By Alastair Moore, co-founder and director of Hanway Associates.
The global image of European cannabis is changing, again.
Back in 2016, there were very few North Americans interested in what was happening this side of the Atlantic. A couple of early movers, including Tilray’s Brendan Kennedy, were in London raising money and engaging policymakers. Researchers, advocacy groups, and activists made up 95% of the legal European ‘cannabis sector’.
When Germany legalised medical cannabis in 2017 something changed. European cannabis, and the commercial opportunities that would come with it, were now a very real possibility. Licences became highly sought after and executives from Canadian companies began flying in for meetings with politicians, regulators, and in some cases army colonels.
The commercial frenzy really picked up in early 2018 with the Aphria acquisition of Nuuvera. The Canadian company was valued for its strategic assets which included a number of licences and partnerships in Europe. Later this same year UK policymakers bowed to public pressure to allow access to cannabis medicines. Now it felt real.
But then 2019 rolled around and things began to get a bit wobbly. Huge amounts of money had been raised by North American operators both privately and on the public markets by this point. The explicit aim of many of these raises was cracking the European market – noted for its vast potential patient populations. Investors were expecting the good news to keep rolling in, and fast.
2020 saw the retreat of a number of large Canadian operators from the continent's medical market, which shifted the power dynamic in the region. Some operators stated their intent to continue to focus on European medical markets, but it is clear that the domestic adult use markets, and fast approaching US opportunities presented more imminent revenues.
But why did this happen? Fundamentally the issue is that the pace of policy implementation was a lot slower than many investors wanted or expected. Differing cultural and political attitudes from those on the other side of the Atlantic are also partly to blame.
What is special about the European medical cannabis ecosystem is that it is uniquely European. It has developed its own regional outlook for how it wants to …