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Europe’s Cannabis-Friendly Hotspots Could Trigger an Economic Shift 

May 8, 2023 08:00 am ET Estimated Read Time: 5 Minutes
Europe’s Cannabis-Friendly Hotspots Could Trigger an Economic Shift 

A new market is starting to flourish in Europe, and it could harvest a rather generous €1.6 billion for the economy. This is the projected figure for Europe’s cannabis market by 2027, based on recent estimates published by Prohibition Partners.

Over the last few years, Europe has become more heavily immersed in the cannabis industry, with countries like Germany, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, and the Netherlands making significant leaps towards a “greener” European landscape. 

These countries have the collective potential to spark economic transformation across the EU, which has been bludgeoned by financial downfalls since the COVID pandemic; GDP sunk 6.3% at the end of 2020. Fortunately, the outlook is no longer so bleak—GDP is forecast to expand by 0.8% this year, and with cannabis in the picture, the outcome could be even better.

The Seeds of Europe’s Adult-use Cannabis Market Are Sprouting

Europe’s recreational cannabis market has overcome major regulatory hurdles in the last few years. In 2021, Luxembourg and Malta legalized home cannabis cultivation for personal use. The following year, the Czech Republic and German governments announced plans to develop a legal framework to establish a regulated market for recreational sales.

This year saw the birth of Switzerland’s adult-use cannabis market—Europe’s first. WEED CARE, a Basel-based pilot project, is one of many pilot trials set to commence across the Western European country. Prohibition Partners’ report pins a €20 million (USD $22 million) valuation on Switzerland’s recreational cannabis sales revenue for 2023, with figures expected to top €102 million ($112 million) by 2027.

In Germany, legal recreational cannabis sales are slated to launch by the end of 2024. Although regulations are still being hashed out for the market, which will see consumers buy their bud from licensed dispensaries, analysts foresee sales reaching €170 million ($187 million) in 2024 before reaching €1 billion ($1.1 billion) by 2027.

On top of this, another controlled cannabis supply chain will roll out across Europe in 2024, but this time in the Netherlands. Insights from PP analysts suggest that €158 million ($174 million) could be raked in during the first official year of sales, increasing to €258 million ($284 million) by 2027. 

Medical Cannabis Sales Predicted to Escalate Across Europe

Outside of the recreational cannabis space in Europe, a medical cannabis industry is also blossoming. Patient numbers are set to climb more than 230% over the next four years, and if PP analysts are correct in their predictions, approximately 427,000 European patients will consume medical cannabis in 2023, inflating to around 1.4 million patients by 2027. 

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Based on the patient growth figures, revenue projections look equally as promising. Europe’s medical cannabis sales are anticipated to reach €516 million ($568 million) in 2023, skyrocketing to €2.1 billion ($2.3 billion) by 2027. While Germany will likely dominate, the United Kingdom is expected to trail closely behind by the end of this year.

The report goes on to say that, between 2023-2027, magnanimous growth wIll likely be observed in Croatia, Denmark, France, and Poland. A medical market already exists in Denmark, where sales swelled from 30.8 million Danish kroner ($7.5 million) five years ago to 64.3 million kroner in 2021 before slipping slightly to 62.5 million kroner last year, representing 102% growth since a four-year pilot proposal kicked off in 2018.

European Cannabis Rules Leave Consumers With Limited Options

A growing list of EU countries have legalized medical marijuana in recent years. Plus, with plenty of pilot projects on the radar, the outlook for broader legalization is bright. Nonetheless, Europe’s approach to cannabis policy is much more conservative than the U.S. or Canada, where the world’s first legal market rolled out four years ago. 

Although cannabis possession is treated as an offense by all EU member states, more than one-third do not allow prison as a penalty for minor offenses. Currently, no national government in Europe backs adult-use cannabis legalization, and prison stints are common for serious offenses, such as possession with intent to supply. 

The good news for advocates is that national parliaments have been on the receiving end of numerous draft laws over the last few years. While they might have been dismissed at a national level, any kind of movement in this area is important for building awareness.

In terms of where consumers are allowed to indulge in the plant socially, there are “cannabis social clubs” (such as those in Spain) and coffee shops (such as those in Amsterdam.) Although coffee shops are licensed by the municipality, around two-thirds of Dutch municipalities forbid them. In 2014, there were 591 coffee shops, but almost one-third have closed since 2000.

With time, Europeans (and tourists) are sure to have more choices in terms of where they can consume cannabis. However, for Europe’s legal cannabis market to reach the ultimate height of success, the illicit market must first be stamped out.

Black market deals steal 38% of the retail market for illicit drugs in the EU. Every year, around 22 million cannabis users spend EUR 9 billion on the drug. Since illegally-bought cannabis is usually not lab-tested for contaminants, user health is at risk.

The strength and success of Europe’s adult-use cannabis market also depend on improved oversight of products, production techniques, and distribution strategies. Governments should also focus on studying the harms and impacts that cannabis may have on public health, especially amid the rise of legal cannabis product developments in the Americas.

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