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Cannabis regulation trends in Greece
The advocacy for the legalization of cannabis and cannabis-derived products has spread widely throughout the world, triggering various supportive policies that have expanded cannabis production beyond its historic roots. Currently, there are a number of programs backing legislation for legal cannabis production in Malawi, Greece, and the United States. Just as in Israel and some African nations, the initial ban on cannabis production in Greece is laced with elements of religious and cultural bias. As the global demand for cannabis skyrockets and the CBD industry expands on all fronts, countries are forced to review the existing restrictive ban on cannabis products, at least for economic purposes.
Cannabis use in Greece was originally banned in the 1890s based on the Greek government’s directive associating hashish with the Ottoman East. Culturally motivated, this ban was implemented to distance Greece’s ruling class from the Ottoman East’s westernization drive. The legal framework protecting the provisions of this ban was weak and, as such, could not deter locals from cannabis use in any form. Up until the 1913 Balkan wars, cannabis use was popular among the locals and Greek soldiers regardless of its illegal status. The Greek Drug Law of 1987 prescribed a definitive ban on all aspects of cannabis use and production. Over the decades, different advocacy groups had championed a drive for stricter measures on cannabis use.
The provisions guiding cannabis in Greece had changed consistently until 2013, when a definite law was enacted to regulate the cultivation and use of cannabis plants for medical purposes. Partially decriminalizing hemp, Greek Law No. 4139/2013 offered a progressive view on cannabis regulation contrary to the culturally motivated ban of the 1890s. Provisions of the new rule prescribed a jail term not more than five months for violators. Subsequently, cannabis proved useful by research inquiries in different parts of the world for managing chronic human ailments. Local commentators advocated for the relaxation of the existing cannabis rules in a bid to further strengthen the thriving Greek medical industry with useful cannabis-derived medications.
The cannabis reform led to the amendment of Greek Law No. 4139/2013. In 2018, Greece’s Parliament passed a law authorizing the domestic production of cannabis for medical purposes by drawing many references from the exploding cannabis market in Europe. Greek Law 4523/2018 expanded the existing legislation and provided exemptions for the cultivation, possession, transportation, storage, and supply of cannabis products. Under this new provision, companies can be granted requisite operation permits by the Greek National Medicine Agency (EEA) to install medical cannabis processing plants for the sole purpose of supplying the state monopoly or the Greek cannabis export chain. From a broad perspective, the new Greek law on medical cannabis is stricter compared with those obtainable in Europe as the THC maximum content of legal industrial hemp is pegged at 0.2 percent.
Current issues affecting Greek cannabis regulations
Since the 2018 amendment allowing the cultivation of medical cannabis, the Greek government has granted authorization to different companies interested in Greece’s medical cannabis business. In just five years, the country’s cannabis industry has grown by impressive leaps, with foreign investment injections from Germany, Canada, Israel, France, and Russia. Despite the growth and regulations, hemp cultivation in Greece still currently faces many difficulties, ranging from police arrests to ambiguous legislation due to misinterpretation of the law. Current issues facing Greek hemp includes:
- Strict THC limit in hemp production
The 2018 regulation describes legally backed hemp as an industrial variation of the cannabis plant with a THC level not exceeding 0.2 percent. This measure is stricter compared to the global standard of 0.3 percent THC limit in Canada and the United States. Cannabis companies and investors are calling for the adoption of the global standard in hemp quality compliance rules. Greece’s climate tops record-high values in some growing seasons and can significantly increase hemp’s THC content. Lawmakers are considering a review of the provision of the 2018 law on hemp’s THC content. There are talks between the private investors and the Greek State for the enactment of a new policy authorizing an increased THC level in hemp up to 6 percent.
- Certification of cannabis products of Greek origin
Product analysis of the Greek cannabis market reveals various brands of cannabis products saturating the market on all fronts. The market is flooded with imported products as locally produced hemp food products are not officially recognized by the state authorities. Greek’s black market thrives on this single basis as the illegal market survives on locally produced substandard products. Investors are currently lobbying policymakers for a review of the law guiding product approval and official recognition of locally produced cannabis-derived products.
- Barriers to entry into the market
As a budding market with impressive potentials, entry into the Greek cannabis market is not as easy as in other climes. The licensing procedure involves a two-stage approach –getting a five-year installation license prior to committing any funds and then a ten-year operation license on completion of the production facility. The final decision to grant a license permit is jointly made by the Ministers of Finance, Rural Development and Food, Development and Investments, and Health.
In addition to the licenses, investors are required to obtain a production license and a three-year authorization from the Greek National Organization for Medicines. The validity of these licenses is subject to reviews from the concerned authorities, and renewal is not automatic in all cases. Potential investors will have to endure the long red tape and maintain a strict level of compliance. These barriers are considered unfavorable for a market at its nascent stage of development.
- Farmers and shop owner prosecution
There are continuous reports of police brutality and farmers’ prosecution in the Greek cannabis market. The current legislation guiding cannabis production and possession has many grey areas with ambiguous regulations on CBD products and THC food products. In July 2018, Greece’s police announced a crackdown on a supposedly illegal cannabis plantation with over 10,500 seedlings in Kurdistan in Northern Greece. During the trial, the plantation was ruled legal in all merits as proper documentation and licensing were obtained by the owner. There have been other reported cases of similar brutality and police harassment.
The Greek cannabis market is at a transition stage with different advocacy groups calling for more reviews to the existing regulations. More reviews are expected as the market rapidly evolves.