The big cannabis news out of Europe this year has been Germany planning to legalize for adult use, but Spain and Switzerland are making recent waves by improving access to medical cannabis. A recent European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) report estimated 22.2 million adults in the European Union (7% of the population) had consumed cannabis in the last year. Notably, almost every European Union country has legislated medical cannabis and has or is working on a regulatory framework for medical cannabis use. EU member announcements of positive regulatory changes for cannabis keep a continual lit fire under individual countries’ health agencies and politicians to do what is suitable for their population.

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Some countries like Germany have made access easier for patients. In their 2019 cannabis reform, Germany gave the freedom to doctors to choose the proper usages of cannabis for their patients. The reform had a positive effect, and the total patient count is nearing 200,000 for 2022, with an estimated 800,000 total medical candidates who could still benefit from cannabis therapies. Of course, the expected adult-use access has garnered all the recent news and will dwarf the medical numbers. But most feel the EU will regulate access as a narcotic with similar quality standards, which will not follow the U.S.-style adult-use markets.

Conversely, countries like the UK still make it difficult for patients to access cannabis. The UK laws require the General Practitioner (GP) to try at least two different therapies, and cannabis becomes a prescription of last resort should those therapies fail. The general indications for usage are epilepsy, cancer, multiple sclerosis, and clinically studied indications. An estimated 60% of EU patients use cannabis for various pain symptoms, so the exclusion of pain as an indication is holding back the access that is much needed. At an estimated 15,000 patients in the UK, there is much to be done to improve access for the country’s patients. And that goes for other European countries still restricting access for patients with widely accepted indications like pain, gastrointestinal issues and psychological indications.

Photo: JC Coats

Michael Sassano

Switzerland and Spain Increasingly Prioritize Patients

Switzerland has followed Germany’s lead and has given doctors the freedom to prescribe cannabis to their patients. No longer will doctors need to seek approval from the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) before prescribing cannabis to patients. Still, Switzerland only allows therapies high in CBD with less than 1% THC. The city of Zurich, Switzerland, has started a pilot for adult-use cannabis by beginning a trial with 10 social clubs, where they will monitor via the University of Zurich the effects of such an adult-use program on the members and community. More cities in Switzerland are also looking to implement adult use-style social clubs, which further broaden the discussions of Switzerland’s overall plans for cannabis.

Switzerland has been clear they are seeking proper regulation to protect the population by opening access to combat the unregulated market cannabis consumers are forced to go to. With a population of roughly 8.7 million, these decisive steps continue an upward trend toward legalization in Switzerland.

The subcommittee of the Congress of Deputies in the Spanish Government has passed a final report to pave the way for medical cannabis use, as reported by The Local. There are still some procedural hurdles with approval from the Ministry of Health, which has signaled it will accept the parliamentary report. Then, procedurally, the Spanish Agency for Medicines and Health Products (AEMPS) will present a regulatory framework by the end of the year. This framework is long-awaited news for patients with cancer, multiple sclerosis and non-cancer pain patients. All of them will have coverage for cannabis medicines under the new proposal.

This legislation is a significant step forward for medical patients forced into procuring unregulated market products. In cities like Barcelona, cannabis social clubs have already skirted the rules and supply a wide range of products from flower to vapes. There are no signs that Spain is ready to legalize adult-use cannabis. Still, the future of Spanish cannabis is estimated to be a 3.3-billion-euro market, according to the Autonomous University of Barcelona, with roughly 90% of the population supporting cannabis legalization, per the Center for Sociological Research. The future of Spanish cannabis is resoundingly positive for patients and doctors and demonstrates a European population leader creating opportunities for other EU nations.

Finding the Cannabis Regulatory Framework that Fits

2022 is indeed a stellar year for cannabis access as the countries taking responsible steps to increase patient access are breaking the old stigmas and accepting the medical benefits of cannabis. Meanwhile, the countries still making access difficult for their population are waking up each month to neighboring nations making proactive steps to address patient needs and the adverse effects of unregulated products circulating in their communities. Health regulators like Germany accept that not legalizing is more dangerous than legalizing and are changing the conversation throughout Europe. You can be sure that the momentum will only keep going positively as countries like Switzerland and Spain solidify their frameworks so others can see what is needed to improve access.

Michael Sassano is the founder, chairman and CEO of SOMAÍ Pharmaceuticals and the founder of Solaris Farms.

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