Medical Marijuana Finds a Surprising New Promised Land

Medical Marijuana Finds a Surprising New Promised Land

Why you should care

Because good bud is good business.

With medical marijuana now approved in more than half of the United States, the movement seems destined to keep picking up momentum. It’s a dream for anyone — producer, distributor, investor — who stands to make a buck in the industry, thanks to the sheer size of the potential market, estimated to hit $30 billion by 2021, according to GreenWave Advisors, a financial research and analysis firm. But maybe more visionary business types should be looking overseas.

With a potential value of more than $40 billion, Europe’s medical marijuana market could become the world’s largest in the next five years.

That’s according to the European Cannabis Report, a study by pro-legalization consultancy Prohibition Partners, which details the steps countries have taken to lay the groundwork for a massively lucrative market. Burgeoning research, progressive legislation and shifting social attitudes have combined to bring the prospect of legal cannabis closer to reality. “This time last year,” says Stephen Murphy, co-founder of Prohibition Partners, “there was no real industry in Europe.”

Now, according to Murphy, experimental labs, production houses and testing facilities have sprung up in more than a dozen countries. Those developments have been accompanied by major legislative changes. In the past six months alone, medical marijuana became legal in Greece and Poland, while Germany — a major market on its own — loosened up its laws earlier this year. Depending on exactly how you define it, the drug is now available for medical purposes in around a dozen countries.

A broad consensus is starting to emerge that this is a legitimate medicine.

Gavin Sathianathan, CEO, Forma Holdings

There’s a catch, though: That $40 billion figure depends on every other European country jumping on the bandwagon, as well as devising effective legal and regulatory mechanisms that would maximize the potential of the continental market. And that’s where things get sticky (no pun intended).

With separate legislative agendas, coupled with political instability in some countries, it’s no surprise that governments aren’t all on the same page when it comes to the urgency of the issue. Some bureaucratic help from Brussels, however, would go a long way. “While it’s on track to become the biggest cannabis market in the world, it’s hampered by a lack of an EU directive,” Murphy says. Such an order would effectively enforce the application of sweeping, uniform regulations that would govern the market.

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A selection of joints in a cannabis club in Barcelona, Spain.

Source David Ramos/Getty

But while getting more than two dozen bureaucracies to work together may not be easy, there’s perhaps one less concern than usual to worry about: selling the idea to the general public. That’s because pot isn’t as divisive an issue as it might seem, experts say. According to Gavin Sathianathan, CEO of Forma Holdings, a cannabis holding company, social attitudes toward the drug are rapidly shifting in favor of legalization. “A broad consensus is starting to emerge that this is a legitimate medicine,” he says, “and that there’s a compassionate requirement upon society to legalize and regulate this medicine.”

It’s still difficult to tell just how long it’ll take for the wave to fully wash over the continent. Sathianathan, for one, likens it to chopping down a tree: “You keep chipping away, and then, suddenly — bang, it happens.”

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