The timing of the consideration of full adult-use cannabis legislation on the “West Coast” of Europe is sparking a renewed conversation about reform elsewhere in the region—and standards just about everywhere, including Portugal.
There will be, in retrospect, a great deal written about this period—generally and more specifically about cannabis reform in Europe. The pandemic, along with other long bubbling issues like the acceptance of medical efficacy of cannabis, has pushed the entire discussion of cannabis normalization into the front of political debates across national borders throughout the region.
The biggest trigger this summer, besides the now-looming recreational markets in Luxembourg and Switzerland, plus the reorganization of the Dutch market, is absolutely the conversation going on in Portugal at the moment. Namely, the country, which has had the most liberal approach to all drugs across the continent for decades, is finally deciding to regulate and normalize its cannabis industry at a recreational level.
Just the process of decision making, no matter the fate of the bill (although it is widely expected to become law) is going to have a fundamental impact on the entire normalization debate, both near and far from Portugal.
Why is Portugal Different from Luxembourg and Switzerland?
There are several reasons that this development is in fact, the most impactful discussion about recreational reform in Europe so far, no matter how organized the Dutch end up becoming.
Here is why.
The first is that the markets in both Luxembourg and Switzerland are (relatively) small. The former is a country of just over 600,000, so there is unlikely to be a rush to cultivate cannabis that will be impactful anytime soon. In Switzerland, where there is a discussion about limiting recreational products to source from plants grown in the country, the move is likely to stimulate a domestic cultivation market, which has established itself around hemp so far.
However, Switzerland is not in the European Union (EU), and further, anything produced here will be far more expensive than the crops grown in warmer and far less expensive labor markets.
Add to this the burgeoning cannabis cultivation business that has already established itself here—namely to feed the German medical market—and the impact is suddenly highly significant. Firms began cultivation for the same during the summer of 2017 when Tilray decided to ditch the complicated application process aus Deutschland and head for, literally, warmer climates.
Since then, cultivation in Portugal has proceeded while cultivation has stalled in Germany and stuttered in places like Spain and Greece. Indeed, Portugal has become the go-to country for many in the German market looking for medical-grade cannabis. With a recreational market, this production will ramp up dramatically, albeit not all for export and not all of the medical kind.
Indeed, it is Portugal, more than any other country on the continent right now that is primed to be the “next” Holland if not go beyond it.
The Knock-on Effects
As of next year, if the legislation in Portugal becomes law, there will be four recreational markets in Europe in various stages of maturity. That is absolutely going to push the discussion in other places—including Germany—but also in economies even more battered by the pandemic and reliant on tourism. Tax revenue from cannabis tourism and beyond that, economic development in the form of high-tech cultivation and extraction if not manufacturing beyond this, is going to prove a siren’s song few can resist.
However, Portugal’s likely flip will not just affect actual cultivation, but further have a significant, and impactful impact on a brewing conversation in Europe ever since Tilray announced the opening of their multimillion-euro campus. Namely—the standards required for the entire industry in a clearly blended production market.
GACP, Organic and GMP Certification is All Up for Discussion
One of the biggest brewing dustups on the certification side of all this legalization is what certification and processing regulations to impose on a market that is about to not only explode, but also has been exporting to Germany (in particular) when the Dutch and Canadians could not produce enough.
Indeed, many firms in Portugal have begun to tool their cultivation and extraction facilities to serve a GACP (or agricultural rather than GMP or pharmaceutical) production chain. This may sound academic, but the problem begins to show up as soon as firms begin to think about selling product across any EU border (and most certainly into Germany). This has been true already not only about product cultivated in Portugal but also sourced from even further abroad and passed through to a third country.
On top of this, the much broader production market already afoot here will also begin, inevitably, to look at how cannabis should be regulated, beyond the GACP standard. Notably, Portugal is probably the first place where widespread, organic certification may start to take place, starting with the associated regulatory issues around extracts.
No matter what, however, this much is true. Portugal’s flip to recreational at a federal level, will continue to ramp up cannabis legalization and normalization another notch across the EU, Europe and far beyond.