STEPHEN Murphy, co-founder and CEO of Prohibition Holdings, kicked-off Cannabis Europa 2021 in central London’s Banking Hall yesterday, welcoming delegates from across Europe and North America, Africa, Asia and Australia.
Reflecting back to Cannabis Europa’s inception in 2018 Mr Murphy remarked on the progress the industry has made since then, when few patients had access to medical cannabis.
He added that while the industry should be proud of the fact that thousands of patients now have legal access to cannabis across the UK and Europe it didn’t necessarily paint an accurate picture of the issues still being faced.
“There are only three patients in the UK that have access to medical cannabis through the NHS despite the gargantuan efforts of activists and lobbyists to try and change that.
Envy Of The World
“There are hundreds of thousands that still don’t have access and those that do are struggling to maintain it.
“We’re all enamoured by the prospects of the green-rush, but I think that does a significant dis-service to what we’re trying to do. We are ultimately trying to change society by bringing about acceptance and accessibility to cannabis in Europe,” he said
Highlighting the progress the European Cannabis industry has made over the past few years, with a number of companies topping valuations in the hundreds of millions, Mr Murphy said this was representative of the growing interest from US companies in the European market.
Adding that while it was ‘fantastic’ to see Europe being recognised for its growth potential by US investors, there was a growing concern that some short term investors looking for returns of ‘10x and 20x’.
“Well for those who want that type of return I don’t think European cannabis is for you, I think that’s probably more in crypto.
“What we’re hoping to do in European cannabis is build a global leadership platform model that will be the envy of people around the world.
‘Great European Opportunities’
“The reasoning and rationale behind Cannabis Europa is to bring leaders into the room – leaders in science, policy, business and advocacy – to create a melting pot of ideas and conversations, that will ultimately give rise to how the future unfolds for cannabis in Europe,” he said.
Following Mr Murphy’s introduction to the event, the first panel sought to lay out the vast and varied opportunities presented by the European cannabis market.
Chief among these ‘Great European Opportunities’ was the growing accessibility of the market driven not only by regulatory changes earlier this year, but by the entry of EFTs (exchange-traded funds) focusing specifically on cannabis companies.
Panelist Hector McNeil, head of Hanetf which launched Europe’s first medical cannabis ETF CBDX, said that the European ‘cannabis industry is already a billion dollar industry, just not an official one’.
He added that he expects more ETFs focused on cannabis companies to launch over the next 12 months, meaning wider access for a broader range of investors as they are seen as a much safer investment.
This means that people who aren’t interested or don’t have time to dig deep into the financial risks and opportunities surrounding cannabis companies in Europe, can begin investing with confidence.
Capital Waiting For Growth
Furthermore the industry is yet to see investments from traditional big financial institutions, which despite limiting growth to some extent, means there is a huge opportunity for other investors.
While access to the market has improved, London law firm Memery Crystal’s Senior Partner Nick Davis said the remaining barriers to investment in Europe were ‘hugely frustrating’.
Despite these frustrations, Mr Davis said that there continued to be healthy growth in the number of cannabis companies listing in Europe on either the LSE or Aquis, with around six or eight currently in the works.
He added that if GW Pharma were to list now, it would have likely to have listed in Europe rather than turn to the often more lucrative US market.
“European cannabis projects are better funded in the EU, not the US. Scale is what we’re missing”, he said.
As for next steps, Mr Davis said the route to growth for European cannabis was through increased adoption of medical cannabis usage, suggesting that this will “change public perception” and subsequently “bring more investors”.
Somai Pharmaceuticals’ Michael Sassano echoed this point, but cautioned that the number of medical cannabis users needs to be a “lot higher to draw capital from the sidelines’.
He added that as long as ‘medical cannabis access improves, capital will come’, and that cannabis was not just disrupting the medical industry, but ‘opening up entirely new demographics’.
A succession of panels followed through the day which included two discussions on investment opportunities featuring one-to-one chats with Octopus Venture’s Will Gibbs and Leafy Tunnel‘s Bek Muslimov.
According to Mr Gibbs, cannabis remains one industry which still makes many health professionals ‘blush’, which is keeping many institutional investors away.
However he reiterated that the absence of large institutional investors left huge opportunities for companies like his own.
While Octopus Ventures is yet to invest in cannabis, Mr Gibbs said he was looking closely at areas such as synthetic cannabis, which overcome what he describes as the industry’s biggest barriers, ‘cost and replicability’.
Mr Muslimov said that while there were massive opportunities for cannabis as an alternative medicine for mental health, the European market was still in its infancy.
He drew comparisons with the US and Canada which took some ’16 or 17 years’ from legalising medical usage to becoming the markets they are today.
Cannabis Europa, organised by Prohibition Partners, took place at Central London’s Banking Hall yesterday and Wednesday with a host of leading speakers and attendees.