TWELVE MONTHS IN MEDICAL CANNABIS
One year on since the inaugural Cannabis Europa in London, the landscape of the European cannabis industry has changed dramatically.
This time 12 months ago, medical cannabis was still illegal in the UK, Belgium, Luxembourg, Portugal and Greece despite growing momentum behind legalisation campaigns.
A Year in Review
On 21st-22nd May 2018, over 400 industry insiders gathered at Europe’s premier medical cannabis conference to discuss the future of medical cannabis in Europe. Patients, doctors, researchers, politicians, policymakers and entrepreneurs from around the world gathered at the Barbican in London to attend the first ever Cannabis Europa.
There were a number of key messages from the event that attendees rallied around. We understood that this issue is urgent as people are suffering whilst politicians drag their feet on cannabis reform; that pioneers in Europe are focusing on medical cannabis instead of adult-use reform; that Israel is trailblazing in terms of clinical trials and innovation in this industry and - most importantly - that change was on the horizon.
In the summer of 2018, the campaigns to legalise medical cannabis in the UK accelerated exponentially, centring around the need of several severely ill children to access life-saving cannabis medicines. On 11th June, just weeks after Charlotte Caldwell spoke at the first Cannabis Europa, 12-year-old Billy Caldwell had his cannabis oil confiscated at Heathrow Airport and his condition immediately deteriorated. After being admitted to Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, the Government came under even more pressure and the Home Office issued an emergency exemption to Billy on 16th June.
On 19th June, Alfie Dingley became the first UK child to be issued a permanent licence and on the same day, Sajid Javid announced that the Home Office would conduct a review into the scheduling of medical cannabis. Following the review, the Government decided to reschedule cannabis and allow prescriptions of cannabis-based medicine, with the law coming into effect on 1st November.
However, the fight for access continues as very few patients in the UK have been given access since the legislation was introduced, due to a lack of clinical research, restrictive guidelines and lack of education on cannabis within the UK medical community, among other factors.
Meanwhile on the continent: the Portuguese parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of legalising cannabis-based medicines in June 2018, coming into effect on 8th February 2019. At the same time, they voted against allowing patients to grow their own plants at home. Products will need a licence from the regulatory body Infarmed.
June 2018 also saw the Luxembourg government unanimously pass a draft law to decriminalise the use of cannabis for patients suffering from a variety of conditions. The law, which came into effect in January means GPs who have undertaken specific training can prescribe cannabis to their patients. In just three months, 120 patients were prescribed 7kg of medical cannabis, moving quickly to meet the need.
Further overseas in Israel, the country’s parliament passed legislation in December legalising the export of medical cannabis. Joining the ranks of the Netherlands and Canada in allowing export, Israel is now poised to be a top-earning global hub in the cannabis market.
In February, Belgian lawmakers voted to lift the ban on the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes. The newly founded Cannabis Office will ensure the state holds a monopoly over legal cultivation, processing, licences, trade and all aspects of the supply chain.
In Germany, medical cannabis has been legal to prescribe since March 2017, but patients have experienced difficulties getting access to the drug due to doctor’s conservatism, prices and pharmacy shortages. That said, progress has been made this past year on licences. Just this week, the German Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM) confirmed the final results of its domestic cultivation application process after the preliminary selections were challenged by another applicant.
On 8th February, Cannabis Europa hosted its first conference in Paris at the Maison de la Chimie. The conference was held on a backdrop of the French National Agency for Medicines and Health Products Safety (ANSM) recommending in December that France implement a medical cannabis regime for specific conditions. Again, Cannabis Europa brought together leading voices from the world of European politics, pharmaceuticals, professional services and industry to discuss developments in France and across Europe.
The Year Ahead
Now, in May 2019, even more conservative nations are changing their tune and stance as new evidence and clinical trials come to light around the safety and efficacy of cannabis-based medicines.
After the ANSM recommendations in France the pressure is now on politicians to change the law. Meanwhile, in Ireland 16 patients (as of February) have been granted special licences to be prescribed medical cannabis, and the Department of Health has committed to reviewing their current programme and proposing a new bill to allow further access.
There have been developments at the multinational level as well. The European Parliament in February passed a resolution calling on the European Commission to define medical cannabis. Whilst 21 countries in the EU now allow cannabis products to be used therapeutically in some form, a plurality of models exist creating a confusing patchwork of legislation. This resolution is thought to represent the first step towards an EU-wide harmonisation of laws on medical cannabis. This would facilitate trade between European nations and likely open up access for patients.
This year, the first European Cannabis Week is set to showcase the key people and companies pushing forward the European industry during the last week of June in London. With Cannabis Europa spearheading the programme on 24-25th June, excitement is widespread among attendees and the European industry alike, with many expecting a similar 12 months of change to follow. Early Bird tickets end next week with a limited number available here.