High Hopes for Marijuana Grow in Greece

(AP Photo/John Locher, File)

Smelling big revenues, Greece has issued two licenses to private companies to grow cannabis – marijuana – for medical use with another 12 set to be issued in January for growing and producing the crop.

Slowly coming out of a more than 8 ½-year-long economic and austerity crisis, the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who came out of a rebellious university past, pushed the licensing to bring in revenues but hasn’t gone as far yet as allowing the wholesale use or selling of the commodity.

After demonizing marijuana, fining and jailing people for its use, more countries now are turning toward the weed, as it’s called, because it’s seen as a lucrative source of more money, one of the reasons Greece has finally okayed it for medical purposes.

With a far-left government and a youthful population known for disdaining the law, Greece is seen by companies investing in marijuana’s future as the perfect place to cultivate customers too.

“It’s the European California,” James Ickes, Managing partner for Devcann, an Ohio-based company that is investing €12 million ($13.7 million) to cultivate, process and export medical and industrial cannabis in the country told The Wall Street Journal.

“Greece is a pioneer, as it’s one of the few countries that offers the opportunity to export, and the location is great: a pathway to Europe and the Middle East,” Ickes said.

While still not legal for general use you don’t have to go far to find people using or selling it, particularly in the anarchist stronghold of Exarchia where parties abound with so much being used it looks like a take-out from a Cheech and Chong movie and supporters would like to see legal sale and use as in some states in the US.

Greece legalized cannabis for medical use in 2017 and lifted a ban on growing and producing it in 2018. Medical-cannabis use is currently allowed in nine countries in Europe, but more are considering following suit.

The Athens Cannabis Expo is being held Jan. 11-13 with the intent, the organizers said, to inform about the productions and innovations in medical, pharmaceutical and industrial use of marijuana and the newly-formed Hellenic Cannabis Association will meet reporters.

The first licenses are expected to produce 185 million euros ($211.87 million) in initial investments and soar to as much as one billion euros ($1.15 billion) in three years, Greek government officials have said.

Nikos Karanikas, who is coordinating the government’s cannabis-industry plan, said at least 10 more companies, mainly from Canada and Israel, are looking to invest 10-100 million euros ($11.45-$114.5 million) each in the sector, looking to target exports to bigger and wealthier markets such as Germany, the Journal said.

Southern European countries such as Greece, with lots of sunshine and mild weathers, are breeding grounds for marijuana and could become a European Union hub for the product, the paper said, especially with cheap labor with the regional market seen exceeding 50 billion euros ($57.26 billion) in annual sales despite restrictions how it’s used.

The first licensed cannabis nurseries will be in Larisa in central Greece and in Corinth in the Peloponnese with the first licensed products expected to hit the market in 12-18 months, Reuters reported in November, 2018.

Deputy Economy Minister Stergios Pitsiorlas said there was “huge interest” from investors in Canada and Israel to get this export-oriented project off the ground. With a market worth billions, Greece’s 14 licences are expected to create more than 750 jobs.

In addition to the economic benefits, cannabis will be used to treat a range of serious medical conditions of the Greek population, the government said in explaining why it moved to open the marijuana market if only for medical use for now.

Thousands of patients in Greece are thought to use cannabis for a range of serious medical conditions, though authorities don’t have precise figures, the report said.

Under Greece’s licensing system, medicinal cannabis products would be available on prescription from chemists but not covered by the state health insurance plans, Health Minister Andreas Xanthos said earlier.