As 2023 draws to a close, the global cannabis industry reflects on a year marked by significant challenges, yet underscored by transformative developments. This year has not only reshaped the landscape of international cannabis trade but also heralded new beginnings in both medical and recreational arenas. From the expansion of international supply chains to groundbreaking steps in European recreational markets, 2023 has sown the seeds of future growth and change. Here’s a look back at the top three developments that have set the stage for an exciting future in the cannabis ecosystem.
✈ International cannabis supply: a diversifying landscape
The legal trade of cannabis for medical or scientific purposes has been until very recently constrained to a handful of countries. In 2023, more countries than ever have traded over 100 tonnes of medical cannabis internationally. A trend of supply chain regionalisation has become apparent. LatAm countries no longer put all the eggs in the overseas basket: Uruguay and Colombia increasingly trade with Brazil, Argentina and Peru. Distributors in Germany and the UK seek closer partners in Denmark, Macedonia or Portugal. Australia and New Zealand ramp up their commercial relations. Nevertheless, Canada is still the source of the majority of supply and even increases its share of the pie. Additionally, countries that have been net importers have been developing domestic production, including Australia, but also the UK, France or Poland, which are on the track of commercial production; and Czechia, Italy and Germany, which have introduced more liberal licensing for domestic growers.
✨ Recreational début in Europe, from Switzerland to the Netherlands
The year began with the first European legal sales of cannabis for adult purposes in Basel, and is ending with the launch of the supply chain experiment in Breda and Tilburg in the Netherlands. While experimental in nature, this marks a monumental step in the development of European legal markets. Tens of thousands of Europeans will legally acquire cannabis without a prescription in 2024: the success of these programs can inspire action elsewhere. Plans of German legalisation have not lived up to expectations and the regulatory conundrum will likely persevere in 2024, an important factor as German policies carry a lot of weight in other EU states. Malta has recognised non-profit cultivation clubs, Luxembourg has decriminalised, and plans of legalisation have made first steps in additional jurisdictions including the Czech Republic, Portugal and Belgium.
💣 The rise of hemp-derived intoxicating cannabinoids
In 2022 psychoactive derivates of CBD such as Delta8 or HHC made an entry to European markets, but 2023 has seen them surging thanks to widespread distribution in the specialised channel and in mainstream stores (vape shops, tobacconists, convenience stores…). Regulators have taken action by issuing bans or confirming the applicability of Novel Psychoactive Substance regulations. Increased demand for unregulated psychoactive products points to the obsolescence and unintended consequences of erratic (post)prohibitionist approaches. Policy-makers need to regulate safe access to cannabis products or the holes in the prohibition boat will amount to waterfalls.