply to have their cannabis products assessed for suitability.
Mr Harris said he has a “very open mind” about Ireland producing its own supply of cannabis and that “my gut feeling is it should”.
Given that no medical cannabis products are currently available in the country, prospective suppliers can apply to the Health Product Regulatory Authority to have a product considered for inclusion in the schedule of “specified controlled drugs”.
Earlier this year, Minister of State for Natural Resources Séan Canney confirmed that he met with Bord na Móna management to discuss the company’s proposal to grow medicinal cannabis on its vast bogland across the Midlands.
While the proposal is in the early stages of development, it fits in with the company’s efforts to decarbonise as part of a climate change transition.
Bord na Móna is making a significant contribution in the area of national land use change.
It has already rehabilitated 15,000 hectares of bog, with an additional 20,000 hectares by 2025.
As part of its focus on creating jobs and new opportunities through renewables, resource recovery, and new sustainable businesses, the company is conducting a number of feasibility projects regarding the development of new low-carbon goods and services in the area of aquaculture and medicinal herb cultivation.
With over 80,000 hectares available, the potential is there to create hundreds of new jobs as the company transitions from a “brown to green” enterprise.
“Bord na Móna has been exploring the idea of growing medicinal cannabis under license, which could lead to a new industry supplying not only to the local Irish market but also with significant export potential. If we are to have a use for it here, then providing our own supply and being in control of what we are doing is the way to go. We might then be able to focus on supplying it to other parts of the world,” the minister said.
The global medical marijuana market is forecast to reach almost $150bn (€137bn) by 2026, according to a new report by reserach firm Reports and Data.
Already used for treating chronic pain for a number of conditions including cancer and multiple sclerosis, the application of the product continues to grow.
North America dominates the market of medical marijuana with 30 US states having so far permitted its application. With a rise in the volume of clinical trials and scientific studies, the demand for cannabis for clinical use is forecast to grow.
There has seen an upsurge in product derivatives such as oils, tinctures, resins, and vapourisers.
Hemp oil is, in particular, high demand within the medical sector and is forecast to grow with the highest compound annual growth rate of 27%.
During 2018, investors ploughed $10bn into the North American legal marijuana industry, double that of previous years, and is expected to increase to over $16bn by the end of this year.
The industry employs an estimated 250,000 people across the US, with tax revenue generated swelling many states’ coffers, and helping to pay for road infrastructure, schools, and local government.
Given the size of the populations, the amount of new tax revenue to be raised appears not to be huge, however.
Michigan, where recreational cannabis will be taxed at 10%, has estimated it will generate almost $740m in additional tax revenue in the first four years after legalisation.
Colorado and Washington, which were the first two states to legalise, collected $250m and $320m respectively in cannabis-related taxes and fees in 2017.
According to the Davos World Economic Forum, Europe’s medical cannabis market could double in size in 2019.
The European cannabis market’s value soared last year, with €500m invested mainly in distribution and cultivation licenses.
According to the report, many combined European countries are now forecaste to become the world’s largest federally regulated medical cannabis market over the next five years.
“Europe is seeing a fast-paced wave of regulatory and legislative change. Throughout 2018, a swathe of European countries introduced, reviewed or announced future legislation to advance the legal cannabis agenda,” says the Davos report.
Europe’s cannabis market is estimated to be worth up to €123bn by 2028.
With a population of more than double that of the US and Canada combined, the industry has grown more in the last year than in the previous six years.
France, the UK, and Spain are reviewing current legislation, while Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands – countries considered industry leaders – are focusing on expanding existing medical programmes.
A recent survey, The European Cannabis Report, says “the market is primed and ready for harvest – one that could be worth as much as €123bn by 2028.”
Cannabis investments in the US and Canada quadrupled in 2018, catching the eyes of European policymakers.
“Simply stated, good buds brings good money — and while Europeans do not expect a similar regulated recreational market as those in some states in the US and throughout the entirety of Canada, in the immediate future, policymakers and businesses do anticipate substantial growth in the medical area,” says the report.
Private investment group European Cannabis Holdings, which specialises in cannabis-based therapy and prescription cannabinoids, is establishing a network of specialist clinics in the UK, and possibly Ireland.
Its chief executive, Dublin native Rob Reid, believes a tipping point has been reached.
“At a European Union-wide level there are now more countries who have legalised cannabis for medical use than have not. European governments and their legislative arms are becoming increasingly pro-cannabis, and this is down to growing public support for legalisation and the ensuing commercial and social benefits,” Mr Reid said.
For European investors, the company believes cannabis represents an opportunity to create long-term value in an emerging asset class and tap into a fresh source of diversification.
“As investors grow increasingly disenchanted with many of the maturing industries, particularly in resources, cannabis is being recognised as a true growth-orientated area with huge potential to disrupt the status quo across a range of sectors, including pharmaceuticals, healthcare, and materials,” he said.