It's official: The marijuana industry is international. Sure, cannabis grows in every country thanks to black-market botanists-turned-capitalists, but there are also sizable and completely legal industries outside of the U.S., like Israel's 10-year-old medical industry. As governments from Germany to Australia to the U.K. are on the verge of legalizing some form of marijuana, the global opportunity is coming into focus.
Brendan Kennedy, the cofounder of Privateer Holdings, which owns various marijuana companies like Marley Natural and Canadian pharmaceutical-grade cannabis producer Tilray, explains how Tilray is already exporting marijuana to countries like Croatia and Australia for use in clinical trials.
"We are in talks with Germany right now," abouta deal to provide medical marijuana in that country, said Kennedy at a panel discussion last week during the Web Summit in Lisbon about medical marijuana in the European Union.
Tilray is not the only company that has an import-export license to send marijuana to other countries. U.K.-based GW Pharmaceuticals, which is extracting CBD from the cannabis plant to make anti-seizure medication that is in the Food and Drug Administration approval pipeline, already has an import-export licenses for marijuana. O.penVape, which is a vaporizer company based in Denver, recently announced a licensing agreement with a Jamaica-based company to grow pot for its vaporizers.
Global drug laws, however, could be a big impediment to global cannabis industry growth. The tide of public opinion has shifted since the height of the international war on drugs, but strict laws are still on the books at the United Nations. In 1961, the United Nations adopted the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, a treaty that aligned 154 countries with the same impossible mission--to rid the world of drugs and drug addiction. The treaty, which is still in effect, requires all countries part of the treaty to "prevent and combat" drugs and drug addicts and to enforce punishment against the unauthorized cultivation, production or possession of opium, coca (and its derivative cocaine), marijuana and other illegal substances.
Despite changing international attitudes towards marijuana and enforcement, the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on the World Drug Problem met this year and decided to keep its prohibitionist policies around drugs to continue the criminalization of all drug use that's not for medical or scientific purposes.
Meanwhile, countries are reforming their policies around marijuana. The Netherlands effectively legalized limited marijuana sale and use 40 years ago. Colombia legalized marijuana for personal use in 1994 and legalized a government-regulated medical market in 2015. Portugal decriminalized all drugs in 2001. Israel legalized medical in 2005. Uruguay legalized nationwide recreational sales in 2014. Croatia legalized medical cannabis use in 2015. Spain and the Czech Republic have some form of legal cannabis or decriminalization. Mexico has decided it will legalize marijuana. Argentina legalized personal use. Chile legalized medical. Canada legalized both medical and is on its way to pass recreational use.
This year, Australia legalized medical marijuana and is in the process of accepting applications for business licenses and Germany is in the process of legalizing medical marijuana country-wide. Last year, Jamaica became the first Caribbean island to legalize medical marijuana and will start what the country is calling "wellness tourism," complete with airport kiosks for travelers to buy cannabis before leaving the airport and entering the country. The United Kingdom is on the verge of legalizing cannabis after the Parliament recommended medical marijuana to be legal. The list goes on.
Tom Angell, cannabis advocacy group the Marijuana Majority, says it is hypocritical of the U.S. to deploy the Drug Enforcement Administration around the world while legalizing marijuana at home. But as a critical mass of states exercise their rights to pass their own laws around marijuana, he says it will be harder to keep the global prohibitionist message.
"The U.S. has historically bullied other nations into maintaining prohibitionist policies," says Angell. "But now that legalization is taking root in our own backyard, it's much harder for American officials to go around the world telling other nations not to move ahead with reform. As a result, legalization in a growing number of U.S. states has created enormous opportunities all across the globe."
Looking ahead, Giadha DeCarcer, CEO and founder of New Frontier Data, says as more U.S. states legalize cannabis, more countries will follow.
"The seismic results of the U.S. legalization initiatives, especially California's, will further accelerate the global debate on cannabis legalization," says DeCarcer. "With Canada expected to legalize adult use in 2017 and a robust debate now emerging in European countries, we expect to see new medical markets and a rich debate on adult use legalization in countries around the world."