In May 2016, Germany approved the legalisation of medicinal cannabis. This was a landmark legal development in Europe, as many European countries listed cannabis as a strong narcotic at the time.
Since then, many states in North America have legalised cannabis for both medicinal and recreational use, and European consumers and lawmakers alike were surprised by the legalisation’s financial success.
Nowadays, several European countries, like Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark and Spain, have taken great leaps towards implementing successful cannabis legislations. Additionally, smaller countries took notice and moved towards accepting cannabis as a tool to boost their industry and improve their economy.
Let’s take a look at some small European countries that are preparing for the cannabis boom.
The top six small European countries that are preparing for the cannabis boom
As far as the cannabis industry is concerned, Malta is a small country with huge potential and big ambitions. In March 2018, the southern European island country officially legalised medical cannabis.
According to the Maltese legislation, entities are now allowed to cultivate, import, process, produce and distribute cannabis intended for medical and research purposes, as long as they do so in a controlled and supervised environment and comply with regulations.
The legalisation and regulation of cannabis for research and medicinal purposes should be in favour of cannabis entrepreneurs who are investing in Malta. In addition, the traceability and reporting structures that oversee the Maltese cannabis industry should also help researchers collect data and conduct clinical studies in the field.
Despite its small size, Malta is aiming to become the European capital of medical cannabis. And, as far as legislations go, the country has a fair chance of gaining that title.
Even though Malta is aiming to become the European capital of medical cannabis, Switzerland is quickly establishing itself as a safe haven for European cannabis producers.
Switzerland slightly relaxed its cannabis laws in 2011, and then legalised medical cannabis in 2013. However, getting your hands on medical cannabis in Switzerland is a convoluted process. Patients have to apply to the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) to receive authorisation for medical cannabis. According to the FOPH, almost 3,000 people applied for a cannabis authorisation in 2018 alone.
In June 2019, The Swiss government proposed a bill that would make it easier for patients to access medical marijuana treatments. The new bill would allow doctors to prescribe cannabis as a treatment without the patients having to go to the FOPH for an authorisation. The bill also regulates the growing and processing of medical cannabis.
Despite it being an illegal drug, it’s estimated that up to 200,000 people in Switzerland use cannabis. As such, the Swiss government may allow up to 5,000 people to smoke marijuana legally as part of a pilot study meant to shape the rules for the recreational use of the plant.
But what sets Switzerland apart from other European countries is its current cannabis laws, which are often on the permissive side. Unlike most European states that ban all cannabis-derived products that have a tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentration higher than 0.2%, Swiss legislation allows the production and commercialisation of products containing up to 1 percent of THC.
In addition, cannabidiol (CBD) and legal THC products can be sold at cigarette shops, instead of dispensaries or headshops, making them more accessible to the public.
The relaxed cannabis laws make Switzerland attractive for investors, and many of the leading European CBD producers are based there.
In August 2019, Luxembourg surprised its neighbours by asking them to relax their drug laws. This demand was made by the country’s health minister in a statement announcing the county’s plan to legalise the production and consumption of recreational marijuana.
According to the legislation draft planned by Luxembourg’s cabinet, residents over 18 should be able to legally purchase cannabis for recreational use within two years. The draft legislation is expected to be completed later this year, and it should regulate the production and distribution of cannabis through a state-controlled agency, as well as the types of cannabis allowed and the tax that will be imposed on cannabis products.
Luxembourg’s state minister said that the legislation is going to include a ban that will prohibit home-growing and will likely include a ban that will stop non-residents from buying cannabis.
The small state already legalised medicinal cannabis in 2017, and the current bill is supposed to make cannabis less attractive to young people. All the tax revenues collected from the cannabis industry will be reinvested in drug education programmes and addiction centres.
If the bill becomes law, Luxembourg will join the growing list of states that legalised recreational marijuana — a list that contains Canada, Uruguay, and 11 U.S. states.
Cyprus legalised the use of cannabis oil for medical purposes back in 2017. However, the 2017 law only allowed patients suffering from advanced state cancer to benefit from cannabis treatments.
In February 2019, Cyprus approved a new medical law that legalises the cultivation, production, import, export and distribution of medical cannabis. In addition, the law also stipulates that individuals can now possess and use cannabis for medical purposes.
The current law allows patients suffering from a variety of health conditions to access medicinal cannabis straight from pharmacies if they have a prescription.
According to the Cypriot law, three producers will receive a license during the first 15 years, which should attract experienced companies to invest in this emerging cannabis market. Since Cyprus has ideal climatic conditions for cannabis cultivation, local authorities believe the cannabis industry might produce £204 million (€229 million) per year.
Portugal legalised medical cannabis in 2018. The country’s warm climate, its large agricultural sector and its, now, permissive legislation quickly attracted the attention of experienced cannabis companies from across the pond.
The Portuguese legislation allows the cultivation, growing, distribution and use of medicinal cannabis. However, the Portuguese lawmakers rejected two proposals to legalise the cultivation of cannabis for recreational use, even though Portugal decriminalised drugs more than 20 years ago.
Thanks to its climate and educated workforce, it’s easy to see how Portugal could become an influential player in the emerging European cannabis industry.
6. North Macedonia
North Macedonia legalised cannabis for medicinal use in 2016. As of 2017, there were 28 licensed cannabis growers and producers in North Macedonia, with 15 more companies waiting for their permits.
The 2016 cannabis law allowed the growth, production and distribution of cannabis products for medical use. But the lawmakers in Skopje are now changing the law, allowing growers and producers to export cannabis flowers.
The legal update is aiming to boost the country’s economy. Northern Macedonia is one of the poorest states in Europe, and its agriculture accounts for nearly eight percent of its output and ten percent of its exports.
The legislation change should help the local economy by allowing cannabis farmers to use all the plant’s components — from stems to seeds and flowers — and increase their profits. The new legislation should also encourage foreign investors to expand to northern Macedonia, as the country’s resources are not as expensive as those of other European states.
What the future holds
As more and more European consumers see cannabis as a medicinal tool and not an illegal drug, European governments are taking notice and changing laws to benefit their countries. And, the good thing is, not only large countries can benefit from the cannabis industry.
Thanks to the good yield of the cannabis plant, the scalability of a cannabis operation and the fact that growers can turn all of the plant’s components into profit, cannabis businesses don’t have to worry about making a profit and keeping their operation going. Coupled with the fact that cannabis is now attractive to the pharmaceutical industry, this means that the cannabis boom could benefit small countries as well as large ones.
As most European states are only just preparing to accept cannabis as a good investment, these countries will already have operational frameworks in place, attracting local and foreign investors.