The cannabis situation in 2020, globally and in Macedonia

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The act of cannabis legalization itself leads to specific shifts.

According to the latest research in Canada and several US states (Colorado and Oregon), there has been a decrease in cannabis use among the young population, somewhere as low as a 50% drop. However, what is interesting is that the number of cannabis users among the older population is increasing, among individuals belonging to the age range from 45 to 80 (even older).

Leading cannabis markets, USA, Canada and Europe

The year 2020 seems quite promising in terms of cannabis legalization and decriminalization processes. Last year, 2019, the global turnover amounted to 15 billion US dollars (for medical and recreational use), while in terms of number of employees, the figure is around 200,000 people directly engaged in this sector.

In the USA, the number of states with positive legislation framework on cannabis use is the following: recreational use is allowed in 12+1 federal states, cannabis production for medical purposes is allowed in 39 states, while 48 states allow the sale of CBD products (meaning only two federal states in the USA have prohibited sale and production of cannabis products). This places the USA on the top globally, particularly due to the fact that only their market amounts to 13 billion dollars. Regarding the separate markets of each state individually, it is important to note the fact that the best economic parameters can be still perceived in Colorado (the pioneer state in the legalization of recreational use), where the total turnover for 2019 reached amazing 1.75 billion dollars. Unfortunately, Colorado will not be able to maintain this position for too long due to the fact that California, where the population is 7 times larger, and consequently the absorption power as well, is dangerously drawing near. In 2020, four more states are expected to legalize recreational cannabis use.

Second on the list is Canada, the first state from the G7 to completely legalize recreational and medical use of cannabis throughout its entire territory on October 17, 2018. According to the official data for 2018, Canadians spent around 1.6 billion dollars on legal cannabis, with 2020 projections proposing that the Canadian market could be worth around 3.2 billion dollars, while the maximum value of the market is estimated to be 8 billion dollars, which should be reached at the end of this decade. In terms of the economic success of individual provinces, we should mention Alberta 2 as the champion regarding financial and employee turnover, while Ontario and British Columbia recorded the lowest results.

Uruguay also belongs on the list as a pioneer state in cannabis legalization, on a global level (starting from 2013), however the business model this state is enforcing is completely different from the two mentioned previously (USA and Canada).

Australia made an important step in this sector, i.e. one of its eight territorial units, Canberra, which adopted a positive legal framework on cannabis use enforced from January 31, 2020. However, only practice can tell if their legal solution would lead to cannabis decriminalization and legalization.

The situation in Europe remains unchanged. European states allow the legal production and use only of products containing CBD (oils, cosmetic products, confectionary etc.). In terms of cannabis consumption, all these liberal states opt on decriminalization since legalization remains a much too bold and risky step for them.

On EU level, on the other hand, there is a very negative trend regarding hemp products. EU legal regulation treats hemp and hemp products as Novel Food or Designer Food, a group of food products which include GMO products and are produced with certain bio-engineering processes, which seems as a highly odd and unethical move.

International legal framework on cannabis

The meeting held in Vienna, Austria, this winter (February 2020), gathered all representatives of member states of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (UN-CND), during which they received the cannabis scheduling recommendations of the Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) within the World Health Organization, a document previously announced for December 2019. At this year’s meeting of the UN-CND there were expectations for reviewing the possibility for releasing cannabis from the chains of the international conventions, which, however, did not happen, just as it did not happen in March 2019. The yet another postponement could be explained with the fact that there was a certain delay in the delivery of the working materials by the ECDD to the UN-CND, which was exactly why the entire process was rescheduled for the end of 2020. This could provide member states with additional time for rethinking (or lobbying?!?). In its report, the ECDD recommends several changes on how cannabis is scheduled, which could have significant implications on the cannabis industry:

• The scheduling of cannabis in international conventions on drug control would be less restrictive than currently since cannabis is going to be deleted from Schedule 4 of the 1961 Convention, from the category reserved for the most dangerous substances;

• THC in all its forms is going to be removed from the 1971 Convention and placed in Schedule 1 of the 1961 Convention, which would significantly simplify cannabis classification;

• Pure CBD preparations and CBD products containing no more than 0.2% THC would not be included in any way in international conventions on drug control;

