Earlier this month, Czech Drugs Commissioner Jindřich Vobořil announced his intention to submit draft legislation for an adult cannabis market by the end of the year, hoping that a full-fledged market could be launched by 2024.
The news not only placed the Czech Republic as one of the most exciting European markets to watch over the coming year, but also focused attention on the region and the potential opportunities for cannabis businesses.
If Germany and Czechoslovakia realize their ambitions of launching adult cannabis markets in 2024, neighboring Poland would share a collective 1,300 kilometer border with nations where cannabis is legal.
Although the Polish parliament’s task force for the legalization of cannabis is unlikely to pass legislation, Poland already has one of the largest medical cannabis markets in Europe and earlier this year proceeded legislative changes that should “have a significant impact on the development” of its cannabis market.
Cannabis in Poland
Cannabis for medical use was legalized in Poland in 2017 as a pharmaceutical raw material. In 2018, the first variety was approved, while Sativex, a pharmaceutical THC:CBD oil prescribed in particular in cases of cancer or multiple sclerosis, was registered in the country in 2012.
Until 2017, medical cannabis was only available through targeted import for a single patient.
Despite these changes, strict regulations and a lack of drug reimbursement, with 10 grams of medical cannabis costing between €138 and €149, have prevented the industry from thriving.
The initial ban on domestic cultivation of medical cannabis made Poland entirely dependent on imports, which repeatedly led to supply disruptions, leaving patients without access for months.
Despite this, the market continued to experience rapid growth. The first precise data on the amount of medical cannabis imported into Poland, published in early 2021, showed that imports had fallen from 66 kg in 2019 to 167 kg in the seven months to August 2020.
In November 2021, after several months of shortage, Poland received its largest shipment of 140 kg of flowers from Aurora Europe, which was reportedly consumed in just two weeks.
According to the last European Cannabis Report from Prohibition Partners, in the first nine months of 2021, Polish doctors dispensed 28,076 prescriptions to 9,261 patients, making Poland one of the largest medical cannabis markets in Europe.
Moreover, according to a study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), only 8% of Polish physicians have ever prescribed medical cannabis, with 60% saying they have never received cannabinoid training, although 50% of them say that some of their patients could benefit from cannabinoid therapy.
The guidelines surrounding medical cannabis in Poland are also extremely vague, with “no official guidelines created by medical associations or government agencies to guide clinicians in implementing cannabinoids in their practice”.
Additionally, there is no “list of approved indications, contraindications, or national recommendations to define dosage,” meaning there is no upper limit to the amount of cannabis that may be prescribed to treat an illness.
This has led to a thriving black market, where medical and recreational uses intertwine.
In April 2021, two new bills were submitted to the Sejm, the lower house of the Polish parliament, aiming to create a new regulatory framework for the domestic cultivation of hemp and to liberalize the cultivation and manufacture of medical cannabis in Poland. These two bills were rejected at the beginning of 2022.
Crucially, however, a separate bill was also submitted, and was eventually approved by Poland’s parliament and president, before coming into force on May 7, 2022.
This bill, which amends the law on the fight against drug addiction, authorizes the cultivation and harvesting of “non-fibrous hemp intended for the manufacture of pharmaceutical raw materials”.
This effectively enabled the cultivation and manufacture of medical cannabis, including the harvesting of the plant or resin for the production of pharmaceutical raw materials.
Founder of Polish cannabis strategy and business consulting firm Cannabis Partners, Arek Kuich, told BusinessCann that this development is “extremely important for Polish patients.”
“These changes will have a significant impact on the development of the Polish cannabis market, and in particular the medical cannabis market, and can therefore significantly increase operational capacity and development potential, especially in the field of cannabis distribution. pharmaceutical. »
Poland and hemp
Meanwhile, a second new law saw the level of THC in raw plant material drop from 0.2% to 0.3%, before possibly rising to 1%.
Arek Kuich explains that, while hemp cultivation has been allowed in Poland for some time, its use was limited to “cosmetic, food, textile and agricultural industries”.
Now the list of uses for which it can be grown has been expanded to include land reclamation and reclamation, seeds, food, veterinary care, beekeeping, fertilizers, cellulose and paper, insulation, production of composite materials, building materials and natural phytosanitary products.
“Farmers will be allowed to cultivate fiber hemp and poppy for their own needs on an area of less than one hectare per year. It will also be possible to grow poppy with low morphine content and fiber hemp for your own needs. »
“A higher THC limit of 0.3% allows completely new plant varieties to enter the market. This means crops that are better adapted to the climatic conditions of different regions of Poland. »
“The new regulations will make it easier for Polish companies to carry out activities in the field of cultivation and purchase of poppy seeds and fiber hemp through, among other things, rapid registration, the lifting of the obligation to obtain an annual permit, to the lifting of area, region and time limitations in the certificate issued. »
According to Kombinat Konopny CEO Maciej Kowalski, this should see Poland’s hemp fields return to growth next year after two years of decline that have seen them nearly halve since 2020.