EARLIER this month Czechia’s drug commissioner Jindřich Vobořil announced his intention to submit draft legislation for an adult-use cannabis market by the end of the year, hoping a fully fledged market could be launched by 2024.
The news has not only cemented Czechia as one of the most exciting European markets to watch over the coming year, but has also shone a spotlight on the wider region and the potential opportunities for cannabis businesses.
Should both Germany and Czechia achieve their ambitions to launch adult-use cannabis markets in 2024, neighbouring Poland would share a collective 800-mile border with cannabis-legal nations.
Though the Polish parliament’s working group for the legalisation of cannabis is thought to have little chance of pushing any legislation through, Poland already has one of Europe’s largest medical cannabis markets, and earlier this year made legislative changes set to ‘have a significant impact on the development’ of its cannabis market.
Cannabis in Poland
Cannabis for medicinal use was legalised in Poland in 2017 as a pharmaceutical raw material. In 2018, the first strain was approved, while Sativex was registered in the country in 2012.
Until 2017, medical cannabis was only available through a targeted import to a single patient.
Despite these changes, strict regulations and the requirement for patients to cover the costs of their medicine, seeing 10-gram packages cost between €138 and €149, have prevented the industry from flourishing.
An initial ban on the domestic cultivation of medical cannabis meant that Poland has been entirely reliant on imports, often leading to huge gaps in supply in which patients were left without access for months at a time.
Despite this, the market has continued to see rapid growth. When the first accurate data on the amount of medical cannabis being imported into Poland was released in early 2021, it showed that imports had risen from 66kg in 2019 to 167kg in the seven months to August 2020.
In November 2021, following months of drought, Poland received its largest ever shipment of 140kg of flower from Aurora Europe, which is understood to have been used up in just two weeks.
According to Prohibition Partners’ latest European Cannabis Report, in the first nine months of 2021 physicians in Poland issued 28,076 prescriptions to 9,261 patients, making Poland one of the largest medical cannabis markets in Europe.
Furthermore, according to a study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), just 8% of Polish physicians have ever prescribed medical cannabis, with 60% stating they have never received any training regarding cannabinoids, despite 50% stating that some of their patients could benefit from cannabinoid therapy.
Guidelines surrounding medical cannabis in Poland are also extremely vague, with ‘no official guidelines created by medical associations or governmental agencies to guide clinicians in implementing cannabinoids into their practice’.
Additionally, there is no ‘approved indications list, contraindications, or national recommendations to define the dosing’, meaning there is no upper limit on the amount of cannabis that can be prescribed to treat any illness.
This has led to a flourishing black market, in which recreational cannabis is sold as medical cannabis in the same packaging.
Recent Steps Forward
In April 2021, two new bills were submitted to the Sejm, Poland’s lower parliamentary house, aimed at creating a new regulatory framework for the domestic cultivation of hemp and liberalising the cultivation and manufacture of medical cannabis in Poland. Both of these bills were rejected in early 2022.
Crucially, however, a separate bill was also submitted, eventually being approved by parliament and Poland’s president, before coming into force on May 7, 2022.
This bill, an amendment to the Act on Counteracting Drug Addiction, enabled the cultivation and harvesting of ‘non-fibrous hemp intended for the manufacture of pharmaceutical raw material’.
This effectively allowed for the cultivation and manufacture of medical cannabis, including the harvesting of the plant or resin for the production of pharmaceutical raw material.
Founder of Polish cannabis business and strategy advisory firm Cannabis Partners Arek Kuich told BusinessCann that this development was ‘extremely important for Polish patients’.
“These changes will have a significant impact on the development of the Polish cannabis market, and in particular the medical cannabis market, and thus may significantly increase operational capacity and development potential, especially in the field of pharmaceutical cannabis distribution.”
Meanwhile, a second new law has seen the level of THC in raw plant material rise from 0.2% to 0.3%.
Mr Kuich explained that while cultivation of hemp has been allowed in Poland for some time, its use was limited to use in ‘cosmetics, food, textiles and agricultural industries’.
Now the list of purposes for which it can be grown has been expanded to include land reclamation and remediation, seeds, food, veterinary, beekeeping, fertilising purposes, cellulose and paper, insulation, production of composite materials, building materials and natural plant protection products.
“Farmers will be allowed to cultivate fibre hemp and poppy for their own needs at an area of less than one hectare per year. It will also be possible to cultivate low-morphine poppy and fibre hemp for one’s own needs.
“A higher THC limit of 0.3% allows completely new plant varieties to enter the market. This means better crops for the climatic conditions in various regions of Poland.
“The new regulations will make it easier for Polish entities to conduct business in the field of growing and purchasing poppy seeds and fibre hemp thanks to, among other things, quick registration, lifting the obligation to obtain an annual permit, lifting the area, and regional and time limitations in the issued certificate.”
According to Kombinat Konopny’s CEO Maciej Kowalski, this is set to see Polish hemp fields return to growth next year after two years of decline which have seen them almost halve since 2020.