• Pharmaceutical preparations containing 9-THC, if they abide by certain criteria, would be added to Schedule 3 of the 1961 Convention, recognizing the unlikelihood of abuse. 3 According to certain news agencies, other more detailed unofficial conclusions resulted from the meeting, which however are not legally enforced but rather offer certain informal guidelines on the possible direction the complex process of rescheduling cannabis in related conventions could take. The polarization among member states of the UN-CND regarding this issue, between countries opting for promotion of liberal politics and countries against the liberalization of this plant is also important to mention. Among the supporters of the first group are: USA, Canada, Switzerland, EU member states, the South African Republic, Jamaica and Mexico. On the opposite side are the following countries: Great Britain, Russia, China, Singapore, Japan, Nigeria, Egypt, Iran and Kenia. The final outcome of the already started cannabis liberalization process remains to be seen in December 2020.

Consumer trends

Regarding the trends in the cannabis sector, there have been certain shifts in the age groups of cannabis users that are noteworthy.

Before the cannabis legalization and decriminalization processes, throughout the world prevailed the opinion that cannabis is sought as recreation mostly by members of the younger generations, the population between 18 to 35 years of age. However, the legalization process itself contributed to certain shifts in consumption.  According to the latest research in Canada and some of the United States (Colorado and Oregon), there is a declining trend of cannabis use among the younger population, somewhere as low as 50%. Interestingly, the number of users from the older generations, aged 45 to 80 (and older), is increasing.

The information that in (almost) every country the percentage of cannabis users out of the total population ranges from 7-8 can be considered as a global standard. This percentage is as high as 15 in countries where recreational use is legal, while the doubling of the market potential is due precisely to the more adult population. Just for comparison, the percentage of population consuming alcohol is 70% of the total Earth population.

Certain studies conducted in the USA go as far as to make a correlation between cannabis consumption and the consumption of pharmaceutical products. It was revealed that in the USA alone, starting from 2014 (when legal recreational use of cannabis was launched in the first US state, Colorado) until the end of 2018, there was a drop in the pharmaceutical industry of about 80 billion dollars on account of the cannabis industry, estimated to be worth around 11 billion dollars. This is a serious indicator of how people are turning largely towards using natural substances and cannabis-based medical preparations in the treatment of their diseases and diagnoses.

The cannabis situation in Macedonia

No news from Macedonia. Although it seemed like we would pioneer this sector in 2016, today, in 2020, the situation is, to say the least, strange. The government issued 47 licenses for the production of medical cannabis (by the end of February 2020), however the by-laws intended to provide an uninterrupted circulation (export) of cannabis oil or flower are missing. According to media information, the sector has invested over 150 million euros and is employing around 4 800 people, and yet data on how much has been produced, sold or exported is not available. What is this situation due to? The reasons are several, but to mention only some: – Poor legal solution and lack of relevant by-laws;

– Unethical lobbying of numerous power centers (domestic and foreign);

– Improper business plans for entry into the sector of medical cannabis; – Political indecisiveness and failure to follow global trends;

– Lack of proper curricula on human resources training (on cannabis production, education of medical personnel, extraction and production of confectionary);

– Highly unethical and inhumane treatment of ill people in need of cannabis as a medicine (certain limited and for now unofficial research show that the Macedonian population cannot financially afford to regularly use cannabis, while the state on the other hand will not allow people to cultivate and produce it!!!).

I, just as all the others who have been attentively following the developments in this sector, believe that 2020 is going to bring many positive changes. It seems logical to expect that after the early elections this year, the elected party would finally let go of the fear that regulating this sector would win them negative points. Let us not forget that cannabis legalization could only improve the quality of life for all Macedonian citizens and that, in order for citizens to engage with this sector, they do not have to be cannabis users.

Author: Filip Sekuloski
The author has been working as a consultant in good governance, local economic
development, equal regional development, rural development, tourism and other
sector policies for many years. He works actively throughout Macedonia and Western
Balkan countries. From 2016 he has been an active supporter of several civil
initiatives for the promotion of more liberal cannabis policies, and in 2019 co-
founded and became the director of the association Cannabis Institute Pelagonija,
Prilep.

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