Steeped in history, brimming with mythology, and home to beautiful beaches, rich Mediterranean food, and sights like the Parthenon, Greece is also a country fighting economic fallout, and trying to revive its wounded economy. Could the legal medical cannabis industry be Greece’s ticket back to economic security?
In 2015, Greece missed its payment to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) resulting in a default on a €1.6 billion debt. These issues started decades before with bad structural adjustments made in the 1980’s that resulted in mass inflation, mainly due to the fact that Greece had a generally poorly run economy. Greece lied about its economic status and government deficit amount (which was well above the 3% max limit to enter the Eurozone) in order to gain entrance in 2001.
However, instead of a revived economy due to the single currency, it led to a perceived sense of stability, which led to lower interest rates and increased spending, which without truly attending to its actual issue of a lack of general revenue, led to economic disaster in 2009 and accepting over $350 billion in bailout money. Greece has been struggling since this time to strengthen and rebuild itself, but still faces a long road ahead.
In recent years, as the medical cannabis industry has taken off (and as more countries institute medical programs to substantiate it), entering into this fresh economy has opened new doors of revenue for struggling countries. Africa is a great example of this, and a look toward that region will show multiple countries with recently and quickly changed legislation to support entry into this market. Greece is yet another country following suit in hopes of changing the direction of its own economy.
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Cannabis laws in Greece (for residents)
First, let’s take a look at what Greek law permits in the way of cannabis. According to the Greek Drug Law of 1987, using or possessing drugs in any quantity is punishable by imprisonment. As of 2013, an amendment to this law made it much less severe, allowing for small amounts of personal use with only a five months sentence, and no criminal record so long as the crime isn’t committed again within 5 years (still steep compared to some European countries). Prison sentences are often suspended if the offender enters into the correct treatment program.
Cultivation and supply crimes are illegal for private residents, with supply crimes garnering up to eight years in prison, though this can be reduced in the case of an addict who is part of a supply group. On the other hand, it can be increased to a life sentence if committed by someone who is deemed to have social responsibility, like doctors or politicians. Fines can also be issued to offenders of anywhere from €50,000-500,000.
Being caught growing a small number of plants will usually not get a person in hot water, however, growing a larger number where it is believed there is intent to distribute, will incur much greater penalties. Much like Ireland, Greece allows the sale, possession and purchase of cannabis seeds, but it becomes illegal once the seeds are allowed to germinate and grow.
Cannabis laws for business
Greece legalized medicinal cannabis in 2017, following it up in 2018 with repealing the ban set in place on cultivating cannabis and allowing the production and exportation of cannabis products. As per European law, all cultivation and production must be for plants with less than .2% THC.
There is no guarantee or push for licenses to go to local farmers, with a strong expectation for outside investment. In order for a company to get involved in the cannabis industry in Greece, it requires three licenses total, and the government is more likely to approve companies with already existing verticals that can support all stages of cultivation, production, and processing. The three licensing arms of the government are the Ministry of Economy and Development, the Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of Rural Development and Food. The licensing process goes as follows:
– Installation License: This is the first license, and can be granted once a business (if from abroad) creates a Greek company that can buy or lease the land to set up its operation. This license is necessary in order to start building a facility. Some of the stipulations involved in choosing a piece of land to build an operation involve the following:
- It must be an appropriate distance to a power supply
- It must be an appropriate distance away from schools
- It must be an appropriate distance to adequate access to water
- The area must be a single space of at least four acres
- All safety and security requirements must be followed
- Applicants with felonies (or who employ those with felonies) will not be approved (along with some misdemeanors)
- Permission can only be granted for where land use regulation permits
– Operations License: This is the second license, and can be granted upon the completion of a facility.
– Medical License: This is the third license, and can be granted with the approval of a product and which allows for the sale of products in Europe. This does not stop enterprises from being required to provide local authorizations per country in accordance with individual member state regulation.
As of August 2019, Greece had approved 26 licenses for companies to grow medicinal cannabis.
Medical marijuana recovery?
In June of 2017 Greece approved medical cannabis. At the time, Stergios Pitsiorlas, the deputy economy minister stated “There is huge interest, mainly from Canada and Israel … some of them (potential investors) are huge.”
In March of 2018, Greece legalized the cultivation and production of cannabis products for medicinal use, and very quickly started receiving licensing applications. The first 14 licenses given out were expected to create 750+ jobs and bring in about €185+ million.
As per the Greek City Times, the first two licenses to be given out in late 2018, went to BioProCann SA, and Biomecann SA, which together hold 57 acres of land and are hoping to account for 117 new jobs combined. Both of these are international companies which each involve Greek investors along with other participants. A third company, Cannatec Greece, was also slated to begin production by the end of 2019 with a €255 million investment, according to its general director. Yet another one, Ohio company Devcann, is throwing down €12 million for its industrial cannabis operation.
These are just some of the examples of the money that is starting to flow into Greece with its entrance into the legal cannabis industry. It’s very possible that this year’s Coronavirus situation might have slowed down the plans of some of these enterprises, but as things return to normal, it can be expected that they’ll be up and producing very soon, along with numerous other companies which have already received licensing.
Greece certainly isn’t the most liberal country when it comes to marijuana. It is better than a lot though – even in Europe, and with its institution of a medical cannabis program, for both patient use and private production, it has entered itself into the newly minted medical cannabis industry, while providing patients with a necessary medicine.
Greece could definitely use some help on the economic front, and it could be that with the help of this new revenue source, Greece might finally be able to pull itself out of the financial mess its been in for decades.
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