FOLLOWING a packed first day of sessions covering an eclectic and diverse range of topics, the second day narrowed its scope to explore two topics in much more depth, drug policy and its impact on people’s lives, and the investment case for Europe.
The day started with the former, seeing Volteface’s Head of Operations Katya Kowalski discuss the recently launched London decriminalisation trial with the Mayor of Lewisham Damien Egan, and Birkbeck College Lecturer in Law Kojo Koram.
The session began with an explanation of exactly what the decriminalisation trial was and what it hoped to achieve, pointing to the unfortunate ‘conflation and condemnation’ the scheme received from the press and lawmakers alike after it was ‘leaked’ earlier this year, highlighting the need to recognise it as an ‘evidence gathering exercise, not a policy change’.
This was an introduction Mr Egan said he ‘wished was given when the story was leaked’, adding that from his experience knocking on doors and from polling, ‘people quickly support’ the scheme once they understand what it is, but the challenge came as you ‘go up through the political establishment’.
He added that there was still ‘nervousness and timidity among policy makers, but that he was ‘going through this process’ and ‘winning the argument’.
Mr Koram laid bare the wider issue that decriminalisation schemes like this were attempting to tackle.
“Out of all of the different criminalised drugs, cannabis is the one that facilitates contact with the criminal justice system more than any other. And this isn’t something that is just simply hypothetical. This was evidenced by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Report in 2018.”
He added that the backlash against the announcement of the trial was a ‘precursory warning shot of a much broader debate around cannabis legalisation’ and drug policy that is unavoidably coming to the UK in the near future as liberalisation sweeps the rest of the world.
The conference ended with two successive sessions focusing on the societal harms caused by historic cannabis prohibition, with each putting forward bold ideas to help enact change.
The first featured an exclusive interview with American psychologist, neuroscientist and author Dr Carl Hart who posited that the ‘War on Drugs’ had in fact been ‘hugely successful’, arguing that it has not only created countless jobs but had also successfully made ‘people stupid in relation to drugs’.
He encouraged the audience to ‘voice their outrage’ that people continue to be criminalised for taking drugs, and warned against elitism, arguing that while cannabis was becoming more widely accepted in society other drug users continued to be ‘besmirched’.
The session’s host, The Last Prisoner Project’s Managing Director Mary Bailey, then led the final session of the day which saw Fair Trials’ Global CEO Norman Reimer announce the launch of a new Global Cannabis Justice Project, accompanied by a video message from American cannabis rights activist Steve DeAngelo encouraging attendees to pledge their support.
The second day of the conference was also ‘Investors’ Day’, seeing sessions across both stages pull away from the human implications of growing cannabis liberalisation, and dive more deeply into its economic opportunities.
This began with a session on ‘Forecasting the European Market’, which according to Cantor Fitzgerald’s Managing Director Pablo Zuanic is something that cannot accurately be done by modelling the North American market.
“When we think of forecasting markets, like many other people we have learned the hard way that it’s better to think in terms of scenarios, because the three A’s drive the size of the market – accessibility, affordability and assortment.”
Conversation then once again returned to Germany, and the potential size of the market, with the panel agreeing that the widely quoted 400 tonnes per annum was ‘reasonable’, but likely ‘a little shy’.
Bryan, Garnier & Co’s Senior Research Analyst Nikolaas Faes suggested that this figure could in fact be far higher, explaining that if you used the 160-gram-per-user average seen in Canada, Florida and California, it could be more like 950 tonnes per annum, adding that he didn’t ‘see any reason why the average German cannabis consumer would consume only half what their North American counterparts would.’
Memery Crystal’s Senior Partner Nick Davis said that since the first wave of cannabis IPOs last year, some companies have performed well from a business perspective, but ‘stocks are not performing well’ and ‘access to capital is an issue’.
He added that it was ‘ironic’ that ‘undoubtedly the European market will be catered for by the large US listed companies… unless we see capital markets in Europe move quickly’, meaning that European companies will fall behind North America when it comes to capital.
Mr Davis went on to point out that despite the understandable focus on the upcoming German recreational market, ‘medical is continuing to grow week by week, month by month’.
On that thread, Mr Faes said that looking at certain areas in the US and Canada, around 6% of the population currently consume cannabis for medical purposes, compared to 15% for recreational use, meaning there was significant headroom for growth with Germany currently standing at around 0.1%.
Bringing the focus back to Germany’s upcoming recreational market, the panel suggested that a number of countries, including France, were waiting for Germany to lead the way in recreational use, with estimations the EU market could reach 5000 tonnes per annum.
Mr Zuanic concluded the session by suggesting that, with Germany likely having no choice but to import large quantities of cannabis to meet demand, those countries supplying Germany ‘may have to go legal’.
A later panel focused on the European cannabis market from the investors perspective, seeing Navy Capital’s CEO and Founder Sean Stifel caution that the low valuations of multibillion dollar North American MSO’s made it difficult for European companies to attract US investors.
“I think there’s a real issue in the sense that most existing cannabis investors have lost a lot of money in the current market. And so when you come out here, and guys want to raise huge valuations, it’s a little bit of a turn off. And I think it’s going to be very hard to attract American investors, given the dynamics of how cheap America is.
“I would add too that in America, everyone got so excited when Joe Biden won the presidency and the Senate went to the Democrats in the House, but you’ve seen almost no tangible changes. So when you look at things as an investor, it’s very hard to want to make another large bet that’s beholden to one thing the Government does.”
Prohibition Partners’ Industry and Data Analyst Conor O’Brien addressed the conference in the first session of the afternoon, diving into detail on the company’s recently released European Cannabis Report: 7th Edition.
He explained that while 90% of Europe currently has access to medical cannabis ‘in theory’, this figure was far lower in reality due to regulatory hurdles, highlighting the UK as a ‘laggard’ that was ‘rapidly improving’.
Mr O’Brien also revealed some previously unpublished figures regarding medical cannabis growth in the UK, explaining that according to recently release NHS data, around 40,000 patients accessed medical cannabis last year, representing a 750% increase on the year before.