Conor O’Brien, Prohibition Partners
13 May 2021
Medical cannabis is becoming increasingly liberalised across Europe, especially in high-income western countries such as Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and Switzerland. More recently, access has been opening up in France and the UK, with a trial access scheme underway in France and an increasing number of patients obtaining cannabis medication in the UK, as registered by ProjectTwenty21 and the new NHS registry of cannabis patients.
While Spain was among the first countries in Europe to decriminalise the personal use of cannabis, regulations on medical cannabis are trailing behind much of western and central Europe. Outdated laws around access to medical cannabis are still preventing patients from obtaining legal medical products other than a limited set of pharmaceutical cannabinoid products such as Sativex and Epydiolex. This is despite the fact that over 90% of the public support the legalisation of medical cannabis in Spain according to a recent survey by the Center for Sociological Research.
A ground-breaking vote
Today, the committee of the Spanish Congress voted in favour of a proposal filed by the Grupo Parlamentario Vasco (Basque Parliamentary Group), with the support of several groups, including the Observatario España de Cannabis Medicinal (Spanish Medicinal Cannabis Observer). The proposal, which was voted in by a majority of 20 votes in favour versus 14 against, establishes a subcommittee which will investigate the effects of regulated medical cannabis systems in other countries. The stated aims include ‘Giving a voice and listening to experiences of others and to everything that can enrich our own reflection: the legal bases, scientific evidence and technical difficulties for its implementation (of medical cannabis access)’.
The proposal was filed subsequent to a statement by the Spanish government that ‘the decision to create programmes for the use of cannabis for therapeutic purposes in Spain will be taken, where appropriate, weighing the evidence that exists on its effectiveness of therapeutic treatment and the adverse effects of the use of cannabis’.
The new subcommittee has the following formal purposes:
- To analyse the experiences of other governments that have regulated medical cannabis access schemes. This will be completed with the input of foreign government personnel and other experts in the field.
- To produce a report with proposals for the best practices in the control of medical cannabis in Spain. The report will be completed and presented by the subcommittee within six months of the initiation of the project. The report will be appraised by the Health and Consumer Affairs Commission before being sent for further consideration to the Spanish Congress.
A copy of the official proposal is available here, in Spanish.
As such, the creation of the subcommittee represents an important first step in the liberalisation of medical cannabis by the Spanish government. This move could open up the path to medical cannabis access in Spain in the coming years. The country currently remains as the largest country in Europe without some form of medical cannabis access.
Export market already developing
In advance of the opening up of medical cannabis access, the Spanish government has allowed for the production and export of medical cannabis products, which have led to the creation of a relatively active market in the country. Currently, 19 companies are approved to cultivate medical cannabis in the country, with a few companies manufacturing medical cannabis products at commercial scale. Amongst these are some international players, for example Linneo Health, which has exported to Germany in the past; Canifa, owned by Canopy Growth; and Medalchemy, a subsidiary of EMMAC, which was acquired by US giant Curaleaf for €235 million in March of this year.
The legality of personal cultivation and consumption of cannabis has led to the rise of cannabis social clubs in Spain, especially in the province of Catalonia. These social clubs, alongside the black market, plug a hole in the health system left by cannabis prohibition, and are the only option in Spain for thousands of medical cannabis patients wishing to obtain their medicine.
According to the latest statistics, the prevalence of cannabis use in Spain sits at around 10% of the adult population, or just under 4 million adult users each year, many of whom are likely using it for medical purposes. Prohibition Partners estimates that if Spain were to legalise medical cannabis treatment and implement a framework for prescription in 2022, we would expect to see over €60 million in annual sales by 2025, with 1,700 kilograms plus of cannabis flower equivalents used to treat over 30,000 patients in that year alone.
Prohibition Partners will dive more deeply into this topic and more at the upcoming Prohibition Partners Live Conference, taking place on 18-20 May. The third edition of the premium virtual cannabis conference to bring together over 60 speakers and 500 delegates from all corners of the globe in a three-day deep dive into global cannabis transformation. Curaleaf Executive Chairman and Founder Boris Jordan; Professor David Nutt, Director of Neuropsychopharmacology, Imperial College London; and Al Harrington, Former NBA Player & Non-Executive Director, MedMen are among the key speakers.
For more information and to register for tickets for the event, please visit Prohibition Partners LIVE.
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